Debate over pay to play in music industry

"You can smack it with a brick, which could be welcome - but it would be undesirable to cancel it."

That colorful characterization was used by Wang Huapeng, president of China Audio-video Copyright Association, as he responded to critics of the latest copyright law now under public review.

During the China International Copyright Expo in Beijing last week, Wang used the popular Internet meme that means to severely criticize as he acknowledged the greater powers for collective management groups proposed inQ the most recent draft of the law.

According to the draft, collectives could represent musicians without their knowledge and take a fee for their efforts.

Though the practice of collective management agencies that license music and levy fees has proven successful abroad, it has aroused anxiety among Chinese musicians and scholars.

But Wang noted the reservoir of music in China is vast and widely distributed, which makes it difficult for individual composers to track use and then require payment.

He cited music used on TV, radio and in concerts, as well as played in hotels, restaurants and bars to illustrate the difficulties.

He noted that same vastness means "there is a necessity for music management collectives to exist".

Compared to well-ordered markets like Japan - whose music management collectives have developed since 1939 - or Europe with more than 100 years of experience, Wang said he can understand the concerns in China where music management is still in its infancy.

The still-evolving legal environment is one of the reasons for the current chaos, he said.

"It is necessary to step up development," he said, adding that it is "normal" to debate the issue.

"But whether we need to continue using the system, whether there should be such provisions in a law, that is the real fundamental point," he noted.

Chen Ge, CEO of music portal Top100, said "in the face of enormous infringements, it is hard as an individual to handle or check them".

He cited renowned Beijing musician Ke Zhaole who wrote the popular song Because of Love.

While the song was played no less than a billion times at hotels, bars and other entertainment venues across the country last year, Ke received little in return.

He could never manage to collect payments from more than a million such locales across the country, Chen said.

"Yet if owners fail to exercise their rights, it is a fact that they are tolerating crime - that is where are today," he said.

"It is better to build up a management collective," he said, adding that despite problems, "it's always be better to have one than none, to have a start than more waiting".

"I have nothing to do with collectives," Chen said. "But personally I respect Wang."

Chen said Wang's association has collected royalties from karaoke bars, a sum that "may have so far surpassed 100 billion yuan - up from zero".

Guo Biao, the chief representative of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry in China, said "solid construction of a transparent and fair organization" that will inspire confidence is needed.

"It would not be good for their growth if management extends too fast at this stage," he said.

The draft revisions of the law will be posted again for comments from the public in the second half of this year, according to Zhu Yongde, director-general of China Film Copyright Association.

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