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Guaranteeing the File-Sharing Future

A number of artists and songwriters seem to be doing their best to ensure that the free file sharing services like Kazaa and LimeWire continue to do a booming business:

    The world’s largest music company had been hectoring rock singer Tom Petty since last summer. You’ve got a big and popular catalogue of albums, Universal Music Group said. We’ve got to put them up for sale on the Internet — they’re being traded free every day on the Web and we’re all losing money.

    He should have been an easy sell. The Internet-savvy Petty let fans download one of his songs back in 1999. After some haggling, he and Universal agreed to make almost all of his songs available for purchase online.

    But Petty’s fan’s did not get everything they wanted. Online buyers will not get their hands on Petty’s outtake songs, studio tunes that rarely made it onto albums and are craved most by many hardcore fans. Petty controls the rights to those songs, unlike the bulk of his songs, which are owned by Universal, and he held them back for fear of diminishing the value of a 1995 CD boxed set that included them.

    The Petty case underlines the complexity of buying and selling music online. A hornet’s nest of performance and publishing copyright laws, marketing decisions, artists’ egos and negotiating power plays can stop people from legally buying songs on the Internet, just as millions are trying to do so for the first time.

    ….But fans who venture onto any of the pay music sites will not find the most popular band ever, the Beatles. They will not find other top-selling acts, such as the Dave Mathews Band, Garth Brooks, the Grateful Dead, AC/DC and the Cars.

    They will find that top-selling acts Madonna and Red Hot Chili Peppers sell their songs by the album, but not as singles.

    They will find some musicians on one service, but not on others. They will find puzzling choices: Led Zeppelin fans can buy a 47-minute spoken-word biography of the band online, but no Zeppelin songs because the band has not licensed them for sale on the Internet.

    ….EMI’s biggest act, the Beatles, remains intransigent. EMI distributes the Beatles’ songs but the group’s performance rights are owned by the band members and spouses. (Michael Jackson owns the publishing rights.) EMI has held numerous meetings with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono and the rest of the tight group that controls perhaps the most-loved songs in the pop canon. So far the group remains unswayed. It is not surprising; the Beatles were among the last artists to license their songs for sale on CD, in the 1980s. “We hope they agree to make their works available very soon, ” EMI spokeswoman Jeanne Meyer said.

    ….Record companies and online services must also secure a song’s publishing rights, also known as “mechanical rights,” a term that was spurred by the invention of the player piano, the first device to reproduce a musician’s work.

    There are two major music publishing companies — EMI and Warner/Chappell Music Inc., owned by Time Warner Inc. — and at least 27,000 smaller ones. When attempting to release a CD for sale on the Internet, record companies must go song by song and contact each songwriter to negotiate for the online rights. Sixty-five to 70 percent of the publishers are represented by the Harry Fox Agency, established in 1927 to protect its members’ rights and collect and disburse royalty payments to them.

    But the rest of the publishers are not represented by Harry Fox, which means they cannot be easily located through a central database. And if found, some are unwilling to sell their rights. Some are unable to sell because they are dead.

    ….Some artists, such as cerebral Brit-rockers Radiohead, believe their albums should be listened to in their entirety and will not sell them online as singles.

    ….”It’s not that we don’t respect the concept of the album as art, but particularly in light of fact that all the tracks are available individually on every illegal free service, it doesn’t seem to make sense that they’re not available in other than on album format on the legitimate services where the artist actually makes money,” said Napster’s Atkins. “To compete with the illegal sites, we need to at least offer consumers what they can get there, so maybe the artists have to look at that and make different decisions.” [Washington Post]

Hence the appeal of consumers saying “screw this” and going for the sure thing with the file sharing services: it’s all there, and of course it’s all free. The file sharing services will lose their appeal when everything that is available there, is available at a pay service, or better still, when a blanket file sharing license is created.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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