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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Copyright and book keeping: a cautionary tale

Nine months ago I was contacted by somebody from Universal DVD who was putting together a DVD of John Martyn at the BBC. They wanted to use some ancient clip from Whistle Test which happened to feature me introducing him and they were seeking my permission. I said fine. They said, we have to pay you something. Because I've had lots of experience of the amount of palaver attached to paying trifling sums of money in cases like these, I said, don't bother, just send me some wine. They eventually came back and said they couldn't do that and they'd need me to sign a form giving them permission and then send them an invoice for £100. I duly did this (plus VAT). This was in May. Months later we were going through the books and found it hadn't been paid. So I got on to them. They did a search and came back saying I needed to fill in a form to become one of their official suppliers before I could get paid. You know the kind of thing: sort codes, VAT numbers, next of kin etc. I still didn't get paid. Three months later they paid me, but they missed off the VAT. Now, once you've made out a VAT invoice, you have to get it paid or the VAT man wants to know what you're up to. So I get on to them again. Just before Christmas they send me that missing VAT, but it's wrong by £2.50. So almost a year later I'm still chasing a sum of money that I never asked for and a number of people both at my end and at Universal's have had their valuable time wasted. Now I'm not asking for sympathy but my point is this: as the entertainment and media industries get more and more complex and diverse, how much more of people's time is going to be occupied chasing signatures in order to clear this or that footling item? I don't have any moral rights here. I don't add any commercial value to John Martyn's DVD. If they'd just left me in and not said anything I wouldn't have been particularly bothered. I know that the producers of these Whistle Test DVDs have to waste months chasing down bass players of long-forgotten bands in order to tell them that if they sign to clear this twenty five year old performance they're entitled to £53.34 or whatever it is. It is an unsustainable model devised for a different era. No wonder Bill Gates is talking about buying out musicians for life.