04 November 2012

Critics Copyright

Here in the UK there's something of a maelstrom building up following the demands of an organisation called the Newspaper Licensing Agency that artists, agents and concert-promoters pay a royalty for every quote used from a published review.  These royalty demands move into the tens of thousands of pounds.

As a critic I am well used to seeing my words used without my express permission to promote an artist, to boost concert ticket sales or to help sell a CD and I not only have no objection (even when my words are taken dramatically out of context) but have always assumed that it is part of the unwritten contract that goes with the job.  My understanding has always been that an integral function of music criticism is to provide artists with legitimate quotations for their marketing; just as political journalists are aware that part of their function is to influence the thinking of their readership, so the music critic is conscious that what he writes is boosts or suppresses interest in a particular musician.  In fact, I would suggest that without this element, a lot of published musical criticism is pointless, and I see newspapers cutting back still further on this aspect of their work.

On the surface, it would seem that the Newspaper Licensing Agency is merely trying to secure extra money for critics, whose hard work and dedication is, in general, unrewarded financially.  Except, of course, that neither I nor any of my colleagues have ever received a penny from the Newspaper Licensing Agency.  Where the money goes is a matter for concern, but if someone is charging someone else to use my words, I want that payment; after all, I did all the work.

Luckily many of us are sufficiently well known in the musical community for our names, rather than the publication for which we write, to give legitimacy to any quotes.  The obvious thing, therefore, is to bypass the scurrilous activities of the Newspaper Licencing Agency by providing artists and agents with the quotes direct.  Already I see quotes from this blog appearing on international agency websites and on artist support publicity, and I am not just happy about it, I positively encourage it.  Anyone can quote up to 10 percent of any posting on this blog free-of-charge, provided they acknowledge it duly.

It is, however, utterly wrong both ethically and legally, to reprint in a personal blog with free access a review you have been commissioned to write for another publication, whether or not that publication charges for access.  I have, in the past, re-published here criticisms I've written for others, but only long after the original has been in the public arena on its commissioned source for some time.  Even then, I've been on dubious legal ground.  Usually, when an exceptional performance, artist or recording comes my way for review, I will write the commissioned one first, see it in print and only then write a completely new one for the blog. 

This, though, brings its own issues. Sent what I regarded as a brilliant recording on the Guild label of the Carl Rutti Organ Concerto, I decided greater interest would be garnered were my review to be published in a recognised international publication, so I urged the editor of theclassicalreview.com to carry my review.  He agreed and I duly wrote and submitted it.  After several weeks it still had neither been published nor had the editor come back to me with the usual pre-publication proof, so I assumed he had decided not to spike it.  I then re-wrote it substantially and posted it here, only to receive a curt letter from the editor complaining that I had breached the exclusivity rules.  And I had, and hang my head duly in shame (even if I cannot expect to write for theclassicalreview.com again).

So it seems that those little quotes in brackets which pepper concert and opera posters and CD label adverts are to disappear.  And if the result is that audiences are no longer tempted to buy tickets for a concert or an opera because no respected critic is quoted on a notice near the box office as suggesting "This is a tenor in the Pavarotti mould", and CD sales plummet because those tempting phrases - "Stunning performance - stunning sound" - are no longer around to lure the uncertain buyer, then we know who is to blame.  If the Newspaper Licensing Agency is not intent on wiping classical music from the face of British life, then they might do well to re-think their money-grabbing scheme.

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