Exploiting Music Publishing Copyrights

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Music Publishing Essay

Over the past fifty years, the British Music Publishing industry has undergone dramatic changes. It has evolved as an entity with innovations in technology, changes and creations of laws and new mediums to promote and exploit songs to a wider audience. Therefore, the way in which the music publishing industry operates and exploits its assets has completely transformed, and continues to do so at a rapid pace. This paper will attempt to explore the ways in which publishers exploit song copyrights and the way in which this has changed over the past 60 years. It is important to define what is meant by copyright and its role within the industry. The Performing Right Society website states: “Copyright protect original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works. It allows an original work to be considered a property that is owned by somebody. When a song or piece of music is written, the person who wrote it owns the copyright and therefore has the right to decide how and when it should be played.” The main outlets for administering and exploiting music copyrights in the United Kingdom are major music publishers, independent music publishers and self-publishing (Dodgson, 2008). The primary method of exploiting song copyrights utilised by Music Publishers is the licensing of songs the publisher controls to be recorded, produced and sold. Copyright enforcement is in the form of a license (permit of use) that must be acquired for song usage. The law states that the owner of a song copyright is to be paid whenever a composition is mechanically reproduced (Wikströmm, 2009). This generates royalties that are collected by the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS), which acts as an agent on behalf of the music publisher to administer the right to reproduce the specific song and to collect the royalties. The format on which songs have been featured has diversified radically. Until the revolutionary creation of digital compact discs in 1984, record companies would have typically obtained a license in order to commercially distribute albums and songs on formats such as vinyl records and cassette tapes. Compact discs are still present in today’s record market, but are dominated by wholly digital releases such as mp3s, which were available from 1994 (Stern, 2012). With the introduction of purely digital formats of music, mechanical reproduction had to be completely redefined, as mp3s are not physically tangible. Orlowski (2012) comments: “Digital music revenue has overtaken revenue hauled in from sales of plastic discs for the first time in the UK. British music industry trade group the BPI released figures showing that digital revenue – from downloads, subscriptions and advertising – had made up 55.5 per cent of income in the first three months of this year.” Moreover, the invention of online music shops has had an effect. Consumers can now access, preview and buy millions of tracks from their own home computer instantly. Programs such as iTunes are integrated with online music shops, making music playback and purchasing much simpler than previously possible. A publishing company also receives revenue in the form of print and folio royalties. This occurs when a song they control is duplicated as sheet music, or when a song is lyrically adopted for multimedia or books. This is one of the most traditional methods of exploiting intellectual property, alongside the recording of songs. Before records were available, sheet music was highly in demand and provided a large source of income (Ennis, 1992). Publishers can maximize their revenue by creatively marketing their songs in print form, such as releasing songs with the same genre in the same publication e.g. great rock songs or power ballads. The internet has played a key part in the decline in sheet music sales, as online availability is now an easy and inexpensive option for consumers. Furthermore, a music publisher will generate income...
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