Stealing Music Is A Crime

CHANCES ARE IF you’ve watched a DVD or gone to the cinema recently you will have seen the anti-piracy advert that starts with “you wouldn’t steal a handbag… you wouldn’t steal a car” and so on. After several examples of “you wouldn’t steal” you’re then told “downloading pirated movies is stealing”.

The advert is deliberately high powered and makes no apologies for driving the anti-piracy message home. Helping that happen is some hard hitting music played right through the advert. Ironically, according to a story published by ABC Science, this music was also stolen.
WD-Pilcher-JochemThis woeful tale kicks off in 2006 in the Netherlands with the Dutch music royalty collection agency Buma/Stemra, who contacted Melchior Reitveldt, a Dutch musician, commissioning him to write the soundtrack for an anti-piracy ad. Reitveldt composed the music on the understanding that his music would only be played once at a local film festival. Having done the job for Buma/Stemra, Reitveldt collected his paycheck and never looked back.

Not until a year later, anyway, when he brought a DVD home to watch and lo and behold, there was his music as backing audio for the now familiar “you wouldn’t steal a…” anti-piracy ad at the beginning of the DVD. Buma/Stemra had effectively stolen the music and re-used it without Reitveldt’s permission in millions of DVDs sold all over the world. Unaware that this was happening, Reitveldt hadn’t received a single cent in royalty payments beyond his initial composition for the film festival. Reitveldt was understandably annoyed, and contacted Buma/Stemra seeking payment. Nothing happened for ages and his approaches were ignored. Eventually, Buma/Stemra offered Reitveildt a pathetically small payment, and even this wasn’t paid in full.
After five years of trying to get some sort of justice, one of the directors of Buma/Stemra, Jochem Gerrits, offered to clear things up. In a move that seemed almost too good to be true, Buma/Stemra wanted Reitveldt to sell them the music he’d composed, and they’d him pay one million Euros.

Unfortunately, it was too good to be true. Gerrits was going to keep a third of the payment as part of the deal, while Reitveldt would get two thirds. Thankfully, the saying ‘once burnt, twice shy’ applied here as Reitveldt had been recording his negotiations with Gerrits. Quicker than you could utter the word “scandal”, Gerrits was forced to resign from his post at Buma/Stemra. In June 2012, Buma/Stemra were ordered by a Dutch court to cough up the money owed to Reitveldt.

WDF-Pilcher-JochemThis story is shocking on several fronts. That an organisation whose sole purpose was to ensure that musicians were paid for their work could rip off one of the artists they were avowed to protect is nothing short of an eye opener. That the artist had to spend almost six years seeking compensation and was almost scammed by one of the organisation’s directors does an incredible amount of harm to the copyright cause. Given the sheer levels of hypocrisy within this rather ironic and sad tale, If I were the New Zealand equivalent of Buma/Stemra I’d be looking to pull the “would you steal” anti-piracy adverts, as anyone who knows this story is unlikely to ever take the adverts seriously. PAT PILCHER


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