Copyright protection keeps the music playing

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 June, 2009, 12:00am

The Hong Kong Recording Industry Alliance (HKRIA) has been moving fast since it was set up in October last year. As a not-for-profit copyright management organisation, it has been taking steps to safeguard the legitimate interests of record companies and ensure they receive due recompense for the broadcast, public performance and other usage of sound recordings and music videos.

The HKRIA does this by administering a tariff for the use of copyrighted material by venues, such as bars, restaurants, shopping malls, fitness centres, retail shops and karaoke boxes, and collecting from them the appropriate annual licence fee for distribution to members.

'We now represent four big international labels - Sony Music, EMI Group, Universal Music and Warner Music - and we expect other members to join,' said Ronnay Botejue, the HKRIA's chief executive. 'We welcome music producers and labels based in Hong Kong or overseas, and will be able to manage their public performance and broadcast rights in the local market.' Mr Botejue emphasised that the HKRIA was not a commercial entity. Its efforts are directed towards collecting money on behalf of members. There are agreed administration costs, and a board, including industry executives, that oversees its operations. But the organisation does not buy rights to recordings for a fixed period or deduct from revenue on a commission basis.

As an initial requirement, companies wishing to become members have to own some sound recordings. In line with standard application procedures, they are then asked to supply up-to-date corporate information and provide copies of CDs and music videos they have produced in Hong Kong or internationally.

'It is really difficult for companies to license public performance of their rights individually to different venues,' Mr Botejue said. 'That is why the labels need a collective organisation acting for them, which can save costs, serve as an important revenue source for the industry, and do the policing.' Essentially, the enforcement aspect involves making sure businesses that use recorded music to attract or entertain customers do apply for an annual licence and pay the fee. The amount varies according, for example, to the number of seats in a restaurant, the square footage of a retail outlet, or the number of screens in a karaoke lounge.

'The tariff is standard and we have made it fair,' Mr Botejue said. 'Generally, people in Hong Kong understand that if they play our members' music in a business venue, they must have a licence, otherwise they are infringing the Copyright Ordinance. We try to sort things out amicably, but when difficult cases arise, we will send an ultimatum and make it clear we are ready to take legal action if people don't comply.' A key priority at present, he said, was to reach out to as many licensees as possible to explain the role and membership of the HKRIA, as a relatively new body. This involves visiting business premises - sometimes unannounced - to ascertain who is playing what and, if necessary, to collect evidence as a prelude to finalising payments.

To speed up the process in the coming months, Mr Botejue expects to hire additional licensing managers and officers. He said candidates would need to show persistence and determination, meaning that anyone with experience in sales or debt collection was likely to have an advantage. Being a music lover is not essential, but it can help in terms of recognising the artists in each member's worldwide repertoire and having the passion to do the right thing for the music industry.

'My estimation is that there are at least 10,000 business premises in Hong Kong that we need to approach,' Mr Botejue said. 'Some still claim they are not aware a new organisation has been set up and try to avoid compliance, so we have to explain again and again.' He added that the HKRIA had plans to introduce value-added music services that would benefit members and licensees. The aim is to be more customer-orientated through exploring concepts such as ambience management. This can help businesses, such as ice skating rinks, beauty salons and clubs, get the type of music they want to suit their specific environment and clientele.

It is also important to support the development of new internet-related media formats that will allow users to access sound recordings and music videos, while addressing the persistent problem of illegal downloads.

'I have a real sense of mission about this,' Mr Botejue said. 'Having studied music and worked in sales and marketing in different fields, I was happy to take up the challenge. With the HKRIA, I really want to do something for the recording industry that will uphold our members' rights and enable them to keep creating great music for all of us to enjoy.'