Wednesday, March 23, 2016

BIS records, and the importance of copyright

You may remember that at New Year I posted a video slide show I’d made and posted on Youtube, from snapshots and short video clips of Iceland, accompanied by the music of Jón Leifs’ Requiem which I’d lately heard for the first time on the radio.

Then a few weeks ago I revisited the video, and found the music had been withdrawn from it for copyright reasons, though the visuals were still there. I was disgruntled; what killjoy had been so mean as to spoil my pretty little artistic and sensitive creation? For the first time I looked up the details from my purchase of the music, and with possibly even less thought than when I used and published it, I wrote to protest, and ask to be made an exception of, to the recording company, BIS records in Sweden.



I will gloss over the rather painful details of the e-earbashing I received, in person, from their CEO, Robert von Bahr, or indeed of my rather puny and petulant initial reaction to it. However the gist of his response and what I learned from it is important.

It turns out the withdrawal of the music is an automatic procedure based on ‘fingerprints’ on the recordings, and it’s done for a good reason. With all the free stuff that’s available on the internet on tap, and with recorded music everywhere, it’s too easy to take it for granted and even assume an entitlement to it, and to do what we want with it, without giving a thought to how it gets there and how much it costs to produce it. The recording companies, especially of classical and other rarer and more specialist kinds of music, pay a lot for the privilege of recording, it’s a labour of love and patience. They make little enough from legal downloads, nothing from illegal ones of course and unauthorised distribution is a huge problem for them, and people taking the line that they are doing them a favour by doing so must be exasperating to say the least.

Not always but sometimes, however, one’s more bruising experiences can end up being the more rewarding ones. Mr von Bahr, like many other stratospheric, passionate, fierce and direct people who don’t suffer fools gladly, turned out finally, and indeed quite quickly, to be quite as good, nay better, at being generous, warm, helpful, charming and funny as he was at being cross. The exchange of emails continued, since, happily in this instance, both he and I are the kind of people who cannot bear not to have the last word, and gradually they became more friendly. He went on to extend a gracious and unlooked-for apology for his gruffness, while still explaining, with patience, eloquence and integrity, how very important copyright matters are and how unacceptable it is to go around thinking you can ignore and abuse them.

If copyright holders themselves choose to release material freely, for advertising or simply out of generosity, that’s their prerogative, it’s not mine just to take it. The fact that I’ve paid for a recording doesn’t give me the right to distribute it; MP3s can be stripped from videos on Youtube, (something I wasn’t aware of) and anyway, taking something for your own uses without consent, just because you can and lots of people do it, is simply wrong, and ignorance is no defence. There is plenty of legitimate free stuff on-line, and there is music which it’s permitted to use as long as you don’t monetise what you make with it, but it’s the copyright holder’s right to decide whether and how they make their property available.

Youtube are going some way to addressing this problem, there is a page of FAQs on the subject of copyright, an audio library of freely available music and a music policy directory to find out the status of a piece of music, but the last is by no means exhaustive and it’s not the simplest matter to get information from them on the subject, as I’ve subsequently found out when I tried to contact them to find out how to go about doing things properly, it wasn’t easy to get an informed and satisfactory answer; they don’t really seem all that interested in creating a better, clearer relationship between their users and copyright holders. Essentially, if you wish to use music and are unsure about its copyright status, it’s better to try to obtain the right permissions than just use it anyway. Recording companies or other copyright holders are usually not difficult to find and contact if the recording’s in your possession, if you ask politely and are honest, as Mr von Bahr said, it’s quite likely you’ll be allowed. A copyright holder can release the music when the video is uploaded and they have the URL, even though it has been automatically blocked.

And you never know, you might make some interesting connections. The experience and the path it led me down was enriching, not only in raising my consciousness in a salutary way. As I said, I’d not paid much attention to who had recorded the music, but BIS and their catalogue are a wonderland. Though they began in a very small and personal way in 1973, they have become one of the most important names in classical recording recording, while maintaining a very individual touch; they are the oldest recording company still run but its original founder and unusual in keeping all their previous recordings available.

Their digital arm, eClassical has an even larger on-line catalogue, since they now distribute material from other labels as well as BIS, and they are nice and easy to browse since you can do so by many criteria: period, genre, orchestra etc as well as artist or composer.

And BIS are certainly not mean with their musical property. Their own catalogue contains an abundance of free listening if you take the time to browse, not the parsimonious 30 second snippets to be found elsewhere, but whole, quality tracks, not downloadable but listenable on-line unlimited. EClassical’s downloads, not only MP3s but also 16 and 24-bit FLAC flies, lossless (love that word!) and very high quality, are probably the best value you’ll find anywhere; they also do a very good ‘daily deal’ - an album download, often something rather unusual, at half price; their latest release e-mail newsletters are a delight, with interesting, personal and informative blurbs, and maybe even a free video about one of the albums or musicians featured.

In fact they have their own channel of professionally made videos on Youtube. Amongst these is a one not to be missed of Carolina Eyck talking about and playing the theremine, the strange ‘invisible’ instrument invented a surprisingly long time ago, once used for spooky effects on old sci-fi movies but now with its own, growing repertoire. From their channel I was also led to an interview with RvB himself.  The man is frankly something of a star, and moreover (as he slipped in with a touch of very understandable uxorious pride) he is Mr Sharon Bezaly. She is the best flautist in the world and, with her shock of hair and smouldering eyes and her gold flute made by an anonymous Japanese master, looks and sounds like something out of a fairy tale. And that’s before you’ve even heard her play...

Another video released under their auspices is this beauty, food for any lover of Tallis: New York Polyphony in a little church in Sweden, performing ‘If ye love me’, with a sound of incomparable depth and richness,
If ye love me,
keep my commandments,
and I will pray the Father,
and he shall give you another comforter,
that he may 'bide with you forever,
e'en the spirit of truth.

Play by the rules and truthfully to keep what you love, perhaps?

And in a short time, Mr von Bahr stretched out his hand at a word when I had reposted the Jon Leifs/Iceland video, properly amended with credits and acknowledgements, to lift the block so it is now visible again with the music, in all its ethereal wonder, and I have embedded it once again in the New Year post. For which much thanks.


Zhoen said...

I shall check out that site. They may wind up with more business because of your learning experience. Dylan is more aware than I about this, as he has some of his compositions on lists for paid use. Thank you for sharing your stumble, we all miss stuff. I make mistakes every single day, just try to catch them before harm is done.

Lucy said...

Cheers Z, I think you'd enjoy the theremine.

Zhoen said...

I'm a long time theremin fan. Got to try one once. It's nothing like as easy as it looks. Léon Theremin is an interesting fellow as well, possibly a spy for a start.

Zhoen said...

Documentary about him.

Catalyst said...

Good grief!

the polish chick said...

lucy, what a journey! and with a happy end, no less!

Lucy said...

Cheers again.

(I've just realised why this post looks weird, the links are all blue! I pasted it straight in from a google doc where I'd been writing it and putting in links, and they come out blue there.)

Z - I vaguely knew about the theremin(e) (with the optional 'e' at the end) but don't remember seeing a performance; it really looks like something from a sci-fi movie too, or one where they visit Atlantis or something! What Carolina Eyck does with it is amazing, I think. Thanks for the link, I shall enjoy that.

Cat - well, I know, but you see when I get into an argument, who knows where it leads...

PC - indeed, an interesting one to me anyway!

Avus said...

On looking at my old blog posts which had youtube clips attached I have found that often they had been removed for the reasons you give, Lucy.

HKatz said...

Good that you're discussing this. I've also been trying to share only YouTube music videos that come from the official musician or company channels... because you're right, even if you bought the music, distributing it means someone else can easily take it from your video for free and make use of it, costing the copyright holder another sale or a missed opportunity for getting proper credit for their work.

What's also muddled about YouTube is that there seems to be another option for copyright holders beyond taking down the video or muting the audio track, which is to put an ad or link to the Amazon/iTunes page for the song - so, a monetization opportunity; and then some people who post the music in an unauthorized fashion use this as an excuse to say, "Look, they can get money out of it!" Though not all copyright holders choose to do this or would make much profit from it.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Fascinating post and bravo Lucy for going into this thorny question so thoroughly and honestly. Mr.von B sounds like un vrai gentilhomme and a good bloke too.
I've crossed swords with copyright thieves several times - internet thieving of some of my artwork - and also had intense discussions with several people about the rights and wrongs of copyright.I can understand the point of view of some who think that everything should be freely available for everyone to use as they wish. But generally these views are not held by people, such as myself and many others, who make their living solely from their work, be it visual art or any other medium,
I completely agree Mr.vB's response and welcome the unusual fact that he answered you personally and then carried on a real conversation with you - would that there'd be more CEOs like him in the corporate robot world!
Finally, it's great that your lovely video is back, fully functional.

marja-leena said...

Excellent and important post, Lucy! As a visual artist, I am keenly aware of copyright issues, so I was about to add something about that but see that Natalie has said it all for me (thanks, Natalie!). I may have made some mistakes myself early on regarding music from YouTube for instance. It is all rather confusing so I use only links along with credits.

Oh and Happy Easter!

Lucy said...

Thanks again. I'm pleased about the response and discussion this has prompted, I have such fine readers.

Avus - indeed, but really there's not much information about it. It rather reminds me of the 'may contain nuts' warning on foodstuffs, a blanket letting of themselves off the hook that saves taking the trouble to educate people or do things properly.

Hila - in fact it seems to me that much of the awareness of it, and youtube's response to it, is to do with high profile pop music and how sales of it can be maximised by advertising etc. As you say, the monetization option really only benefits a few.

Natalie - good to get other artists' responses. He is indeed those things, and the time he put into communicating was indeed over and above, and I've truly enjoyed making his acquaintance and what it's led to, which is good considering I was the one who goofed!

ML - as above, and thanks for responding. Happy Easter to you too! (I think Tom's already told you of our new arrival...)

Philip Wilkinson said...

A great post and I'm very pleased to have been introduced to your blog by a friend who's a regular reader. Robert von Bahr is a wonderful man, whose record label is one of the stars of the classical recording business. He's risked a lot on some very ambitious ventures (huge series like a complete Bach Cantatas edition, a vast Sibelius series, and the mind-boggling complete keyboard works of C P E Bach) and has nurtured performers (such as the fine pianist Yevgeny Sudbin and the trombonist Chrisitan Lindberg, a staggering talent) whose work is outstanding. Few people in the business have done what he has done - in my book only Ted Perry of Hyperion achieved so much in a similar way and sadly he is no longer with us. So he deserves encouragement, so it is terrific to read how you and he came to a peaceful resolution is heartening.

Lucy said...

Philip - thank you and welcome, howsoever you arrived here! Mr von Bahr's evident energy is more than impressive, his writing skills in his blurbs etc, as well as in our exchange, are very distinctive and expressive: astonishingly English is his fourth language. I can't imagine having world enough and time to discover everything BIS have produced. Hyperion are also a wonderful label.