Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Bureaucracy of Live Music: Why the European Union will fail 
As many of you know, I'm an enthusiastic acoustic musician. Mostly what I do is traditional Irish music. It's a self-sustaining hobby. I do play on a semi-pro level, but my favorite thing to do is to get friends together, find a pub, cafe, or parlor, put the chairs in a circle, and simply play for the love of playing. No drunken idiots requesting Danny Boy, the Wild Colonial Boy, or some gawdawful rebel song. Just playing for the sheer joy of the music, and to master this challenging art form.

Courtesy of the community site for Irish traditional musicians, www.thesession.org, an Italian resident informs us of what' involved in setting up a session in Italy:

centuries ago, my country (Italy) was a civilised place where arts and music were encouraged and flourished; but not anymore.

As an ITM enthusiast, passable singer and intermediate whistler, I'd love to play and sing at sessions in osterias, the Italian equivalent of pubs. But if you go to an osteria and start playing, the landlord will ask you to stop. In fact, he risks a heavy fine.

In Italy, all musical events must be approved and/or controlled by SIAE, the Italian Society of Authors and Publishers (http://www.siae.it). Its purpose is, in theory, to protect the authors' intellectual property. In practice, it's a device that sucks money from *any* possible musical or theatrical event.

I knew there were a few problems to sort out. So I went to the local SIAE office and talked to the boss. "Dear sir, a few friends of mine and I would like to play traditional music, just for fun, in bars and osterias. It's public domain music so we don't have to worry about copyright; what else should we do?"

The answer:

0. first of all, the bar owner must get a (cheap) licence from the municipality for playing music in his venue - live music, radio, CDs, whatever.

1. players must certify to SIAE that the music is traditional and public domain, for example producing a public domain tunebook. Apparently, web sites don't count.

2. the landlord must contact the local SIAE office before the session, tell them that on day X a session will be held, and declare that musicians will not be paid.

3. here's the fun part. Each player must pay a fee for the musicians' pension fund called EMPALS, managed by SIAE. The rationale is: You play music in public? Then you're a professional musician and must pay for your pension. And no, you can't give up your pension. This fee (or extortion, as I see it) is 39.16 Euros, each time you play.

4. only religious or no-profit organisations or are exempted from the EMPALS fee, but they must be *registered* organisations - and that's a load of paperwork and other fees and so on and on and on.

5. after the session, a form must be filled containing the exact list of all tunes that were played plus some information about the players/band, and it must be returned to the SIAE office.

6. players may be asked to give SIAE a recording of the session, to prove that they played the tunes they listed in the form. Alternatively, a SIAE officer may attend the session to check it out.

7. after the session, the landlord must contact the SIAE office and tell them how much money he earned thanks to the session, which is supposed to have attracted more customers.

I'm not making anything of this up. Is everything clear?

OK, stop laughing. To sum up:

- spontaneous sessions are ILLEGAL.

- if you want to play at a session, you must fork out money and put up with a lot of hassle and paperwork.

The consequence of this state of affairs is that in Italy you hardly ever hear music played in bars, and bands are rare. But since the SIAE rules don't apply in churches, there are lots of amateur choirs around - and they regularly perform in churches. The problem is, you don't normally go play ITM or other traditional music in a church...

I'll save you what you need to do if you play *and* are going to get some money.

Needless to say, the only session in my city is illegal - and players are prepared to hit the s**t out of the SIAE officer if he turns up.

I'm not going to tell you what all Italian musicians think of SIAE, I might get sued. This SIAE thing is a windmill I'm going to fight against in the next few months.

I can't imagine Americans tolerating that nonsense.

Splash, out


Actually this sounds very much like the RIAA's licensing regime for both live and recorded performances in the US, perhaps with more bureaucracy (pensions?!) around it. I don't think we're much better off from a strict legal perspective, but perhaps enforcement in Italy is more pervasive.
Something like it IS happening here.

Go over to powertabs.net. A once active community for exchanging lyrics. chords, and tablature is being shut down based on the same "intellectual" property argument. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/4508158.stm

The next step will be to show down fan drawing sites like deviantart.com because they contain "unauthorized versions" of copyrighted characters.
I can certify that those bastards in Italian bureaucracies would tax the songs of birds if they could. The best thing my folks ever did was leave that commie-ridden country and put down stakes in the U.S.

I love Italians, excepting bureaucratic enforcers and their politician bosses. (I guess I could say that about Americans or any other nationality too.) I wish your musician correspondent well, though I don't expect he'll get much open support in his crusade. Most people will say "bravo" silently to themselves, and then go on taking crap from the all-powerful bureaucrats because they're too afraid to take them on themselves. I've seen this happen daily there, on my many long visits.

But I've decided to help your friend. I'm going to write a letter to the SIAE (in Italian), and ask them when they are going to get around to arresting those pesky starlings in my family's village for not paying taxes despite singing in public all day!
Say, that's a long list of reasons not to sing in osterias...

Is it just me, or did he number the list like a good C programmer, starting with element (0) of the array?
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