Hooray! More signs of a royalty-collecting agency for writings on the Internet

Musicians, composers and music producers (“content providers” or “rights holders”) have long enjoyed a huge benefit over creative folks who are writers and illustrators. This advantage is the existence of strong rights agencies who levy performance and usage fees – even a restaurant owner who plays the radio must pay an annual fee – and then divvy up the money to musicians. Some of the money can be attributed to a specific song, while other money is apportioned out to all musicians.

According to a NY Times article today, “GEMA, the main collecting society for German music copyright owners, raises more than €850 million, or $1.3 billion, a year.” The cool thing is the scale of this: perhaps $100 BILLION are being collected worldwide by the national rights agencies.

So far, the rights agencies for written content have been comparatively anemic – my ballpark figure would be 10% as effective in terms of dollars raised and disbursed. In the USA, my writings are included in Copyright.com (the US Copyright Clearance Centre). In Canada, our authors register with AccessCopyright.ca. Through reciprocal agreements, AccessCopyright receives money from (and collects money on behalf of) copyright licensing bodies in the UK, Australia and dozens of other countries.

This all sounds good, but what’s needed is more robust enforcement, especially across the Internet. There are reasons to be optimistic about this happening:

  • Germany (according to the same NY Times article (Publisher Lays Out Plan to Save Newspapers) will be enacting new legislation to set up a rights monitoring and collection agency for newspaper content used on the web; this sets a good example for other (non-newspaper) written content,
  • as part of the Google Books settlement, a rights agency will be established for book content, and for the first time, nearly all authors will be represented by an agency, and
  • micropayments (fractions of a cent in some cases) are feasible because computer processing has become so inexpensive – we could envision, for example, someone happily paying a dollar to browse through 300 book pages while doing research, or Google paying a portion of its ad revenues generated from searches of book pages. Micropayments would enable easy legal usage by consumers, and make the alternatives (piracy, not using the material, etc.) less attractive.

Meanwhile we can be happy and thankful about receiving our annual cheques from AccessCopyright, and dream of more and larger payments.

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