The AMM 13th Annual Convention is coming up at the end of November. Undoubtedly the most important task for delegates will be voting on resolutions, as those carried will form the AMM’s lobbying direction for the coming year. Over the coming weeks, we will use this space to preview a few of the resolutions coming up for debate, starting with SOCAN fees.
Back in March, during the Midwestern Mayors, Reeves and CAOs meeting, one of the issues raised during the discussion was SOCAN fees. SOCAN stands for the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada. This non-profit member-owned copyright collective represents the people who create music – more than 100,000 Canadian songwriters, composers, lyricists and publishers. And through their affiliations, SOCAN represents hundreds of thousands of other creators and publishers around the world. For those who use music as part of their business or event, SOCAN provides licences to use the world’s entire repertoire of copyright-protected music for public performance and telecommunication – based on fees set by the Copyright Board of Canada.
What does this have to do with municipal business, you ask? Well, it turns out that after every event where Canadian music is played in a municipally-owned venue, the municipality must pay a fee for the use of that music. SOCAN says many people are surprised to learn that music in their place of business or work can be considered a “public performance” of the music – but they shouldn’t be. Buying a CD or downloading music does not include the rights to use the music for any business or community centre application whatsoever. Radio stations pay license fees for playing music on air. Also, advertisers pay handsomely for the use of music in commercials.
So who is required to pay? Well, copyright laws require any business or community centre using music obtain a licence and pay the corresponding fees. This includes: bars and restaurants, retail stores, concert venues, fairs, exhibitions, fitness centres, skating rinks, pools (aquatic fitness), theatres and movie theatres. Chances are you have one or more of these facilities in your community. It might be obvious that the concert you have on Canada Day is subject to SOCAN fees; but less obvious that the CD your aquatic staff play during public swim times is subject as well.
Raising even more confusion is the question of equity throughout the system. Apparently, some municipalities are routinely invoiced for the priviledge of using music, and some are not. There was also concern that the process creates a great deal of paperwork for already overloaded municipal officials. As well, some uses can be paid via an annual license, while some are on an event-by-event basis – confusing to say the least. Further hindering the process is the fact that SOCAN has admitted to having insufficient resources to effectively and equitably impose the tariffs they have been charged to administer.
Many of the meeting participants saw the value of such an organization – some moreso than others. Elected officials come from all walks of life and at least one Midwestern councillor identified herself as a performer in her “other” life who fully recognized the need for musicians to be paid fairly for their art. Hard to argue with that, but the confusing mish-mash of invoicing, licensing, not paying at all or having to pay while your neighbours do not is causing problems for many.
A resolution dealing with just this issue is coming forward at the AMM 13th Annual Convention in November. You can be sure it will create a great deal of discussion.
For more information about SOCAN visit their website (www.socan.ca).