The editor of Catholica, Brian Coyne, presents this report on a series of concerns that emerged at a Conference on Copyright and Church Music held last Saturday at the Parramatta Diocesan Centre*.
The morality, the legality, the frustrations, and the justices and injustices of copyright experienced by Church musicians, composers, publishers and copyright agencies.
by Brian Coyne
In religious affairs at the ordinary parish level one of the most frustrating responsibilities parish priests and the often unpaid volunteers who help run local parishes emerges in the area of the use of copyrighted works of music. A similar concern applies in Catholic schools where often teachers are saddled with a legal responsibility they have never been trained to understand. I have been involved in the church for over 40 years actively enough to have witnessed the frustration, sometimes guilt, and the difficulties that emerge trying to both understand copyright law and to comply with it.
Let me be quite clear: my experience is that most people want to do the right thing. Very few people, if any, in the Church are engaged in the business of deliberately stealing the works of another or performing them without complying with the law. People generally do recognise that composers need to earn their living in the same manner that the stone mason or roof plumber does who builds a church, or the parish priest and staff who enable services to be provided each week. Monica O'Brien, who would have to be Australia's most experienced liturgical music publisher made a similar observation in a question and answer session at the Music Copyright Workshop I attended last Saturday at the Parramatta Diocesan Centre. Here are Monica's observations in a question I put to her after the workshop...
Earlier, in the panel session at the end of the workshop. Monica responded to a question from the floor about whether Church music composers are just in it for the money?
The reality though is that copyright law is complicated — often too complicated for people who are just engaged in recording what music is performed in a parish voluntarily and on a part time basis.
Five and a half years ago I married a liturgical music composer and through her got to know far more about this field through her and through her publisher, Monica O'Brien, whom you've just watched in those two short video clips and who is Managing Director of the largest publisher representing local composers in Australia. I have learned much in those five and a half years. One thing I have learned is that a massive amount of money is collected from parishes and schools all around Australia — a relatively small amount from each one, but when you add it all up, it ends up as a huge sum. What is also very apparent to composers, publishers and the copyright collection agencies is that there is also a heck of a lot of non-compliance — most often not deliberate at all but simply because records are not kept well enough at the local level. This means there are inadequate records to determine how the money should be distributed justly between the various composers. This is a moral and social justice issue as much as anything else.
Three significant stories...
As a result of this Copyright Workshop there are three fairly significant news stories that I will endeavour to cover in a series of reports this week. The issues might be summarised under three major headings:
- The education of lay people at the local parish and school level of the justice and moral issues connected with copyright to lift the level of compliance. This is a matter of justice and fairness for the composers and publishers so that what money is collected is shared amongst the composers in a just and moral way.
- The education of teachers, parish priests, school principals, and parish staff and lay volunteers who have responsibilities in the domain of reporting what music is used in a parish of the different styles of licenses available and what their legal obligations are.
- Quite independently of those two issues, the Australian Catholic Bishops are in the process of compiling a new hymn book for use in Australian parishes. A preliminary list of the songs to be included in this new collection has been distributed in the last few weeks to members of the Australian Pastoral Musicians Network which represents local parish musicians as well as the composers and publishers. This new list has been causing deep concern amongst parish musicians and composers as the list appears to be biased towards the interests of music specialists representing cathedrals who have little understanding or knowledge of the needs of the broad cross section of ordinary parishes.
An overview of how I intend to treat these issues...
The rest of today's commentary will concentrate on the first issue — basically trying to explain what the various problems are the different stakeholders are experiencing at the moment. It will include a half-hour video of the Question and Answer session that ended the Workshop on Saturday where representatives of the major copyright licensing organisations and agencies and the publisher Monica O'Brien explained some of the difficulties raised from the floor of the Conference. Hopefully this first report will provide an overview of the problems without necessarily attempting any vigorous answers. Some answers in any case are possibly way down the track and will require ongoing dialogue between all the people involved in any way with Church and educational Christian music.
Tomorrow's commentary will be more educational and will include another half-hour video in which Mark Beckwith, owner of the copyright agency, Word of Life International — a company most Catholic parishes and schools will be familiar with, explains some of the finer detail about copyright and the challenge his organisation has been finding in getting an accurate measure of which music is being played at the local level. We will also provide an overview of the procedures used by the other two major licensing organisations CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International) and APRA-AMCOS and what the responsibilities are at the parish and school level to be compliant with the laws and moral issues connected with copyright as well as the reporting responsibilities and why they are as important as any fees that have to be paid.
Our third commentary or report will concentrate on a newly emerging issue which seems to be the dominance that some cathedral choir masters and classical music specialists have been exerting on trying to define what the entire music repertoire will be for Catholic worship across an entire nation. This issue is, of course, as old as the hills. There have long been "musical purists" endeavouring to dictate what music will be performed out in the Wilcannia-Forbes or Northern Territory dioceses where musical tastes are very, very different to that found in the major cathedrals of the capital cities who are often able to employ choristers and musicians of very high technical expertise in the craft of musicianship. The "purists" also often seem completely oblivious to the fact that much religious music is not actually used in worship settings but in the educational environment where the tastes of young people are a long, long way from the tastes of the "classical and sacred music purists". (At present I'll probably bump back the regular commentaries from Tom McMahon and Brian Gleeson by a day to publish this third report on Wednesday.)
The frustration of copyright at the grass roots of the church —
at the parish and school level...
Copyright is part of the law of the land. I'm sure most people agree with the notion that creative people ought to get remunerated for their work — particularly if it brings enormous joy into the lives of ourselves and others. The age old difficulty is how a society remunerates its creative people and doesn't leave them starving in the proverbial "artists' garrets". Copyright law is the mechanism that society has evolved to solve the problem. Unfortunately it is a pain in the bum trying to police it. Just as nearly everyone in society does not hold strictly to the speed limits on our roads, so also with copyright almost everyone in society is an offender in using the creative works of another person without going to the trouble of obtaining permission or paying a royalty fee as the law requires. Creative people — composers, artists, film-makers, novelists and such like — employ agencies to look after their interests and to collect the royalty fees on their behalf so that they can spend their time in their creative endeavours and don't have to wander around like policemen or debt collectors in society collecting their royalties.
The lawyers, the politicians, the copyright agencies and the artists themselves appreciate that the system is far from perfect. Over time the law has been changed — and is being increasingly forced to change by new technologies — and the licensing agencies have endeavoured to develop mechanisms so that copyright law works more efficiently and doesn't stress anybody out (or leave anyone with attacks of the scruples in case they're doing the wrong thing — Monica in one of the videos above suggested she never criticises people for getting pedantic about copyright law. I'll share a suggestion later on that might help scupulous people deal with their scruples or pendantry.) Over the course of this series I hope we can explain how the agencies have endeavoured to do this. Different agencies have developed slightly different techniques. They all basically share the similar objective of trying to obtain the rightful royalty to the originating artists and creative people with the least stress to the people who want to use their works in some way.
There are two key things to remember at the local level. They boil down to two responsibilities if you, or the organisation you represent, wishes to use the copyrighted work of another person in ways that are not exempt from the operation of the law. I'll write these in BIG LETTERS because these are the two prime responsibilities, in fact the two key facts to remember before you get into the fine detail of who you have to pay any royalties to or whom you report to.
OBLIGATION ONE: Under copyright law you have to ask the permission of the holder of the right to use their work and/or also pay a royalty for so using it.
OBLIGATION TWO: As important as the first, especially in this realm of the use of music in religious-related activities, is you have to report which works you have used.
When I asked Monica O'Brien about non-compliance in the video clip above I am relatively certain she didn't mean there was a great deal of non-compliance with Obligation One. Most parishes and schools around our nation today have been well-enough educated and they do pay the annual fee they are required to pay to the various agencies that most suit their situation. The big problem with non-compliance is to do with Obligation Two — reporting back what music is actually used. I'll explain more about that in a moment, and why it is important, but before that here is Malcolm Hawker, Managing Director of CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International) — now the largest agency in Australia dealing with the Christian music repertoire, and his response to essentially the same question I put to Monica...
Why "accurate reporting" is so important...
The Copyright Fee is actually not that onerous. As I have already said, most parishes and schools are happy to pay the fee — often to two or three different agencies so that they give their musicians access to the full repertoire of what is available. The fee is in the realm of hundreds of dollars not thousands and this works out as cents that are paid on the performance of any individual work. What the copyright agencies also need to know is which composers and publishers to pay the royalties to. They need to know which works have been performed — and the more accurately the better. These copyright laws and mechanisms have been in operation for a long, long time and over time people have gotten slack and either do not submit their reports or they make up lists that are almost ficticious listing a few popular names that spring to mind. Sadly the end effect of this in the response from across an entire nation is that nobody any longer has an accurate idea of what music is being performed. The copyright agencies not only collect the royalties paid to Australian composers but composers from other countries as well. The "big name" artists tend to get mentioned more often and lesser known, or lesser remembered artists less so. This is basically how the situation has arisen that Monica O'Brien mentioned in her answer in the panel session — some composers who know their works have been performed quite extensively in certain places end up with no royalties whatsoever or pitiful sums like $4.08 from the hundreds of thousands of dollars that are collected across Australia each year that should be going to the composers and their agencies and publishers. What the experts also suspect is that there is weighting to overseas composers and it tends to be the local Australian composers whose names are least remembered when those who do compile reports submit them.
From my own research and estimates as a journalist I suspect there might be as few as one or two composers in this country who make any sort of liveable income from their royalties. Work the figures out for yourself — multiply the number of Catholic schools and parishes in Australia by the average copyright fee your school or parish pays and you'll get an idea of how much money is collected each year in copyright royalties. It is a "pretty substantial sum". (According to the www.catholicaustralia.com.au website there are 1363 parishes in Australia. The ABS reports around 1,708 Catholic schools [Australian Bureau of Statistics 2010 figure LINK]. Say the average annual royalty fee paid is $200 the total comes to $614,200.) When I first married my wife five and half years ago she was one of the ones earning almost nothing from her royalties. I recall her total earnings one year were around $14. These days it is only measured in the hundreds of dollars not the thousands and we do know her work is now extensively used around the country.
In tomorrow's report I will outline, hopefully in simple terms, some of the ways in which the collection agencies are trying to solve this situation. One of them is by holding workshops like the one held at Parramatta on Saturday but there is also other information that you might find valuable if you have a role at the parish or school level in ensuring accurate records are kept so that the right people can be remunerated in an equitable way reflecting the popularity and usage made of their works. The first question in the second video clip below from the panel discussion at Saturday's workshop also goes some way to explaining the different approaches the different copyright agencies use to determine song usage.
To end this first report can I bring you two further and longer video clips. They are from the panel discussion held at the end of the workshop yesterday. Before the panel session began the APMN organisers got everyone to from into small groups or 8-10 people are search out the best questions to ask of the panel. This panel — comprising three representatives of the main copyright agencies Catholic organisations deal with and Monica O'Brien, who is the largest local publisher representing more than 30 different Australian composers — are probably the most "expert" bunch of people you could assemble in Australia who understand this realm of copyright. This panel discussion is effectively like a collection of some of the best FAQs people ask about copyright. The first clip basically introduces the panel and the second clip concentrates on the more important questions you may like answers to.
Because the sound was almost indecipherable for one question we had to delete that segment and there has also been slight editing of these videos to cut down gaps between the questions. If you have questions yourself that you would like answered we would be happy to receive them via email [firstname.lastname@example.org] and we will endeavour to source the answers for you at the end of this series or place them before the "experts" who answered the questions at the workshop.
In Part II of this report tomorrow we look in more detail
at the different ways in which the different agencies work.
Brian Coyne, 21 Nov 2011
The executive of the Australian Pastoral Musicians' Network have requested that I clarify two aspects of this report. The clarification was posted on our Forum HERE on 5th December 2011.
The Three Main Copyright Licensing Agencies in Australia:
Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI): www.ccli.com.au.
Word of Life International (WoL): www.freelink.com.au/wolstart.htm.
Australian Christian Music Publisher:
Willow Publishing: www.asonevoice.com.au
Australian Pastoral Musicians' Network:
APMN Resources and Discussion: www.apmn.org.au
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
You can contribute to the discussion in our forum.
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