At the risk of making everyone click away from this post, there’s no question that much of the arcane law surrounding music copyright, broadcasting and related issues is boring as hell — and confusing to boot. But it is still important, and so I’m hoping at least some people will force themselves to read further: according to Billboard magazine, Sony’s music publishing division has told the Harry Fox Agency (which is responsible for licensing the majority of published music in the U.S.) to stop licensing its music for either streaming or download purposes.
As far as I can tell from the Billboard story, Sony isn’t telling Harry Fox to stop licensing existing music, but just any new music that it publishes. Why is it doing this? It appears to be some brinksmanship related to negotiations between music publishers and music services such as Rhapsody, Napster, iMeem and others — who belong to something called the Digital Media Association — over whether such streaming services have to pay a reproduction licensing fee as well as a performance royalty when they stream music or offer limited downloads.
The reproduction license was designed for physical copies such as records, discs and so on, while the performance royalty was designed to cover radio broadcasts and live performances in bars. So is a stream on the Web a reproduction or a performance? It’s stored in your RAM and possibly on your hard drive — that makes it a reproduction, according to the music publishers. But the Digital Media Alliance argues that it’s a performance. The DMA has asked the U.S. copyright royalty regulator to rule on whether it’s one or the other — and that has apparently pissed off Sony to the point where it has yanked its licensing rights.