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Belgian truck drivers to be made to pay to listen to music

Belgian music royalty collection agency SABAM wants to enforce a licence for truck drivers to listen to music in their cabs. Is this fair?


SABAM is a royalty collection agency operating on behalf of music composers, songwriters and publishers in Belgium. Recently they proposed that truck operators should pay a licence so that drivers can listen to music in their cabs while at work.

There are a number of articles on this topic around the web, but here's one that is fairly typical. Take a read...

How do you feel about this? Have a good think. How do you feel?

Well one common meme around the Internet is that music should be free to download and that record companies are evil. So maybe you feel that SABAM is being unreasonable, and why should the evil record companies get yet more money from ordinary people? And if a truck driver should listen to music on the radio or on CD without a licence, will the RIAA sue him for millions of dollars?

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What Internet commentators often fail to grasp however is that there is a difference between songwriters and record companies. The RIAA represents record companies, not songwriters. Whatever you think about RIAA issues, this is not an RIAA issue. It is a songwriter issue.

It isn't commonly known how much money songwriters make. Yes Sir Paul and Sir Elton make shedloads. But the average songwriter earns nothing more than peanuts.

I had a conversation with an industry insider who commented that a song that reached No. 3 recently in the mainstream chart of a country that is major music market earned the equivalent of just $20,000. And that was shared among three writers. That is hardly what I would call a living wage.

Very, very few songwriters earn a living from their craft. Few earn enough to pay for the occasional secondhand replacement car. The vast majority earn just about enough to keep their guitar strung and their piano tuned. And that is counting only the people who make anything at all. Most songwriters don't earn a penny, although they would like to.

Now consider businesses that use music. I'm talking about shopping malls, supermarkets, hairdressers, garages, and yes truck operators.

Why do they use music?

To improve the profitability of their business. Why else would they do it? Their workers will work more efficiently when music is playing; their customers will buy more and come back more often. Music is adding to their profits.

So why should it be therefore that businesses can use music to make money, without paying something back to the creators of that music? Why should the songwriter be expected to give up their work without reward?

You know, if the RIAA were a person, and I came into contact with that person, I would spit in their face. That would be well-deserved justice in return for the attitude they have engendered among the general public towards people who create music, most of whom are pretty ordinary people like you or me, struggling hard to make a dime, let alone a dollar.

Bottom line - if a business uses music to enhance its profitability in any way, then the creators of that music deserve to be paid.

P.S. Collection agencies don't just pay the big guys, as is sometimes thought. As a small guy myself, musically speaking, I appreciate my peanuts, and my collection agency always delivers.

By David Mellor Thursday March 31, 2011