Yet another reminder that copyright is really, really broken. As you may have seen, there have been a few viral videos making the rounds of people locked down in apartment buildings deciding to hold impromptu music performances from balconies. When the first of these came out, I had joked that it would only be a matter of time until some music collection society called these an unlicensed public performance and demanded royalty payments. Thankfully, that has not happened, though in Spain, a copyright professor did tell a journalist that those singing from the balconies should first get a license (relying on Google translate here…):
Singing songs from the window or the balconies on the terraces, as seen in Spanish houses these days during the confinement due to the coronavirus pandemic, could violate the intellectual property rights of their authors. This is collected by information from Europa Press. In it, Pablo Velasco Quintana, an expert in intellectual property at the CEU San Pablo University, it is necessary to “request authorization” for a “communication to the public”, whether or not it is “profitable” , since, according to the law, the author is the only one that it can “authorize or prohibit” “reproduction”, “transformation” and “communication”.
Thankfully, the Spanish collection society SGAE (which has a bit of a history of corruption) felt the need to come out and clarify that no license was necessary and that it was actually encouraging people to sing in these trying times:
The General Society of Authors and Editors (SGAE) encourages in a statement to the entire population to continue singing from the balconies, from the windows, or from any place where confinement allows it during the state of Alarm to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“Because singing has no cost, but it is invaluable, especially for those who directly suffer from the virus or for those who fight on the front line against its consequences,” he says.
According to the SGAE, the songs that, every night, unite millions of citizens are part of the collective memory of the Spanish and function as a link that reinforces the state of mind.
I’m glad that SGAE seems to recognize that now is not the time to nickel and dime people on lockdown in their homes for entertaining their neighbors with songs — but just the fact that some experts in the field worried about this possibility, likely means that there were chilling effects from copyright, and some chose to avoid this form of social distance bonding among their neighbors.
While it’s good that it’s been made clear no license is needed, the fact that people even thought about it is a real condemnation of just how terrible copyright maximalism is. It has infected peoples’ brains to the point that they were uncomfortable with the idea of singing in even these conditions, and that’s truly messed up.