NQC’s Webcast, and the Reality of Copyright Law

NQC’s Webcast, and the Reality of Copyright Law

Fans of the National Quartet Convention were disappointed Thursday when they received the following email:

Thank you for being a subscriber to the NQC webcast.  We trust you have enjoyed being able to see all the events that occurred on the NQC Main Stage live as they happened and on demand following the event through the end of the year.

We do, however, need to make you aware that we will not be able to offer this service next year.  There have been changes in the federal copyright law as it relates to digital platforms, particularly the Music Modernization Act.  We would never want to do anything that would infringe upon the intellectual property rights of Gospel music copyright owners, so out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to no longer offer this product next year or in the future.

We are exploring alternatives to make certain performances captured at NQC available to the public on digital platforms that are in full compliance with copyright law, and as we discover those opportunities, we will make you aware of those platforms and services.

Of course, nothing replaces the experience of attending the National Quartet Convention in person, so we certainly encourage you to make your way to Pigeon Forge next year if at all possible.  The dates are September 27th – October 3rd, 2020, and you can find out all the details on www.nqconline.com.  We plan to post the initial talent lineups for the seven evenings of NQC 2020 very soon.

Again, thank you for being a webcast subscriber, and we hope to see you in person next year.

To: NQC Webcast Subscribers
From: Clarke Beasley
Re: Future of NQC Webcast
Date: November 14, 2019

For several years, the NQC webcast has been a great, affordable alternative for fans who could not (or chose not to) make the trip to see the National Quartet Convention in person. I bought the webcast back in 2011 and 2012 when I was unable to attend. The fact that it is convenient, however, does not change the reality of copyright law.

Why can’t artists who appear at NQC simply grant permission to NQC for their performances to be packaged in a webcast and sold? Couldn’t that be part of their contract to appear?
The answers respectively are they can and it could, but that would only solve the easiest part of the equation.

What is the rest of the equation?
Artists aren’t the only parties to whom royalties are due when music is sold. Aside from public domain songs, every song performed at NQC has at least one songwriter to whom royalties are due. Most of those songwriters have assigned their songs to at least one publisher who, in turn, represents the interests of the songwriter(s). Many songs have MULTIPLE songwriters and/or MULTIPLE publishers.

Furthermore, because the NQC webcast is video, the rate paid to each and every songwriter/publisher must be negotiated. There is no fixed royalty rate for video like the compulsory rate we have for audio recordings.

Suppose one artist sings five copyrighted songs and each song averages three publishers. That’s fifteen negotiations that have to be contractually settled BEFORE the transmission of a webcast can take place for just one artist’s 25-minute set.

I’ve never personally attempted to license songs for video, but I have attempted to license songs for printed music arrangements in the past. In my experience, publishers are typically reasonable to work with if I want to license music for an audio recording, because they aren’t allowed to refuse by law and the rate is fixed. For print, however, publishers either give you a massive runaround, or they never bother to respond.

Now, I’m sure most publishers would be quicker to come to the table if the client was a large entity like NQC, but I can certainly see that the sheer number of publishers that would need to be contacted for NQC to “do it right” is simply too many for it to be worth their time.

Of course, artists could be required to submit their set-lists months in advance to allow ample time for clearance, but would we really want them to be so locked in that they’d be contractually prevented from doing anything spontaneous on the NQC stage?

That’s just the start. The NQC’s email also specifically mentioned the Music Modernization Act. I haven’t yet researched the additional complications that newer law has added to the equation.

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David Bruce Murray

David Bruce Murray is a church music director in Ellenboro, NC. He is the author of Murray's Encyclopedia Of Southern Gospel Music and the owner of both SGHistory.com and MusicScribe.com. David plays piano for Southern Sounds Quartet and the Foothills Community Choir.

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  1. Reply November 15, 09:33 #1 Aaron Swain

    It’s amazing to me how many people are crying greed and saying the NQC are restricting spreading the Gospel or something similar.

    Seems like the ones wanting to get on a religious high horse would appreciate the fact that the board is trying to follow the law. How is anyone to effectively spread the Gospel if the world sees them breaking a law after being aware that they are doing so?

    • Reply November 15, 10:08 David Bruce Murray Author

      Absolutely. If it’s going to be done at an NQC-scale event, it should be done lawfully.

      And some can’t see the distinction between complaining about SiriusXM’s arbitrary Christmas programming decision to temporarily suspended Southern Gospel music vs. this completely different scenario where it’s simply not practical to invest in the massive man hours it would take to secure permissions from so many publishers.

      The only solution I can see would be a company like Christian Copyright Solutions or CCLI that already has a lot of publishers under their umbrella inviting those publishers to allow them to negotiate a big blanket deal…but again, that would take time to work out and the numbers would have to be right. I’d expect the cost of the webcast to increase in order to adequately compensate their rights holders as well.

    • Reply November 15, 10:12 Brian Crout

      Yes, it is quite obvious that this decision is a financial negative for NQC. To complain of greed makes no sense.

      The reality is that the gospel message in song wouldn’t be as available if artists weren’t fairly compensated for their work. There would be many fewer artists. If songwriters weren’t fairly compensated for their work, there would be fewer songs. Spreading the gospel in this world requires money. There are some growing pains as this music adjusts to rapidly changing technology. But in the long run, it pays to do things the right way.

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