sat 07 jul 2012 15:00:06 witte de withstraat
buma stemra: i don't trust em
why i don't trust buma stemra.
buma stemra is a dual organization founded in 1913 to protect the copyrights of dutch musicians. their job is to try and collect money for the use (or misuse) of their signatory artists' works. and then give it to the artists.
and if buma stemra were only to go after users of music by artists who had signed up with them, then they would be just regular antipiracy guys. understandable.
but in the current internet ecology, whose rules of behavior are a bit squishy, buma stemra are profitting by going after any users of any music, in video or internet not just users of their artists' works. that seems simplistic to me, but if your only goal is to make money however you can, it makes sense. in the last decade buma stemra have frequently been in the dutch news headlines because of what people (including their artists) see as abuse of power and opacity of function.
i've been explicitly told by a friend in the business that buma stemra is 'a mafia'. now that i'm reading more about it, i'm starting to understand why.
a few years back, buma stemra had dutch DVD replication companies refusing to press DVDs for anyone who didn't have a contract with buma stemra. mind you, it didn't matter if the video to be duplicated contained music by buma stemra signatories or any music at all for that matter. you just couldn't get a DVD pressed in this country unless you had paid a license fee to buma stemra. this seems awfully strange for a company who is supposed to be fighting for the interests of dutch musicians. meanwhile buying such a license would, from what i was told, entitle you to use any music you liked, regardless whether it was from buma stemra signatory artists.
so it appeared they were simply strongarming small businesspeople to get more money however they could.
as of 2009 the controversy was over music use on internet. buma stemra wanted to invoice you if your blog embedded links to youtube films with music in them. you'd be allowed 6 films on your site if you paid them an annual fee of eur 130. they promised not to go after private families and kids, but there was nothing to prevent them from doing so. their own rules (and they are a legal monopoly) permitted them to send a bill to anybody, commercial or private user, for having embedded youtube links on their web site.
this clearly had nothing to do with appropriate copyright claims. they were simply making it up as they went along.
in 2011 two guys on the board of directors complained that a culture of secrecy and fear prevails there, and that some board members were paid extravagant salaries (dutchnews.nl). in december of that year the big fight broke out about a buma stemra board member (also a music publisher) telling one disgruntled composer that he might be able to get results if he were given a third of the money as a commission. that conversation got recorded by a radio station and broadcast. the board member, jochem gerrits, stepped down in the wake of that storm.
now the latest thing (to be argued in court later this month) is that buma stemra would like you to pay them a fee if your web page or blog merely has an ordinary hyperlink to a radio station's site. this goes directly against something they declared in 2009 that they would not do. so it appears the promises of buma stemra are worthless.
that this anti-businesss, anti-social behavior coincides with their recurring conflicts with signatory artists who complain they are not getting paid for the use of their music, seems to me eerily consistent.
buma stemra is not clear about what they actually do with the millions they take in. while claiming to represent the interests of dutch musicians, they have failed them; perhaps that is because they are so focused on trying to collect fees from anybody using any music.
this whole thing came to my mind again the other evening when mr wong told me he has to pay eur ~1200 a year to buma stemra for permission to play background music in his restaurant. that may be common practice, but it's rapacious and evil. is every bar, café and restaurant in the netherlands paying that, or only the ones who are sufficiently intimidated?
i guess these are a few of the reasons why people hate buma stemra.
maybe it's time for the government to whip out their big old wet bibob, and abolish buma stemra once and for all. that's what they do with other groups suspected of organized crime. i think it's time to take them down, and perhaps, perhaps, replace them with something more honest and less avaricious.
and while we're waiting for that to happen, i think musicians, filmmakers and web creators of every stripe should simply ignore them.