SOCAN goes after Vancouver transit buskers

It seems that SOCAN has finally decided to take a piece of the incredibly rich Vancouver transit busker pie, and has informed the Vancouver transit authority of their intent to enforce SOCAN tariffs for buskers.

The Vancouver transit authority says those tariffs could drive the cost of a Translink busker licence as high as $1,500.

SOCAN, short for the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada, is a collective society whose job it is to “make sure [members] get paid for the public performance and communication to the public of their music.” SOCAN does this by negotiating new royalty tariffs with the Copyright Board of Canada, and making licences available to “customers” interested in legally playing music in public.

Pretty much everything you can think of is covered by a SOCAN-negotiated tariff, outside of “Showers, Singing in, One or more other users of bathroom” and “Campfires, Guy with guitar, Compensated with beer from cooler.” My personal favourite existing tariff has to be tariff 3C, the pole-dancing tariff, but there are many, many more depressingly bean-counted avenues of creative expression listed on the SOCAN tariffs page. The Vancouver buskers are likely covered under “3A Live Music” or (more hilariously) 10A Strolling Musicians and Buskers; Recorded Music.

Charging a royalty fee every time the unicycling juggler blares “Life Is A Highway” may sound absurd to some, but it’s definitely the law. However, it seems clear that most (if not all) buskers in this program would find ponying up $1,500 for a licence to be a challenge. In fact, TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie said that with such a big jump in licencing fees, “We’re probably faced with possibly having to cancel the program.” So no performance space for buskers, no busker program at all… and no royalty fees for SOCAN. Brilliant.

It’s true that artists deserve to be compensated for their work, and it’s also true that the current state of Canadian copyright law encourages a royalty fee system. But after reading about SOCAN’s approach to this – “that businesses that allow musical performance on their premises obey the law” – coupled with Translink’s approach to SOCAN’s demands (passing the cost along to the buskers) makes me wonder if anyone wanted to make this work in the first place.

In the event that the Vancouver busker project isn’t canceled, I just hope SOCAN accepts payment in loose change.

1 Comment on "SOCAN goes after Vancouver transit buskers"

  1. Carol Wallace | November 12, 2010 at 8:07 am |

    SOCAN is now targeting Registered Massage Therapists in Ontario. I have a home-based practice…one treatment room, one massage table and I am being told that I must pay a tariff for the right to play CDs during treatments. According to them, the music ‘enhances’ my business. According to the FAQs page on their website, a receptionist with a radio on her desk would be exempt from this tariff!

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