- 30 Apr 10
Hot Press has been talking to people on both sides of the online music payment divide.
The Irish Music Rights Organisation have confirmed that they are to hold a meeting next week with Irish music bloggers unhappy at being told that in future they’ll have to pay for the streamed, linked or downloadable music they use on their sites.
The row erupted a few days ago when a number of prominent blogs including The Torture Garden, Asleep On The Compost Heap and Nialler9 received letters from IMRO informing them of the new arrangements that were being made on behalf of their member artists.
The MCPS-IMRO Limited Online Exploitation Licence, which is now being officially activated, applies to sites that have a gross yearly income of €7,000 or less. The sliding scale of payment ranges from €150 + VAT (45,000 streams or less) to €720 + VAT (225,000 streams or less). There are similar permutations under the headings of Pure Webcasting Service, Premium and Interactive Webcasting Service, Permanent Download Service and Music Podcasting Service.
“We have to be careful, we have to be consistent and above all we have to be fair in everything we do,” says IMRO CEO, Victor Finn. “We cannot pick and choose who we license. The fact is that all music users who make copyright music available or who use it require permission to do so under the law. It is no different to the hairdresser or the shopkeeper who plays music. We have an obligation to collect royalties on behalf of the people who own the copyrights. But the system we have put in place is reasonable and fair to all concerned.”
While most Irish music blogs are non-profit making affairs run by fans in their spare time, a few have taken on a distinctly commercial hue in recent months. The Nialler9 site, for instance, is this week carrying advertising for the likes of Ryanair, O2, Sony Ericsson and Iron Man 2.
"That may be junk time, bought for very little," an advertising industry source comments, "but it is an income stream, what you might call a handy little earner. But I wouldn't like to try to put a figure on how much is involved. One of the weaknesses of blogs is that they tend to be frequented by a small number of people who create a disproportionate number of page impressions, so for obvious reasons no one is willing to pay much to be on those kind of sites."
IMRO’s insistence that bloggers, like all other music users, require a licence to feature music has been criticised by one of the people behind Dublin’s Richter Collective label, Michael Roe.
“As a small independent label that doesn’t have an advertising budget, we’re reliant on blogs to help spread the word about our artists,” Roe tells Hot Press. “There’s absolutely no way we’d have got to where we are now without their support. They're crucial to how we operate. Musicians' livelihoods are going to be threatened by non-profit making blogs being asked to pay a licence fee and in all probability shutting down because they can’t afford it.
“We’ve been told this morning by IMRO that we’re going to have to pay a licence fee to stream music from our own bands on our own website,” he continues. “If all of that €300 was going to our bands, fine, but that's not what happens. They’re applying the regulations in a blanket fashion, which doesn’t work. There has to be room for a waiver system under which labels and artists can elect to give their music free to non-commercial sites.”
Michael Roe’s sentiments are echoed by musician Declan De Barra who releases his albums independently in Ireland and has licensing deals in place in other parts of Europe.
“I’m an IMRO member so I called them up and said, ‘Look, this is ridiculous. You’re killing off the feeding grounds that sustain new music.' The royalty cheques I get from radio would just about pay for a McDonald’s Happy Meal, but because of blogs I’m on my way to a sell-out show tonight in the middle of France. It’s an idiotic, regressive, retrograde, Luddite way of thinking.”
How practical it might be from an IMRO perspective remains to be seen, but De Barra also agrees with Michael Roe that a waiver scheme could be the way ahead.
“I should be able to contact IMRO and as the copyright owner say, ‘I’m giving ‘Y’ track to ‘X’ blog for promotional purposes, so don’t charge them for it,'" De Barra resumes. "That flexibility’s not there though, so I’ve decided I’m going to quit IMRO and go elsewhere.”
Comments another IMRO songwriter member: "Look, it isn’t exactly a popular thing to say, but the fact is that bloggers are part of the real economy. In lots of cases they're looking for and accepting payment for advertising. And to generate the traffic which attracts advertising they're indiscriminately using other people's music – often international music and often by big name artists.
"I’m all for people being able to waive any royalties they might be due, if they want to. I might do it myself. But that’s different from someone deciding they’ll take whatever music they want, and do whatever they feel like with it with no permission from anybody.
“People take a simplistic view of things because it suits their own commercial agenda,” he adds. “If bloggers are allowed to indiscriminately use music free, then radio stations will be next, saying, ‘Why should we pay?’ There’s far too much at stake in the world of copyright to allow the vested interests of a few bloggers – not to mention a few hairdressers or publicans – to dictate."