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A spider and its prey

Why I’m against the RIAA, Buma/Stemra, CISAC et al.

A few days ago I saw a picture on Facebook posted by Lester Chambers, a member of the Chambers Brothers, where he holds up a written sign with his story of dealing with record companies. If you have access to Facebook and his profile, you can see the picture at this link including all the comments on it.

Artist got screwed by Record Companies

Lester Chambers tells us the truth about record companies

Chambers’ story isn’t unique. As a matter of fact, what Chambers describes there happens more often than you probably think. Record companies routinely screw artists/authors in bad deals, as explained by the video below:

You would have thought that with all the lawsuits organizations such as the RIAA (Recording Industry Ass of America) et al. are filing against copyright infringements, that they would themselves make every effort to pay the artists/authors who they or their members represent. But nothing could be further from the truth.

If you do even a slight amount of research, you’ll quickly find that there are many artists who have filed lawsuits against their record companies because they never see the royalties that they’re supposed to receive. And like Chambers mentions, these are just the 1% of the artists who can afford to sue!! And we’re talking big names like Dr. Dre (VS Death Row Records), Peter Frampton (VS A&M Records), Kenny Rogers (VS EMI), Eminem (VS Universal Music Group), Courtney Love (VS Universal Music Group) and many more. If these organizations can screw over such big names, then no wonder the other 99% of the artists don’t stand a chance to ever get (all of) their royalties. And in the case of Courtney Love, for example:

Musicians like the Eagles’ Don Henley, through the Recording Artists Coalition, believe record labels routinely fail to pay them millions of dollars in royalties due to flawed accounting and arcane contract language. Love’s case also questioned a California law that says record companies may bind a musician to a contract for more than the seven-year maximum under current California statutes.

And from here:

After Love sued Vivendi Universal’s Universal Music Group last year to break her band’s contract, the widow of Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain complained about the “unconscionable and unlawful” business and accounting practices of the major record labels. Since then, dozens of stars have lined up to demand better contracts, health benefits and other reforms.

To some musicians, Love’s settlement underscored how difficult it can be for them to take on the five major record conglomerates.

A few years ago when the RIAA was going after consumers for copyright violations, I had written a few posts on the subject. They were suing children and even dead people in an effort to go after piracy of their content and that of their members:

Death is no obstacle to feeling the long arm of the Recording Industry Ass. of America.

Lawyers representing several record companies have filed suit against an 83 year-old woman who died in December, claiming that she made more than 700 songs available on the internet.

“I believe that if music companies are going to set examples they need to do it to appropriate people and not dead people,” Robin Chianumba told AP. “I am pretty sure she is not going to leave Greenwood Memorial Park to attend the hearing.”   Gertrude Walton, who lived in Beckley, West Virginia hated computers, too, her daughter adds. An RIAA spokesperson said that it would try and dismiss the case.

However the RIAA’s embarrassment doesn’t end there. Chianumba said that she had sent a copy of her mother’s death certificate to record company lawyers in response to an initial warning letter, over a week before the suit was filed. In 2003 the RIAA sued a twelve year-old girl for copyright infringement. She’d harbored an MP3 file of her favorite TV show on her hard drive. Her working class parents in a housing project in New York were forced to pay two thousand dollars in a settlement.

And every time the RIAA claimed that they were doing this to protect the rights of the artists/authors. The RIAA filed many lawsuits and won many of them. But did the money they got from all of those lawsuits eventually reach the artists/authors that they were supposedly doing this for? If any of it did make it back to the artists, then it’s probably not a lot. You see, while the RIAA was happy to sue people and make money, they themselves don’t like to pay the money to the very artists/authors that they supposedly represent:

In the midst of their jury trial, the company behind the defunct LimeWire client and the RIAA settled their dispute out of court. Limewire will pay $105 million to compensate the major music labels for damages suffered. A moment of justice for the music industry, but not necessarily for the artists. The recouped money is destined for reinvestment in new anti-piracy efforts and will not be used to compensate any artists.

Thus far the RIAA has not announced officially how the LimeWire settlement will be spent, but we don’t expect them to steer away from their previous course. This makes today’s decision on compensation a victory for the major labels, but certainly not one for musicians.

And this is how these organizations operate in this business. Here’s another example:

Then there’s the fact that Rogers wants his cut from the money Capitol has received in various lawsuits — those against Napster, Kazaa, AudioGalaxy, Grokster, BearShare and others. As we’ve noted in the past, the labels have bent over backwards to avoid paying out such money to the actual artists — but Rogers wants his piece:

Such lawsuits have resulted in Capitol Records receiving monies from entities such as Napster, Kazaa, Audiogalaxy, Grokster, BearShare, and others. Capitol Records has refused to provide Kenny Rogers with an accounting regarding the amounts actually received. A portion of the monies received by Capitol Records is attributable to the Masters and Kenny Rogers is entitled to that portion of Capitol Records‟ receipts. Capitol Records‟ refusal to account to and pay that money to Kenny Rogers has resulted in Kenny Rogers suffering direct financial harm in an amount that cannot be determined until Capitol Records provides a full, fair, and accurate accounting.

There are a few other charges as well, but those are the big ones. None of this, of course, is to say that it’s “ok” to infringe because the major labels are somehow “bad.” But it does show just how ridiculous it is if anyone assumes the majors represent the best interests of artists in any way.

And if you’re still not convinced, here’s more:

What should be a black and white conversation about respecting copyright is mired in the fact that the RIAA’s credibility has eroded as quickly as its control of the music industry. Or said another way, the RIAA has become part of the problem of protecting copyright due to its occasional less than honest approach to things.  You just can’t take what the RIAA says at face value as their agenda is not clear—is it to protect copyright or is it to protect the interests of its label members at any cost?

After all, this is the same organization that had the RIAA employee Mitch Glazer attempt to sneak language into a bill on Capitol Hill changing the definition of “work for hire,” depriving artists of their rights (there’s a great article about this in the Austin Chronicle).

Now add to this that as the RIAA demands that its label members’ copyrights be respected and properly compensated, its members have knowingly taken hundreds of millions of dollars of other peoples’ songwriter royalties over the past few years.  Knowingly taking money generated from the copyrights of others—aka “Black Box Money”—sounds eerily like stealing.

What’s clear to me is that the record companies and their organizations, such as the RIAA et al., couldn’t give a flying fuck about the rights of the artists/authors. What matters to these people is making as much money for themselves as possible at the expense of the artists/authors. They’re nothing more than parasites. They pretend to fight for the artists/authors, while in reality they are screwing over the very group that they’re supposedly fighting for.

Before any of the royalties ever reach the artists/authors most of it is being spent on “operational costs” which can include very high salaries. Such was the case for example with Buma/Stemra, the Dutch equivalent of the RIAA:

A board member of rights management company Buma/Stemra which represents composers and music publishers has stepped down amid allegations of corruption, the Volkskrant writes on Thursday.

Broadcaster Powned recorded a conversation between Jochem Gerrits and the lawyer of composer Melchior Rietveldt who claims the organisation owes him at least €1m in lost copyright fees.

Rietveldt wrote a piece of music for an anti-piracy ad which was widely distributed without his knowledge. In spite of numerous requests he was never paid for the reproduction of his music.

This is not the first time Buma/Stemra has been accused of violating authors’ rights. Singer and composer Rob Bolland has a long drawn out conflict with the company for distributing his work – including In the army now – abroad without payment.

Bolland, who claims the company owes him €2.5m has been forcibly removed from the Buma/Stemra premises by the police on more than occasion.

Earlier this year, musicians Henk Westbroek and Hans Kosterman, who are also on the board, claimed there is a culture of secrecy and fear at the company. They also complained about the extravagant salaries paid out to some board members.

Notice how Mr. Rietveldt’s music, which was written for an anti-piracy ad, was then essentially pirated by the very same organization that claims to look after the rights of artists/authors like Mr. Rietveldt. You just can’t make this stuff up. And also take note of the fact that you have the exact same issues here with Buma/Stemra in the Netherlands, like you have with the RIAA in the USA with regard to refusing to pay out collected royalties! And the salaries the heads of these organizations award themselves are astronomical. In the case of Buma/Stemra you can read more about it here (Dutch):

Cees Vervoord, the former director of Buma / Stemra who left the organization in August 2010, was paid a salary of 379,000 euros for the first eight months of that year, including variable pay. The current director Hein van de Ree, who started on May 1, 2010, was paid 200 thousand euros for the remaining months of the year. Cees van Rij, Director of Legal Affairs, was paid 233,000 euros last year.

There simply cannot be any doubt about who these organizations really serve and whose rights they really protect.

And most of these organizations are united into one global organization called CISAC. From here:

Uniting worldwide creators, CISAC strongly asserts that they are the pilars of creative industries. If they are universally acknowledged for their contribution to world cultural landscape, their economic impact is often ignored.

The total amount of royalties collected by CISAC’s member societies, on their own national collection territories, amounted in 2010 to more than €7.5 billion. Despite the challenging environment (digital piracy, decline of CD sales, etc.), this represents an increase of 5.5% since 2009. CISAC members have strived to ensure that creators from around the world benefit from the ever-increasing popularity of their works and the development of new uses.

Pillars of the creative industry? If CISAC is anything like its members, I would describe them more as the fucking parasites of the creative industry. And keep the amount of €7.5 billion of collected royalties in 2010 in mind. From here:

To be able to carry out its missions, CISAC’s budget is based on the annual subscriptions of its members and the entry fees of new members. The subscription is based on a percentage of the gross royalties collected annually by a member society in the territories in which it operates.

So CISAC makes its money by confiscating a percentage of the royalties collected by its members that is supposed to go to the artists/authors. And in the case of the €7.5 billion collected in 2010, if they just confiscate 1% then they still have €75 million for just one year! What do they do with all of that money?? As you can see, this is a very lucrative business for these so called pillars of the creative industries. And ask yourself why they don’t publish on their website exactly what percentage of the royalties they confiscate.

What we have here is nothing but a pyramid scheme that is based on exploiting the artists/authors. You have all these record companies and labels in countries around the world, who pretend to value the rights of the artists/authors but are really screwing them over with really bad deals and stealing their royalties. And these record companies and labels are united in each country in organizations such as the RIAA, Buma/Stemra et al. (full member list can be downloaded here) who also burn up a huge amount of the royalties that’s supposed to go to the artists/authors in “operational costs.” And then all of these organizations in each country are again united into one global organization called CISAC, which also demands a percentage from the collected royalties that’s supposed to go to the artists/authors. Does it still surprise you that by the time the money finally reaches the artists/authors there’s nothing much left of it anymore? And do you still wonder why the CISAC supports all these member organizations in each country? It is in CISAC’s own selfish interest to support its members seeing as how they are positioned at the top of the pyramid to benefit from their members and the artists/authors as much as possible.

I don’t know about you, but these organizations don’t fool me. Knowing all of the above their purpose is very clear to me: Make easy money by exploiting artists/authors, all while pretending to fight for their interests.

While I am against these organizations, I am not against copyright laws and protecting the rights of creatives around the world. As a photographer, graphics designer and software developer, it wouldn’t make sense for me to be against copyright laws. I want the artists/authors to be able to benefit from their work as much as possible. But these organizations are not enabling them to do that. On the contrary, as you can clearly see they’re making it worse and are exploiting artists/authors.

The easiest way to realize that this is all a big scam to exploit artists/authors is to take note of the fact that in most cases these organizations don’t even know exactly whose work is being used at what time, and how much it is being used. For example, there are many instances where deals are made for the use of music for a flat monthly fee. Read this article for more on this. Now think about this: If these organizations don’t know, and don’t care, about whose work exactly is being used and how much, then how are they going to pay the artists/authors their fair share??? The answer to this question is very simple: They don’t care about actually paying the artists/authors; all they care about is making as much money as possible for themselves.

There should be a new system where artists/authors can get paid directly for their work, and where they are able to follow in real-time who’s buying/licensing their work and for what purposes. Can you still remember the MegaUpload controversy from a while back? Check this out:

The internet is up in arms over the federal crackdown of file-sharing website Megaupload, from irate blog posts to coordinated digital attacks on secure government servers. The move appeared to be a sort of governmental muscle flexing in the wake of the successful internet protest of SOPA and PIPA. But was there another reason? In the weeks before the crackdown, Megaupload was planning on launching a new music sharing website called Megabox that looked like it had the potential to completely transform music distribution, and even find a way to pay musicians in the process.

From TorrentFreak, via Digital Music News:

“UMG [Universal Music Group] knows that we are going to compete with them via our own music venture called Megabox.com, a site that will soon allow artists to sell their creations directly to consumers while allowing artists to keep 90 percent of earnings,” said MegaUpload founder Kim dotcom.

“We have a solution called the Megakey that will allow artists to earn income from users who download music for free,” Dotcom said. “Yes that’s right, we will pay artists even for free downloads.  The Megakey business model has been tested with over a million users and it works.”

This smacks a little of conspiracy theory, but there may be some truth to the timing. MegaUpload no doubt looked like a good target for FBI attention even before this new development,  considering it was prime hacker territory and its founder was living like a Colombian drug lord in New Zealand. But the timing seems a little serendipitous, especially since MegaUpload had even begun to acquire legitimate partners in the form of 7digital, Gracenote, Rovi and Amazon.

It’s no surprise to me that the Universal Music Group and similar organizations would be against a solution as proposed by MegaUpload. Such a solution would take control away from them and put it in the hands of the artists/authors. Not only that, but they wouldn’t be able to screw these artists/authors out of their royalties anymore. It would mean the end of their parasitic empire. And their parasitic empire is certainly coming to an end. What we’re seeing now are their desperate attempts to fight the change while even abusing the legal system to try and put a stop to it. But as more and more people start to wake up to the facts, and more and more artists/authors speak up, like Lester Chambers did, things are going to become a lot more difficult for them, and soon they’ll have no choice but to accept their faith.

Additional Notes


  1. Karel Donk's Blog » The Pirate Bay Away From Keyboard (09/02/2013)


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