BUMA/Stemra and Royal Dutch Horeca in tiff over “rights-free” music

The Royal Dutch Horeca (Koninklijke Horeca Nederland, abbreviated to KHN; most links in this entry lead to Dutch web pages) has purchased many hours of music for its members; bars, restaurants, et cetera. This is instrumental music intended for background use, muzak. In doing so they landed themselves in hot water with BUMA (often called BUMA/Stemra), an organisation whose sole purpose is to collect levies from people and organisations who play music in public. BUMA believes that although KHN has bought the rights from the rights holders, KHN still owes BUMA money for playing the music. (Which BUMA presumably would then be paying back after subtracting a modest fee for its own services and those of ms. Britney Spears.)

In The Netherlands, copying and publication are two distinct acts recognized by the law that are the sole province of the copyright holder (usually the publisher, sometimes an author or his heirs). However, getting permission from each copyright holder for all of these acts, sometimes thousands a day for a single person or location, can be quite daunting. This is why most countries that subscribe to rigid copyright laws have some system in place where acts of publication or copying can be performed without the copyright holder’s permission, but with payment.

Instead of going to a single author, you go to an organisation representing the authors and deal with them. These are so-called rights organisations. Examples in the US are ASCAP and BMI, who only regulate the playing of music in public spaces. The Dutch have a far richer spectrum of rights organisations that deal with many more forms of copying, such as BUMA, Stemra, SENA, Stichting Thuiskopie, Stichting Nieuwswaarde, LIRA, et cetera. These organisations cover far more media and means of copying than just public music.

In the Netherlands, anyone can start such an organisation, even competing ones, as long as they have been ratified by the national government.

Of course, it is still possible to go directly to the copyright holders and make a deal with them. This is exactly what KHN did.

It is not entirely clear to me which rights KHN bought, and which rights BUMA claims. It is said that in order to prevent these things from happening (presumably because it is hard to keep track of the rights situation–welcome to the world of Project Gutenberg volunteers, boys and girls of BUMA/Stemra), BUMA enters into a contract with artists that forbids these artists to enter into any other copyright related contract. The disputed works were presumably made by artists/composers who already have a deal with BUMA.

In 2003, my ISP XS4All threw a little bash in honour of its tenth birthday, and made it (partly) about copyrights. The party was called Copy=Rights Festival, and it had a lot of debate on the current state of copyright legislation. My provider is like that. Also a lot of musicians were invited to play, generally artists sympathetic to the cause, such as Osdorp Posse (warning: pop-up), Chuck D., and Negativland.

XS4All had an agreement with all the rights holders involved that MP3s of the show could be offered for download for free. Then, as now, BUMA intervened and called the whole thing off. (The download site, not the party itself.) XS4All notes on its site that it has sent a complaint to the NMA, the competition watchdog in the Netherlands.

Unfortunately, none of the parties involved, KHN, XS4All and particularly not BUMA/Stemra is being clear about what rights exactly we are talking about, and why these organisations believe they could lay a claim to it. This makes it hard to fathom what’s going on; and since at least BUMA/Stemra is “tainted” by the democratic nation-state society, that is a bad thing in general. Also, it makes it seem that all parties have a point. So I guess it is up to a court to decide. Courts that have been wishy-washy to say the least when it comes to copyright-related rulings.

(Disclaimer: the opinions above are my personal opinions, and not those of my employer. Which, naturally and without saying, goes for the entirety of my discourse in public space that is not strictly related to that of my employer.)

3 responses to “BUMA/Stemra and Royal Dutch Horeca in tiff over “rights-free” music”

  1. Copyright and copywrong

    I must say I’ve never liked BUMA/STEMRA, as it always seemed like an organisation less concerned with protecting artists than with collecting money for itself and the Dutch record companies, a somewhat inflexible bureaucracy which seeks to maximalise…

  2. brankl says:

    BUMA/Stemra must do the hard copyright research, so that we do not have to. However, if they spent too much time (and thus money) on this research, the artists and record companies would get angry with them, because these costs would bite in their proceeds. So I understand their dilemma.

    Still, it is a problem they brought upon themselves. The founders of BUMA/Stemra did not have to start their organisation; and the current board should only run it if they feel up to it.

    And of course, any creator or publisher who wants to start a competing collection agency that does try to keep better track of rights is alway welcome to do so. It is not as if BUMA/Stemra has a monopoly.

    On the third hand, the works of every copyright owner represented by BUMA/Stemra are in threat of less dissemination through B/S’s policies. Since works belong to the public, not to the authors, this is a problem for the public.

    Anyway, if it were up to the E.U., organisations like BUMA/Stemra will be outlawed in the course of time, to be replaced by DRM locks on works. That’s the day the public domain will truly suffer. Still, one hopes for market forces to run their course.

  3. Natasha says:

    While BUMA/STEMRA asks for some 22 euro a month for streaming a web radio, a rate set for hobbyists (80% of all Dutch web radios), their friends at SENA ask for 40 euro a month, assuming everyone is rich cafe or restaurant owner. I think the latter is disgusting and unfair, so I refuse to pay it, while I do pay B/S.

    Also, podcasting is still free because all these bureaucrats can’t agree on a fee. How fair is that?

    So if you stream you should pay some 60 euro a month and if you podcast, it’s free, never mind the fact that there is talk of charging people for podsafe music! It’s all very screwed up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.