Thursday, November 8, 2007

BMI in SL - "Pay the Piper or Face the Music?" by Justine Babii of SLNN

Via Second Life News Network

Pay the piper or face the music?
by Justine Babii
November 07, 2007

SUNSET BEACH - If you own a venue or club in real life that hosts DJs or bands, then you are probably familiar with Broadcast Music, Inc. or BMI. BMI is an organization that has arranged to handle licensing fees for over 350,000 creators of music, the songwriters, composers and publishers of more than 6.5 million musical works.

If you own a club or similar venue in real life then, you pay fees to BMI. Those fees gives your DJs the right to play the copyrighted music and bands to play cover songs for those compositions that BMI represents.

If you own a club or other venue in Second Life, you might not be familiar with BMI yet, but there’s an excellent chance you will be in the near future.

Currently, DJs in Second Life are not required to pay performance rights organizations such as ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC, but that may change in the near future. The current legal climate for Second Life DJs is that they are providing a service and are being paid for that service; thus, are exempt from having to pay for licensing.

Similarly, no one has pursued Second Life club owners for licensing fees to date. The idea that there is no actual venue, or alcohol sales, or significant revenue from advertising probably makes the individual club owners not worth the effort to pursue. There is, however, much going on in the world of digital music licensing that creates a considerable gray area.

And it is this gray area that will make for an interesting year in the Second Life music business. Currently, internet radio stations are embroiled in a contentious dispute with various entities over the costs of broadcasting copyrighted music over the internet. The outcome of this battle could well determine the next steps that BMI and similar organizations take with regard to music performed in Second Life.

In May of this year, the United States Royalty Copyright Board approved an increase in rates internet radio stations would have to pay in order to broadcast songs. Viewing the new rate structure as crippling and potentially in conflict with other pieces of legislation, such as 1998’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the internet radio industry immediately challenged the decision in court and a protracted battle has ensued.

In addition to the challenge, a bill called the Internet Radio Equality Bill was proposed in the House of Representatives seeking to ameliorate the rate increases suggested by the Royalty Copyright Board. How this battle plays out may have some effect in Second Life.

In what is purportedly an unrelated development, music licensing giant BMI arrived in Second Life during the summer of 2007 as part of an arrangement with Funky House Club owners Charming Babii and Danni Dollinger.

Dollinger said in a published interview with DJ Doubledown Tandino, “We are sponsored by BMI London. Our plans are to promote new talent and Artists in Dance Music.”

“BMI wants to promote artists from the dance scene ...and they want to do it with [Funky House Club]. They want to sign [and] discover artists (artists including writers, DJ´s, & producers) in SL and RL and promote them in SL and of course in RL. We are making our island into a dance scene,” he also said.

Dollinger then added that “We are planning to hold monthly events where Dance Music Artists can play their tunes to a live audience. At the moment BMI and Gibson Guitars co-sponsor the Wavelength event at The Blarney Stone here in SL which is a live simulcast from Hammersmith London (the Regal Rooms). The Hammersmith monthly event is for Piano acoustic artists.”

The plan didn't work, as the Funky House Club was closed not long after the interview was published on Tandino's blog. Charming Babii, according to his profile, is now associated with a new club, the Sands House and Jazz Club.

SLNN contacted Ham Rambler to speak to him about his working relationship with BMI, but he was travelling. BMI still sponsors the Wavelength events. His business associate Sitearm Madonna had this to say:

"Ham Rambler totally supports live music and musicians and audiences and venues in SL. He is passionate about music in RL and great music ANYwhere.. he is the perfect matchmaker :)"

Futhermore, the clubs on Dublin, The Blarney Stone and Fibber Magees, host DJs every day

There is no evidence of an association between BMI and the Sands House and Jazz Club, and neither Babii nor Dollinger are among the fifteen or so members of the Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) group in Second Life. Neither would respond to requests for interviews for this article.

The Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) group was founded by Raj Roviana, who in his profile explains that he works for BMI in London. His profile encourages the music community to join the group, as it says ” If you are a songwriter, composer. or music publisher then please join our group: Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI)." Mr. Roviana did not respond to requests for an interview.

Though there is clearly the potential for exciting opportunities with this relationship, this synergy between an established force in the music industry and Second Life clubs creates some fear and anxiety for many club owners and DJs alike.

The primary fear is that bringing the groups that license music into some clubs and not others will create a network of “licensed” clubs and freeze out clubs that are not licensed by threatening them with performance fees.

Occasional RL musician and Second Life businessman Hammer Flanagan said, “Many of us believe [BMI is] in world to evaluate, to scope it out if you will. As there are no laws to my knowledge regarding streaming music in Second Life, some of us believe they are in here to simply find out what’s going on so perhaps in the future they can try to build a formal streaming music law, to their advantage."

"I feel that Funky House had no idea what they were doing. Their club might benefit in the short term from publicity and whatever perks BMI is offering, but in the long term, unless someone points out to BMI that club ownership here is often a hand-to-mouth operation that couldn’t afford licensing, they may have started the end of all this wonderful variety of streaming music we hear here and see it replaced with the bland corporate suit rock that predominates in American terrestrial radio.”

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