Calling all bloggers, bands, labels, managers, PR, composers and artists – this affects you.

Update: The Guardian have covered the issue below too.
Update 2: Shane (The Torture Garden) Darragh (Asleep on a Compost Heap) and myself will be meeting with IMRO on Thursday with IMRO to discuss and voice our concerns.

A few days ago I was contacted by an IMRO representative who asked me to pay for the IMRO/MCPSI Limited Online Exploitation Licence as this site “is making copyrighted music available online”. Having been involved in State.ie, a limited company, when they’ve paid this for the last two years I wasn’t hugely surprised to be contacted for this blog and asked to pay but I do think this has the potential to decimate the music blogosphere. IMRO are preparing an FAQ on this at the moment but in the meantime..

Here are the licence details they are asking myself, The Torture Garden and Asleep on a Compost Heap (with more expected) to pay:

The MCPSI-IMRO (LOEL) covers the use of music online by small-scale/non-commercial companies and individuals, providing services to the Irish public, whose gross revenue is less then €7,000 per year.

The LOEL covers the making available and mechanical rights in musical works for most types of Limited online and mobile music services. This includes services which offer: Permanent downloads, On-demand streaming and limited downloads, Premium and Interactive Webcasting, Pure Webcasting, Music Podcasting.

The LOEL also covers the following types of audio-visual usage: ‘Promo’ music videos, Live concert performances, Combination of a musical work with images relating to the performer or composer of the work, Use of a musical work with an interview with an artist, composer, producer or other person involved in the creation of music, where the work used is associated with the interviewee.

Firstly, let me get this absolutely straight. I have no problem paying artists royalties if that is required. Like many I thought that MP3s which were cleared by bands and labels for promo were provided as is – gratis and without any attachments or additional requirements other than to promote the band and song. Y’know, the same way an entire music blogosphere and a digital PR industry has been allowed to grow up over the course of the last 10 years thinking the same.

My biggest gripe with this licence is that it’s a blanket fee that doesn’t take into account the size of a blog or site really. Sure, it has three price bands but lumping a music blogger who blogs from home in his spare time in with a professional company is wrong. It will have a reductive and destructive effect on the promotion of music online as many bloggers won’t be able to afford these fees and as a result bands will have less of an outlet to promote their music.

Is the licence fee paid worth more than the promotion of bands and hence, gig attendance, record sales etc? IS this what the bands want? Do bands want bloggers to pay licence fees to promote their songs – do speak up. After all, IMRO is speaking on your behalf already and they have decided to apply this licence to music sites and blogs without any negotiation or dialogue apart from here’s a licence, pay it. IMRO will negotiate with Youtube, concert promoters such as POD concerts so is there room here for negotiation?

Update: According to IMRO, there is no room for negotiation on the licence, as it is a published scheme. If people would like to get in touch with their queries they should direct them to info@imro.ie.

For those wondering what exactly IMRO does, it’s easy to get them confused with IRMA here so here is the difference.

IRMA – a record industry association which represents mostly major labels – Warners, Sony, Universal, EMI, RMG chart and a few others.

IMRO – represents songwriters, composers, music publishers in Ireland in the fields of performing right in copyright, They collect and distribute royalties arising from the public performance of copyright works. They are the Irish equivalent of ASCAP in the US, PRS in the UK.

Got that? So bands, if you’ve registered with IMRO and you’ve ever had your song made available on a blog, this concerns you. If you’re not happy with blogs being asked to pay royalties on songs you’ve provided to us for promotional purposes, tell IMRO about it. They represent YOUR interests. Not one band in five years has ever mentioned IMRO or royalties to me when asking me to post their music.

Can labels, PR, managers, bands and the thousands of people who email music blogs and sites do anything to ensure that the songs they are making available to us are NOT covered by royalty licences or any licence for that matter? Is there actually such a thing as a FREE mp3 as so many PR, labels and bands claim? Or is it a case of music blogs serve their interests until it’s too much hassle to work the system?

2010 has marked a bit of a turning point for music blogging. Google started deleting music blogs at the behest of the DMCA (If you still haven’t got the message yet – move off blogspot/blogger) and now it seems the publishing industry has realised that the internet exists and there is money to be made from the bloggers. So again in digital music, we are at the point of no return – music blogs have become bigger than the legal grey area which they operate in so it’s time to make them pay or shut them down. Most people who operate music blogs (this does not include full-album blogs who somehow remain untouched) are decent people who would want to stay on the legit side of the law but these costs are prohibitory to the idea that anyone can post MP3s from bands (with permission) for promotional purposes.

It now looks like IMRO will be approaching all other Irish music blogs but they’ve also signalled their intent to ask every website which makes itself available in Ireland to pay this licence. That includes international-based sites and blogs like Pitchfork, Stereogum, Gorilla Vs Bear and beyond, right down to the small music blogger – all asked to pay the same fee.

I’ve put together an FAQ of sorts culled from my questions and Shane’s questions to IMRO. IMRO responses have been rewritten as I haven’t been given explicit permission to reprint the IMRO rep’s answers.

IMRO
Q: If tracks are provided to bloggers with permission and are cleared for promo from bands, labels are these covered by this or are these outside the licence?
According to IMRO, if an artist, composer or publisher has registered with IMRO (or PRS in the UK / ASCAP in the US), then the MCPSI-IMRO (LOEL) licence must be obtained. Furthermore, if a composer, artist or publisher has done this, then they do not have the right to give full permission to allow their own track to be downloaded on a site. What I can gather, is that if a label is represented by PPI (Phonographic Performance Ireland) then an additional licence is required for use of the sound recordings. See the member list here. I’m not 100% sure if an artist can waive their rights in any circumstance above.

If an artist is not affilated with IMRO or any equivalent, they can waive their rights on it.

Q: Are external embeds such as Youtube, Soundcloud and the likes affected by this?
Youtube is a licensed service and therefore covered by a licence. Other external embeds will be covered under the licence as long as you can account for them.

Q: Is it because Nialler9.com is hosted in Ireland or does it matter if a server is registered here or not?
IMRO: It doesn’t matter. If the site is made available in Ireland then a licence is required.

Q: If IMRO are contacting Irish music blogs/sites about obtaining a licence will then they be contacting the other international blogs and sites like Pitchfork, Stereogum to clear a licence here?
Any site which makes copyrighted music available is obliged to get a licence and therefore will be approached regarding this copyright issue.

Q: If I pay a fee for the licence, do IMRO pay the artists that are featured specifically? Do IMRO track online downloads and streams for this?
IMRO members (or PRS/ASCAP etc) receives royalties for the exploitation of their works. International artists are covered by reciprocal agreements. IMRO are asking , as part of a licence that you submit a list of artists and tracks, via a spreadsheet at the end of the licence term. This seems reasonable as long as the bands I submit, get the money and not other artists so this process will have to be explained and licence holders will have to be sure that artists get what they deserve for being featured if no waiver is possible.

Q: If my site or blog makes zero profit, does that make a difference?
This licence is designed to cater for smaller operators. If your site does not make a profit, you are not exempt from this licence. The IMRO rep pointed out “there are many licensed sites who are not making a profit either.”

Is there a licence available that covers more than Ireland, by another organisation – Is there a Europe or worldwide equivalent of this?
There is no European or worldwide licence. Each terroritory is licensed separately.

As these collection societies have co-operation agreements, I presume then, that this will stop ASCAP and PRS asking me for to pay another licence in their territory?

Q: If I move my song hosting to another service which is covered by a worldwide licence, then I won’t have to pay this particular licence is that correct?
IMRO are concerned with websites that host the music themselves. If the music is hosted elsewhere then that website will have to obtain a licence. If the music you blog is made available through a link elsewhere (ie. deeplinking) then a licence is not required. Any music streamed, podcasted or downloaded from your own site, needs to be licenced.

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