Music Industry Wants Apple, Amazon to Pay Up

Music professionals want more money, and now they're going after online retailers like Apple's iTunes and Amazon to get it. Performing rights groups such as the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), and others believe online retailers need to pay industry professionals for music contained in film and television downloads, 30-second song samples, and radio station streaming, according to CNET. Their rationale for the new fees? All of these instances count as public performances.

Let's boil these complaints down one by one:

Pay Me for Those 30-Second Samples

iTunes allows you to listen to a short snippet from a song before choosing to buy it, something that's even easier to do in the new iTunes 9. Music professionals have also noticed how easy it is to sample their work in the iTunes Store, and argue that these samples count as public performances. Apple, therefore, owes the rights holder a royalty payment every time someone listens to one of these snippets, they claim.

What the music pros fail to acknowledge is that short samples are a method of enticing a customer to make a further purchase. They are not meant as a way for you to listen to a song for free, but a way to decide whether you want to buy a particular song.

If the music publishers want Apple to fork over money for those snippets, then one of two things will happen: iTunes prices will go up or the 30-second samples will disappear. Both would result in fewer song sales, and even smaller royalty checks going to the music industry.

Pay Me for Radio Streaming

Graphic: Diego Aguirre
A creaky old feature on iTunes is radio listings that allow you to listen to radio stations over the Internet. Quite frankly, I've always found this to be a terrible feature, and the streaming quality has never been that good.

So why should iTunes pay out for this feature? Apple is merely acting as the conduit for the radio stations; it is not the source of the broadcasts. If the music publishers have a beef with anyone, it should be the radio stations creating the broadcasts, not iTunes.

Would anyone be sorry to see this feature go if it got too expensive? I know I wouldn't be.

Pay Me for Film and TV Downloads

The music industry is trying to argue that whenever someone downloads a television episode or a film, the musicians need to be paid. That sounds like a reasonable idea, but the music pros are arguing that an episode download is the same thing as watching it on TV.

When video content is broadcast on television or screened in a theater, the musicians get paid because it is considered a public performance. However, when you buy a video download many music professionals receive nothing for the music they created. This happens, as CNET points out, because lesser known composers will often waive royalty fees for the actual making of the music, in the hopes of earning significant revenue from public broadcasts and screenings.

The problem is, as more people opt for digital downloads, those public performance revenues disappear.

An Argument for the Music Industry

The music industry may be going overboard with this latest attempt to pull more money from Apple and other online retailers, but music professionals are getting screwed in the digital age. Let's be clear: We're not talking about rock stars and celebrity film composers living in Beverly Hills, but unknown middle-class people who create music scores for television and film on a daily basis. These people need to get paid.

But is an online retailer the right target? Buying content from iTunes and Amazon is no different from buying a DVD at Target or Wal-Mart. Sure, the content is easier to buy and you are not forced to purchase entire seasons of a particular television show, but the end result for the consumer is exactly the same.

If music creators want royalties for their content found in DVDs and digital files, they should take it up with the movie studios and television networks, not iTunes.

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