Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
The Chronicle-Herald, the daily newspaper from Halifax, Nova Scotia, ran a story Saturday, November 28, describing a situation where Canada’s national composers’ society (SOCAN) is wanting to be paid for the music used by local gymnastics groups. (See story here.) Gymnastics Canada has refused to pay songwriters for their music, calling SOCAN’s position “immoral.” But in my opinion, SOCAN is in the right.
Yet again, professional songwriters and other composers are placed in the all-too-familiar position of having to explain that, for them, songwriting is a profession. It’s what earns them their bread and butter. They create a product, and people buy that product. And there are guidelines for that product’s use. To use an analogy, buying software created by professional designers requires the purchaser to enter into a licensed agreement with the software company, and there are rules that govern the use of that software. Music, in this instance, is no different.
SOCAN, like ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and a host of others, is a performing rights agency. It is through SOCAN that Canadian songwriters are paid. For most, it’s not a bonus; it is, for most, a vital part of how they’re paid. They receive payment for each CD sold (pennies!), and then they are paid a tiny amount for each time that music is broadcast. And yes, as Gymnastics Canada has been told, running your program by using the original work of composers requires payment.
Three things really bother me about this situation. First, take a look at the photo in the article. Do you think that the power company has donated the power that keeps the lights burning for the dancers? Unlikely. What about the mats, the clothing, the blaster? All donated? Possibly, but unlikely. Is the janitor who cleans the room after use asked to donate his/her services? Unlikely. Are they all accused of making a money grab, as SOCAN is? Unlikely.
There’s something else even worse that’s really bothering me about this: Let’s say, for the moment, that you couldn’t afford to buy an item in a store. Would you consider it acceptable to steal it? If you’re questioned about the theft, would you reply, “Well, I thought the price for that was unreasonable, and so of course I stole it.” If neither Gymnastics Canada nor Gymnastics Nova Scotia can afford to buy the music they’re using, the proper course of action is to not use it, to ask for donations, or to negotiate. SOCAN is on the record as saying, “Whatever their issue was financially, we would work with them to ensure that they abided by the copyright law.” The improper course of action is to take it and use it anyway.
And there is a third, even worse aspect to this whole story. Gymnastics Canada is raising an entirely new generation of young people that will now believe that if you can’t afford music, it is perfectly acceptable to steal it. Gymnastics Canada and Gymnastics Nova Scotia have a moral duty to correct this problem, explain to their young members that they were in the wrong, and start paying professional musicians if they want to use their music.
Gary Ewer has written several e-books designed to get you writing the kind of songs you’ve always known you could write! Click here to read about those e-books.