A move to Creative Commons
Recently, I investigated the feasibility of putting a few cover songs up for free download. Sometimes I record covers on my YouTube account and it would be nice to offer download links as well, instead of people having to listen to often low-quality encoded audio. Turns out, the music industry is even more ridiculous than I thought.
First, it's illegal to offer a download of a cover of someone else's song unless they have already released the rights, even if you give it away free. Okay, I guess that's fair enough. So what if I wanted to obtain the rights? I couldn't find a great deal of information online, so since I'm in New Zealand, I asked APRA about it.
Looks like there are two main options: Obtain the rights directly from the owner of the track, or get a Digital Download Licence from APRA. Working out who exactly owns the rights to a track, working out a deal and getting their permission is a bit out of scope for a few random covers I might want to do. With a DDL, the basic deal is that you pay APRA 12% of every track sold. The catch for free tracks is that there appears to be a minimum payment per track, so if you gave away tracks for free you'd lose some money on every download.
Another bigger problem is actually handling the purchases and making sure they're legal. Setting up a payment system, if I decided to charge something to cover costs, would be okay because I could do it through an external site like Bandcamp. But the document on how you need to record downloads, what needs to be included in those downloads, and how you need to pay your royalties is a horrific 26-page license agreement/form combination that I'd pretty much need to hire a lawyer to decipher. Music licencing is obviously not aimed at the common musician.
Also, my website is now hosted in the US. Let's say I offer a download of a cover song. Under US law, it looks like I need to buy a US mechanical licence for the song, since the download comes from the US. But do I also need a NZ licence because I'm in NZ? I'm not sure. Do I need to limit the downloads to only be allowed in countries where I have purchased a license? It's quite possible - many other services do this.
In fact, I technically need a separate and different licence again to have a cover on YouTube in the first place, because its a "sync" track with video. Of course, YouTube is absolutely full of unlicensed covers and the worst that happens is that they get removed, or their accounts get disabled. It seems ridiculous to me that if you post a video of your friends singing Happy Birthday, you're breaking the law.
And so it seems the copyright laws achieve what they set out to do. Not protect the music's integrity, but its profits and exclusivity. Music doesn't need to be about making money, and music will survive without money, as it always has. Maybe, in dreams of a perfect world, we can get away from all the money-centric force-fed radio crap and music can be based on the actual quality of the music itself.
Personally I'm moving all my music to a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand License, so anyone is free to record covers and give copies to their friends or whatever they want. The only thing I'm still charging is the album, because it's a physical CD that I spent money on getting printed, but it's only half the price of a normal music CD. And you're very welcome to not purchase it.