I heard a reference to this at the Americana Music Conference this past week. Now I read in arstechnica some of the details about publishers — and hence by proxy songwriters — demanding performance royalties for the 30 second clips that iTunes and other download sites offer to entice us to buy whole songs:
We won’t argue that policy concerning licensing in general couldn’t use some updating for the realities of online distribution, but we have to agree with the basic distinction between downloads—which is like buying a CD or DVD for private use—and streaming—which is clearly akin to broadcasting. And songwriters and other industry professionals need to be aware that the marketplace is changing as well.
Boy, where to begin?
First, there’s the whole question of “30 second clips,” which I’ve maintained for years are actually an impediment to finding or buying music. I don’t think I’ve ever purchased anything because I’d heard 30 seconds of it (unless it was something I’d already heard and was looking for and the clip confirmed I’d found it). If 30-second clips worked, that’s all you’d ever hear on the radio.
What this article underscores is the infinite complexity of compensating all the stakeholders that are involved in digital music delivery. Everybody wants their piece of the pie, and they all think somebody else is benefiting at their expense.
But I have to take exception with the assertion highlighted above, that “streaming… is akin to broadcasting.” Maybe it is when you’re listening to a “push” service, like Pandora or Last.fm, when somebody (or something) else is determining what you will hear next.
But once the USER is deciding everything that plays, then the stream is substituting for the download, and, in fact, neither the “performance” nor the “mechanical” model of compensation applies. A stream-on-demand is neither a performance nor a download… and it is both.
So it will be interesting to see what the stakeholders demand when that form of delivery begins to push the downloads out of the marketplace. It’s a matter of when, not if.