Call for Copyright Activists

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary define the word Extortion as obtaining (as money) from a person by force, intimidation, or undue or unlawful use of authority or power.

In order for musicians to get paid copyright collectives began to appear in the 19th century. These collecting societies were formed to ensure that those who create copyrighted material are able to collect the money they are due. In its simplest form the member musician hands over control of his/her economic rights to the collecting society. The collecting society then has the mandate to collect the dues. Once collected these funds are dispersed among the members.

In most (at least European) countries the collecting societies have established themselves as a central part of the socio-economic system. They are powerful interest groups which ensure that they (and in extention their members) are catered to by the political-legal system. By entering into agreements with trade organisations the collecting societies now have established the right to collect money from all businesses that play music, show tv etc to their customers.

Rasmus at Copyriot has written an interesting piece on the way in which collecting societies manage to collect money. In Sweden the most active collecting societies are SAMI and STIM which are able to collect money for any music played in places of business where customers gather.

So large everything from: hotels with music in the lifts, small pizzerias whose music annoys you while you wait for your delivery, hairdressers, businesses that play cheesy music while you are on hold and cafés with music nobody listens to. They are all required to pay to the collecting societies.

Rasmus even relates an event where a policeman at a demonstration in Germany wrote down all the songs played and sent the list to the German collecting societies who promptly sent the organiser a bill. Swedish law would work in the same way. The policemanâ??s superior stated that the policeman had gone too far but the bill still has to be paid. (link to story in German).
The Spanish Case

In 2005 the main Spanish collecting society (Sociedad General de Autores y Editores – SGAE) â?? sued Ricardo Andrés Utrera Fernández, the owner of Metropol, a disco bar located in in Badajoz for not paying SGAEâ??s license fee of 4.816,74 â?¬ for the period from November 2002 to August 2005 for the public performance of music.

On February 17th, 2006, the Lower Court number six of Badajoz, a city in Extremadura, Spain, rejected the collecting societyâ??s claims because the owner of the bar proved that the music he was using was not managed by the society. The music performed in the bar was licensed under CC licenses that allows that public display since the authors have already granted those rights. Specifically, the judge said:

â??The author possesses some moral and economic rights on his creation. And the owner of these rights, he can manage them as he considers appropriate, being able to yield the free use, or hand it over partially. “Creative Commons” licenses are different classes of authorizations that the holder of his work gives for a more or less free or no cost use of it. They exist as â?¦ different classes of licenses of this type â?¦ they allow third parties to be able to use music freely and without cost with greater or minor extension; and in some of these licenses, specific uses require the payment of royalties. The defendant proves that he makes use of music that is handled by their authors through these Creative Commons licenses.â?? (quote from CC)

The full text of the decision (in Spanish) is available here. The Spanish case sets a new precedent in that it confirms that the collecting societies can only collect if the music played is made by members of collecting societies.

Copyright Activists Needed
What needs to be done? Hairdressers and café owners are probably not the most tech or Internet savvy. So to help them the basic idea is to set up a website filled with CC licensed music and easy howto instructions on how to use the music either online or by downloading and creating CDâ??s.

Aside from music arranged by genre, technical information on how to use it, the site should include legal information explaining why the users will no longer have to pay money to the collecting societies.

This copyright civil disobedience could potentially become the most important method for affecting change in the copyright system since it attacks the purse of the collecting society. In addition to this the scheme is legal. This last point does not make it less civil disobedience since the organisation of the site is a form of protest against the extortionary powers which the collecting societies have collected.