A story just ran in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution here about ASCAP suing several bars and restaurants who deliberately avoided paying the blanket license fee to that performing rights organization, or PRO as is known in the biz.
Many criticize the performing rights organization as being predatory and hating on bars and restaurants, accusing them of wanting to shut down small businesses. Why, the big, bad PRO meanies just want to make life miserable for these bar owners, doncha know?
Anyone who is in the music business and who continues to believe that, obviously does not know how their own business works.
There’s a reason songwriters join a performing rights organization (here in the U.S., those are ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC). It’s so that others who attract customers or in other ways make money from the playing of other peoples’ music, can pay the other peoples for their contribution to the success of their business.
ASCAP is simply diligently representing their members in protecting copyrights. Kudos to them for that diligence.
On the other hand, one may rightly ask if the PROs are being as diligent against all comers? Copyright infringement can happen in other ways. For instance:
What about the digital distributors, also called music aggregators, some of whom set themselves up as a publisher with PROs, but who then quietly proceed to list themselves as co-publishers — co-owners on the split sheet — of the very music they are entrusted to simply distribute to internet and brick-and-mortar retail outlets like iTunes and record stores?
Do the PROs, when they see that pattern, use their legal gravitas to demand these large corporations remove themselves from that backdoor split-sheet status of those they represent: the individual small business owners, songwriters acting as their own publishers?
To protect my business interests as a songwriter and song publisher, I need to know who I do business with. Therefore, I’ve read the contracts of quite a few digital distributors/music aggregators. I’ve also read the contracts of many who are acting as sub-aggregators to these larger entities. You see, I must know how it is I will get my money when my song is placed with an artist.
I don’t like what I read. The contract of one digital distributor in particular, says that they and their customers are independent contractors.
If you have put any of your music with a music aggregator for digital distribution to retail outlets, and if you are a member of any performing rights organization, you should log in to your PRO member portal and take a look at what is listed there.
Take a look at who the publishers are, then ask yourself: Did I put on the split sheet those here listed as publishers — NOT publishing administration, there is a difference — in my PROs listing of my catalog?
If the answer is yes, then yay.
But, if the answer is no, I have to ask: Who gave them permission to go into business with you? When — and how — did they become more than a service provider?
And, another: Will you ask them to remove themselves from co-owner and stay in the lane you contracted them for — adminstrator?
I would love you to report back to me on this matter. Feel free to send me an email by finding that information here.