Monday, 15 December 2008

License to Thrill (Revoked)

Tucked away in the corner of the latest edition of iDJ magazine is a little article about the latest music licence to be lobbed in the direction of DJs. The Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS), who represent musicians, introduced the Professional Dubbing Licence in July this year to scrounge more money from the poor DJ.

The £250 annual licence is aimed at DJs who use copies or recordings of music taken from vinyl or CD, such as laptop/virtual vinyl DJs like myself, or people who have made copies of CDs to use on CD decks, even if this music has been purchased legally. MCPS have declared their intentions to come down hard on venues who book DJs not registered with ProDub, a move which threatens the health of the scene if you ask me.

MCPS business director, Neil Jones, told iDJ: “We are keen to educate venue owners about ProDub and ask for their help in regulating unprofessional and illegal copying activity. The primary responsibility lies with the DJ or the entertainer to purchase the ProDub Licence, but venue owners should be aware of the potential implications for their business. Penalties for venues could include fines, court appearances or having their entertainment licences revoked.”

A similar licence already exists for ‘digital DJs’, the PPL, which venue owners and event promoters are also legally required to own if they are to play music. However, this only covered the playing of music and not the copying, or ‘format shift’ of music, hence the introduction of ProDub. Things are a little unclear but I think ProDub has effectively replaced PPL for the individual by including it within the remit of the ProDub licence.

So take myself for example. I rip a lot of music from my CD collection to use with Serato Scratch Live, and eventually I want to convert all my vinyl to MP3/Wav for use with my laptop. If I want to then play in a venue with this music I have to purchase this ridiculous licence for the privilege of playing to a crowd, even though I’ve already purchased and paid for this music through legal means. And as for promo music that I receive for free, I still have to pay for the licence. I can’t even record a mixtape for friends, promoters and venues without requiring ProDub.

Now, I’m sorry, but this is completely and utterly fucking ridiculous. I don’t download illegally, I pay for all my music, so why should I have to pay further? For a superstar DJ £250 is nothing, but for people just starting out, beginners, students, people on low incomes, people who only get the odd gig etc. it’s a lot of money and an unnecessary and immoral barrier to doing something you love.

As for venue owners, they now have to be diligent about who they book to perform, and could be prevented from booking an excellent performer simply because they don’t have the necessary paperwork and are afraid of legal repercussions. And what about open deck nights or DJ tournaments, where many shy DJs are tempted out of their bedrooms for the first time and a lot of talent is unearthed?

The whole debate about paying for music is a contentious one. I’ve always believed recorded music should be available to all. Music is made to be shared, not to make money. Musicians should make their money from performing live, which after all, is where music is from. Music existed long before the studio, and I have a personal distaste for bands who overproduce their music but are actually shit live, like Foals. When Hot Chip cancelled their Leicester gig earlier this year because they had studio time booked, I lost a hell of a lot of respect for them and the wounds still haven’t healed.

But I find myself in a tricky position of being a DJ, playing mainly electronic music that is created on computers that can’t be performed live, and that I actually profit from. Combined with the need for good quality, this is why I always pay for downloads that I use as a DJ. Which is why it irks me so that for me to play out legally in bars, clubs, even house parties, I need this ProDub licence. I’ve purchased my music legally, I’ve given the artists a fee, why should I pay anymore?

It struck me as strange when I bought my first record and it had the whole bumf about ‘unauthorised public performance and broadcasting is prohibited’ emblazoned on the sleeve. Surely that’s the point of us DJs buying the records in the first place? To play the damned thing to an audience! Back then and for decades before, I’m certain DJs and other performers were using records that were protected by copyright laws, but no self-appointed society were chasing them up on licence fees for the privilege of sharing the music.

When PPL was introduced, their business affairs man Peter Leatham even had the gall to say: “At the end of the day you don't have to DJ using a laptop, if it’s not worth your while spending the £200 then don't do it.” And according to iDJ, the new licence only came into being because research showed DJs were using more music copied from vinyl and CDs. This just shows how profit driven and out of touch the MCPS and their PPL friends really are. If I want to DJ using a laptop, I should be allowed to do so without also having to buy the right to do so. Again, I’ve legally paid for my music, fuck off with your demands for more money!

It’s a joke, a restriction on my freedom to DJ, and a threat to the smaller scenes. Despite this licence being unrealistically enforceable - do MCPS really have the manpower and resources to check every single event in the country, whether each performer is licensed, and to subsequently take any action against those that aren’t? – there will still be many venues prosecuted whilst others get away scot free, not to mention many more afraid of possible action who will refuse to book unlicensed acts who realistically can’t actually afford the licence.

Personally, I’ll be fucked if I’m paying for it - the MCPS and PPL can shove ProDub up their arses.

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