by Lindy Morrison
On Monday night at the APRA Music Awards in Brisbane, I was awarded the Ted Albert Award for my contribution to the music industry. I am deeply honoured that my work has been recognised, including my work as an advocate for musicians' rights.
I have worked for many years to ensure music creators' rights are safeguarded and that they receive an economic reward when their work is used by others. I educate a lot of young musicians. They want to know what it takes to have a career in the industry. I talk about the length of time that it takes to build the skills to create songs and recordings; about the discipline of rehearsal; management skills to keep bands on the road and the hunger and tenacity they will need through the years. Then I ask them to consider copyright laws and how they affect musicians.
"Make sure you are paid. You need to know what your rights are, how you will be remunerated for the use of those rights. You need to know how the payments are collected and passed on to you. You need to know what you can do if you find your work has been taken without your permission."
But sadly, it is impossibly hard for musicians in Australia to follow that last piece of advice. The problem is that their work is being used without permission or payment in the online environment. And this has been going on for far too long.
This is not about bagging the internet. I love that musicians find new audiences and fans online. I love it when people first discover the Go-Betweens online. But the problem is that the discovery of a band on the net may not be made through a licensed service which gives back to the musicians.
In Australia, there is very little that a musician can do to stop illegal streaming and downloading sites from using their work. These illegal sites make massive amounts of money from ads and nothing goes back to the artists who provide the content. Not one cent.
Sites such as the Pirate Bay and Kickass Torrents exploit artists in the worst sense of the word. These illegal sites do not support musicians' careers. They deprive musicians of the right to have their work valued in a free and open market.
The success of these sites is predicated on taking without paying on a massive scale. In fact, that is their business model. They don't create anything.
I feel infuriated when I see my work and my friends' work being used in this way by people who don't give a damn.
We need effective copyright laws which give artists and those who invest in them, such as publishers and labels, the practical tools to have their work protected online.
Then my advice to young musicians would have some meaning.
This is not a theoretical exercise for some academic paper; this is about working musicians making a living from their talent and hard work. The choice about how a work should be used lies with the creator of the work. Artists' choices should be respected and so it follows that it is up to the artist to decide how they make their music available to fans.
It is time that the discussion focus on how our copyright laws can be improved to support the artist's right to choose how their work will be enjoyed by fans.
I wish more people would become advocates for musicians' rights because I want to see their rights protected in practical and meaningful ways so every young musician can build and maintain a career for the long haul.
This article was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald as an opinion piece on 24 June 2014.
Lindy Morrison is former drummer with the Go-Betweens, a copyright advocate and social worker with Support Act, the music industry charity.