Elevator Music

In a 6-2 ruling, the Supreme Court made it a crime to perform any composer’s music, even the works of those who are dead, without paying a royalty to either the artist or the artist’s estate.  The ruling came down as the public was protesting new Internet rulings – Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA).

ASCAP’s copyright rules are not new.  They simply had no way of enforcing the rules.  Technically, your dentist was supposed to pay a royalty on every single song played on Muzak and now its successor, Satellite radio.  Neither are school boards exempt.  Or musical groups like the Ramsey Wind Symphony.  One professional musician and composer notes, “We’ve been playing with fire.”

Enforcing these rules is somewhat like paying a royalty to the patent holder of the elevator door.  Every time it opens and closes, if we were to follow the music royalty rules, you would have to pay 8 cents.  The rules apply to performing groups making CDs of the performances.  It’s called the mechanical fee – 8 or 9 cents per disc for every song performed and recorded.

There’s a reason artists are right-brained and engineers are left-brained.  Engineers are efficient.  So are business owners.  They seek the most efficient way of profiting from their inventions, products or services.  As long as you respect the fact that they own the copyright and don’t try to pass their stuff as your own, they don’t care what you do with it or how often you use it.  They do incorporate planned obsolence into their designs so the thing will wear out and you’ll have to come back to buy another one, or a new, upgraded model.  Otherwise, you paid the money for the thing and you can do what you want with it.  The tablet maker doesn’t care whether you listen to Mozart, Elvis, or Lady Gaga.

Creative, right-brained people, on the other hand, aren’t nearly so flexible, although they claim they are.  The latest issue of the National Review has an article about an opera diva who’s the ultimate control freak.  If she doesn’t feel up to singing, the ticket-holders hoping to hear her are out of luck.  Musical artists, in particular, don’t feel they’re being justly compensated for their work.  They’re facing stiff competition.  But then, so are elevator door manufacturers.

The elevator door maker doesn’t have a hissy fit, though, when all sorts of people go through his elevator door, or a competitor invents one with a mirror so executives can check out their attire before getting off on their floors.  He invents new designs to make his elevator door more appealing.  The newest elevator can be programmed to only go to certain floors.  That’s not because the elevator door inventor wants to control his product; the buyer does.

This is about more than money.  Artists are right to be concerned about Internet piracy.  That’s stealing and it’s not fair.  However, SOPA and PIPA will open the doors to government intrusion on the privacy of individuals.

No, the artists want control of who plays their music and when.  They want to be able to say to someone, “I don’t like what your company makes, so I’m not going to allow you to play my music on your elevator music system.”  So the artist invokes this onerous, bureaucratic legislation, requiring a certain percentage every time the song plays on the elevator, all day long, over and over and over.  Finally, the company gives in and stops playing the music.  My company has very strict rules about what recorded music they can play at an event.  The company signed a contract with ASCAP for a certain list of music, and there’s still a restriction about how often it can be played.  The event planners have to notify ASCAP what music they’re going to perform, when, and why.

Imagine the elevator door manufacturer installing a camera on the elevator door so that it can track who is entering the elevator.  If someone about to enter is, say an obvious one percenter wearing an expensive suit or a Tea Partier wearing a Gadsden Flag pin, the elevator door owner could deny the rider access to the elevator.

The elevator manufacturers actually aren’t too far from that state.  They’ve already invented elevators that require a coded passkey to get into the cab, which will only go to certain floors.  Again, that’s the choice of buyer of the elevator, not the manufacturer.  Schindler Elevator.  Dover Elevator.  They don’t care who gets on.  That’s the difference between left-brain thinking, right-brain thinking, and hare-brained thinking.

By all means, go after the pirates.  But let us not go to the other extreme, where some poor classical quartet, elementary school band, church choir or community orchestra has to install a music meter to count the number of times they rehearsed and played Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.  The purchase of the music should infer all the rights the buyer needs to perform the music.

If these copyright laws are enforced, instead of reformed, next Christmas Eve will truly be a “Silent Night.”

Published in: on January 26, 2012 at 10:18 am  Leave a Comment  

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