SGAE, the royalty collection agency that operates in Spain, recently sued a jazz club for failing to pay royalties on music played. The club responded by stating that they only played royalty-free Creative Commons music, and magistrate Luis Sanz Acosta ruled in their favour.
The royalty collections agency's evidence was poor at best. Especially noteworthy was the recording they claimed was made in the jazz club but was actually recorded elsewhere. The judge was not amused.
What is especially satisfying is that the magistrate displayed a good understanding of "música libre" and the Creative Commons -- no doubt far better than the SGAE, which stands to lose financially if significant numbers of Spanish musicians drop out of their cozy little system. Monopolies never really understand the people who opt out.
For those who are unaware of how the royalty system works, it goes something like this:
The collections agency collects royalties on the musician's behalf, based on an estimate of how many times his or her work is played. Once the money is collected from (e.g.) the radio stations and bars, once a year the agency pays it to the musician, assuming:
- The royalty is more than a certain minimum amount.
- The agency can find your bank details, and don't confuse you with somebody else and pay your royalties to them.
- You have filled out all the paper work they insist on.
- They remember to actually make the payment.
If any of those conditions (especially the last) are not fulfilled, you have to wait for the next year's pay run to see a cent. If you specifically ask, they'll offer to try harder to remember to pay you next time. In the meantime, they get to collect the interest on your money for another year.
Naturally this does not apply to musicians who can afford more lawyers than the collections agency, but since musicians generally only get into such a happy state by collecting royalties, there are far fewer of them than outsiders to the music biz usually imagine.