Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Working 9 to 5: pay up or face the music

"Nine to five
What a way to make a livin'
Barely gettin' by
It's all takin' and no givin'
They just use you mind
And they never give you credit...."
....as made famous by Dolly Parton

It's no news that STIM, the Swedish performing rights society, wants payments from companies using music in their business or playing music in the workplace. Now though they have gone one further and started requiring licensing from companies that 'give their employee the possibility to play music'. ... which includes those providing them with a PC capable of playing tunes... which is pretty much any computer you can buy.

At up to 40 000 kronor per company (around £3300) that's a fat price to pay for something you dont even know get's used. Not only that of course but if you are playing music at your desk you're most probably not playing out loud i.e. making a public performance, and you have probably already paid for the music at least once - either buying the disc or download - or by the radio station paying to STIM.

Reading between the lines this looks like another case of outdated rules. Not so very long ago if the company gave you the ability to play music that usually meant a radio that was going to be played to the room. These days a music player comes free on every computer - a tool for the trade. It used to make sense that a company providing a means to make music meant it to be used in public... but that isnt true any more, and STIM wanting a tax on computers is just plain stupid - except of course they already have a tax on media and hard drives :-(

It is though another good example that you never pay for music.. but they are quite happy to get paid for letting you play music you already own.

Could this be why Piratpartiet and The Pirate Party are working for reform of copyright?


Anders Andersson said...

It doesn't matter that the music isn't played out loud and heard by your customers; the issue here is that it's heard by your employees, who probably work better when listening to music, thereby increasing your profit. Legally speaking, paying the copyright holder for this benefit is equivalent to paying the coffee machine vendor for providing coffee to your staff. It's a service for the purpose of running a business.

I don't think it matters either whether the employer or the employee provides the radio or the player and the recording itself, or even if the employees merely sing; the purpose is the same anyway. If you listen to music during work hours, the employer should pay. This applies even if you work from home or when on business travel; I'd really like to see Stim harassing telecommuters in their homes to make sure family members aren't playing music for them that hasn't been reported to their employers!

Anonymous said...

And best of all... they have allready payed for the music to STIM in their media license to Radiotjänst.

Anders Andersson said...

The fee paid by Sveriges Radio only covers their commercial use of the music by broadcasting it on the airwaves. It does not cover "reuse" of the same music in other business settings, such as a restaurant or a factory.

If you question charging both SR and the restaurant a fee for playing "the same" music, then why don't you question charging both McDonalds in Stockholm and McDonalds in Gothenburg a fee for playing "the same" music, should they have P3 playing simultaneously for their customers in both locations? It's the same music, the same radio station, even the same restaurant business - just not the same customers listening to the music. And as the approximate number of customers is the general basis for determining the fee, it makes perfect sense to charge McDonalds "twice" for the same stuff.

The fee paid by Sveriges Radio only relates to their business, i.e. the money they receive for broadcasting the channel in the first place. In 1979, they paid something like 32 SEK per minute for music; I don't know what they pay today. If the receivers were only used in homes and other private settings, that would be all the copyright holders got together, but it's definitely not enough to cover all commercial reuse in restaurants and other businesses across Sweden; SR would never have the resources to pay that.

I agree that the system has outlived itself, but I do think it has quite a bit of logic to it. The error lies not in paying for the same music "twice", but in the unfair distribution of the money to certain organized composers and artists, when there is a lot of music by unorganized rightsholders being played, or it just doesn't get played on public radio stations and therefore doesn't yield a good enough share of the money.

Rightsholders are free to collect their money individually if they like, but the system of collective licensing benefitting only major artists and labels has got to go, if you ask me. Stim simply has no credibility any longer.

Edward E said...

Agreed there is some logic to it - but double payment I don't agree with... the radio station pays for the music to run a service. The business owner uses that service for their employees. It's the radio station that should be getting paid. Whether radio stations pay the right sum to the copyright owner is not for me to decide.... but having a monopoly screws up any market economics.
And the coffee analogy is that the employer buys a kettle, I buy the coffee... and the coffee plantation owner asks the employer for money for letting me make coffee. which sounds really odd to me.

Anders Andersson said...

Stim collects money on behalf of composers and lyricists (copyright holders) only, not performing artists, recording companies, or broadcasting companies (holders of "neighbouring rights"). The latter parties get to collect money on their own, and they have organizations for doing just that, but nobody is obliged to collect any money if they don't care about it, and then it would be extremely burdensome for, say, SR to be required to collect money from any businesses reusing their broadcasts on behalf of Stim, SAMI, IFPI and others.

In that way, SR would become yet another middleman handling a lot of money not meant for them anyway. Should SR collect for live broadcast reuse only, or for recorded broadcasts as well? It's as if your newspaper salesman would be required to charge you an extra fee whenever you copy a newspaper article for a business purpose and pass the money on to the newspaper, instead of you negotiating with the newspaper yourself. More parties involved, more transactions, and greater risk of legal disputes.

As for the coffee analogy, I was thinking of a coffee brewing machine maintained on a contract. As an employer, you don't normally buy such a machine and ask your employees to clean and refill it in their spare time, but you enter a service contract with the vendor where they will keep the machine operating for an annual fee, and the size of that fee typically corresponds to how many cups of coffee it delivers, which in turn is related to the number of employees. Nobody considers it fraud if a big company is charged twice as much as a small one, even if they have identical models and they require equal amounts of maintenance (the cost of the actual coffee constitutes only a small part of the service fee).

It's the same with copying machines, although they aren't typically provided to employees for their amusement during breaks. You don't just buy a big copier; you have it on a leasing contract, with maintenance included.

When Stim sets their fee to 28 SEK per employee and year, they argue in exactly the same way. The bigger company doesn't "use up" more tangible resources than the smaller one, but given equal interest in music among the employees, the bigger company is supposed to benefit twice as much from the license they have got.

I maintain that the problem lies in the unfair distribution of payment, not in the basis for collection. If SR pays 100 SEK for broadcasting a song and you pay 100 SEK for recording that broadcast and using it to entertain all your staff, Stim isn't paid "twice" for the same thing, but they are paid 200 SEK for the broadcast and your staff party.

However, since I don't think it's reasonable to snoop on employees to record their listening habits, whether in the office or at home, I'd rather scrap the entire system. I will not accept my employer deducting 28 SEK per year from my salary based on an assumption that I listen to music protected by copyright, because I don't. And if I learn that Stim charges for our Lucia event, I will skip that one too. Knowing that I'm part of the reason for my employer paying extortion money to the mafia doesn't exactly improve my efficiency at my workdesk.