IF DIGITAL LOCKS and intermediary liability don’t work, what does? For music, blanket licenses do. If you operate a karaoke bar and someone wants to sing Jimmy Buffett’s “Why Don’t We Get Drunk” at 3 a.m. (a good time for that number, I’m told), you don’t have to get Buffet out of bed and dicker over whether the royalty for the performance will be ten cents or twenty-five. No, you buy a “blanket license” that covers all the copyrighted music performed on your premises, from the cover band that plays on Fridays (which is how they can take requests from the audience without having a lawyer standing by to clear the rights) to the CDs your servers play on slow afternoons.
Blanket licenses are how radio DJs are able to play music. And a closely related idea, the compulsory license, allows musicians to record cover versions of each other’s songs without negotiating specific permission. In many countries, blanket licenses are collected to compensate writers for library lending, and for the use of their works in university course packs.
Here’s how blanket licenses work: first, we collectively decide that the “moral right” of creators to decide who uses their work and how is less important than the “economic right” to get paid when their works are used (this is the “money talks, bullshit walks” part).
Then we find entities who would like to distribute or perform copyrighted works, and negotiate a fee structure. The money goes into a “collective licensing society.”
Next we use some combination of statistical sampling methods (Nielsen families, network statistics, etc.) to compile usage statistics for the entity’s pool of copyrighted works, and divide and remit the collective-licensing money based on the stats.