Sunday, March 30, 2008

Billy Bragg Op-Ed about musicians' royalties

The Royalty Scam

By BILLY BRAGG, March 22, 2008, Op-Ed Contributor, New York Times
Dorset, England

LAST week at South by Southwest, the rock music conference held every year in Austin, Tex., the talk in hotel lobbies, coffeeshops and the convention center was dominated by one issue: how do musicians make a living in the age of the Internet? It’s a problem our industry has struggled with in the wake of the rising popularity of sharing mp3 music files.

Our discussions were brought into sharp relief when news reached Austin of the sale of to AOL for a staggering $850 million. Bebo is a social-networking site whose membership has risen to 40 million in just two years. In Britain, it ranks with MySpace and Facebook in popularity, although its users tend to come from a younger age group.

Estimates suggested that the founder, Michael Birch (along with his wife and co-founder, Xochi), walked away with $600 million for his 70 percent stake in the company.

I heard the news with a particular piquancy, as Mr. Birch has cited me as an influence in Bebo’s attitude toward artists. He got in touch two years ago after I took MySpace to task over its proprietary rights clause. I was concerned that the site was harvesting residual rights from original songs posted there by unsigned musicians. As a result of my complaints, MySpace changed its terms and conditions to state clearly that all rights to material appearing on the site remain with the originator.

A few weeks later, Mr. Birch came to see me at my home. He was hoping to expand his business by hosting music and wanted my advice on how to construct an artist-centered environment where musicians could post original songs without fear of losing control over their work. Following our talks, Mr. Birch told the press that he wanted Bebo to be a site that worked for artists and held their interests first and foremost.

the rest of the column at

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