November 24, 2012

Bully for you

When will we stop bullying each other? When will we stand up to bullies? Or, at least, when will we treat each other with basic courtesy? The publication of the third Scots Guards Collection is just another example of our tradition of skirting not only the law, but common decency, when it comes to the rights of composers.

We keep falling back on the “there’s no money in it” excuse, as if to say that it’s not worth the bother to respect one another unless there’s serious poundage involved. That the British Army and a well-established music publishing company puts out the biggest single collection of light music since, well, since Scots Guards II, and doesn’t even ask many rights-holding composers for permission to reprint their works, is inexcusable.

It’s another example of bullying that the piping and drumming world has endured and practiced itself since the beginning. The attitude and MO has been, Don’t bother with legalities, formalities and common decency – they can’t and won’t do anything about it, anyway, so let’s just keep the poor composers and performers down.

Whether it’s a major broadcaster, a publishing company, or our very own associations, they know that they won’t be challenged. Not only is there too much political risk in terms of competition repercussions, but, if you actually complain, you will simply be left out of the CD, the DVD, the TV show, the book, the streaming – all the places in which they know we crave and cherish inclusion.

It’s an insidious practice, and, by accepting it, we teach every new generation of pipers and drummers that it’s acceptable behavior. Young players just grow up thinking, Well, that’s just how it’s done. Don’t ask questions. Don’t stand up to the bully; it will just make things worse. Live in fear and maybe the bully will lose interest.

And then there’s the reasoning that we should be grateful for people actually reproducing our performances and copyright works. Don’t complain, or else they might not do it, as if they’re all nonprofits.

Again, the truth is that they produce these products because they make money. They claim that they are making no money from these illegal works, and they won’t open their books, so we have to take their claims at face value. Scots Guards III is priced at about $75 retail – great value because of its great content. Dealers would purchase it from the publisher for about $40, probably less. The publisher has a deal with the British Army, probably about $20 of each sale to retailers going to the military.

In addition to my professional life, I can use my own publishing experiences as a guide. I published a collection of music some years back, and within a month I had broken even. Everything after that was profit, which I plowed into other nonprofit piping projects. Similarly, without making a strong-sell on advertising and subscriptions, pipes|drums operates in the black. How? We develop the content that we think people are willing to pay for, which builds an audience that advertisers want to reach.

If it were not for the quality content, the product does not work. As a nonprofit, it allows us to cover costs and donate and sponsor other worthwhile and nonprofit things. And part of our costs is paying for quality content. Every solicited writer is offered compensation for their work. The content has value, and those who produce the content should be remunerated for it.

If it were a cash drain, pipes|drums would not happen. It simply would not exist because it would not make any sense. And this is true of CDs, DVDs, broadcasts, books and other products. If you have the content quality, then you have the quality product. And those who provide the content must agree to the terms of the deal, whether cash or licensing or simply a, “Sure, the exposure is enough of a return for me.”

Schoolyard bullying is in the news a lot these days. Kids are being coached on it. Parents are wising up to it. Isn’t it time that pipers and drummers stopped bullying each other, and started facing up to and exposing those who bully us?


  1. “Bullying” is the most over-used cliche in our language today. Stealing intellectual property is not bullying, it is theft – criminal – wrong, and that’s it. It seems that anything anyone doesn’t like they call “bullying” – I’m looking for the playground thug here and I don’t see one. If someone steals your copyrighted music, take them to court, win a judgment, and be done with it.

    1. Go deeper into the mind of the bully by reading Robert D. Hare’s book “Without Conscience – The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us”. You’ll begin to understand why you’re being ignored.

  2. I’m sure all that would need to happen for the Worlds CDs/DVDs or the Scots Guards Collection to get rights to the content is just ask. As has been said, many composers and performers would consider the honor to be included compensation enough. Is it any hardship to ask? It’s just a simple correspondence and a common courtesy yet the organizations involved get so defensive when questioned. Some do so with retaliatory overtones.
    Even if this is not bullying (though it probably is) it’s not good business or even respectable comportment. No cliches about it.

  3. You are correct, Aaron. But the simple act of asking is seen as retaliation, and the rights holders fear they might be left off of the recording, out of the book, not in the broadcast or, in the case of the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band, threatened with suspension. Bill Livingstone asked after Scots Guards III was printed. He could easily have the book pulled from shelves, but they know that he would never do that. In the case of World’s recordings, royalties to composers and performers would be retroactive to 1979, which was the first such product produced from copyright content. If someone did push it, it would be a royal pipe band mess – but completely within legal rights. I wonder if the RSPBA has a contingency plan if that were to happen.

  4. Of course not. I’m just wondering if they do have a plan because, sooner or later, it will come to a head. The retroactive royalty payments are more with the publishers and broadcasters than any association. But why any member-driven association would not want to treat its members fairly, not to mention legally, is inconceivable. And how any piper or drummer can not think it’s unfair and illegal or, at the very least, disrespectful, escapes me.

  5. My reason for not buying the book was that when I flicked through it, I saw that the same old same old mistake has been repeated yet again with crazy barlining in the 3/4s and 9/8s, so another generation of poor kids grow up thinking its right. And then you see the odd tune–Amazing Grace, I noticed, that has the upbeat respected. Neither rhyme nor reason seems to be applied, nor does anybody on their music ‘board’ seem bothered. And now this with the copyright issue. Double reason for not supporting it or condoning it. I agree it’s a form of bullying. Disrespectful to the composers. The funny thing is that the few people I’ve met who belong to the Scots Guards, seem to be real gentlemen, and yet this is not reflected in what’s going on here with the publication. As for the publishers, what on earth are they thinking about? Are they in the Middle Ages?

  6. Would it have been better to do an article stating the issues, and explaining that because of those issues, a review would not be published (I did enjoy Ken’s assessment though)? Would that have made a difference? Probably not, but it would have been a better form of “protest” IMHO.

  7. I don’t feel bullied. I feel ignored, disrespected and generally tossed aside. I’m sure many of my fellow composers share this view. A great thing about reaching a certain age and stage in life, is that fear of telling it like it is disappears.

    Does anyone think that composers can just press a key and voila, here’s a unique melody? Ask those of us who do it. I’d guess they’re like me more or less….I sweat over my stuff…is it pleasing, is it unique, does it have appeal, does it fit the modality/tonality of the GHB, is it true to a Celtic idiom and so on….if my stuff doesn’t cut it in my own set of criteria (and the list above is not complete) it never sees the light of day. These things are not as Eric Idle said in the Meaning of Life, “A number I recently tossed off in the Carribean”, but rather the efforts of serious folks trying to contribute to the piping repertoire. Not everyone can do it. In fact there are very few who have the intuition and the skills to pull it off. When they do, they should be respected, and more importantly, so should the products of their ingenuity.

    Someone asked if the idea was to kill the RSPBA. For many reasons, that’s not a bad notion, but from my point of view, this is about nothing more than according respect to the people who create intellectual property (music!!!) and giving them the compensation that the law permits…is it 1 pence (UK money) or 1 GBP (UK money). The size of the reward is so much less important than the size of the insult that goes with people thinking that it’s only bagpipes….let’s just take it.

  8. Yep, no-one wants to rock the boat. Too many see this as a hobby and therefore different and not subject to any law. Battered into submission. Apathy in a kilt. Tragics, the lot of us. Comments on here saying this is alarmist and we’ll kill off the RSPBA etc – they’re not getting it. Everyone bar the culprit is to blame then? It won’t be the RSPBA or KRL’s fault (worlds recordings), or the publisher (SG III), it will be everyone else’s fault for bringing this to a head?? Are these people kidding?? What often goes on in our little patch regarding IP is disgraceful, disrespectful, cynical, unethical and inexcusable. And there I was thinking that an established publisher would know the laws on all this, or that an Association would stand for its members……

  9. not to defend the rspba or anything like that, but you do know why they can’t be bothered sorting out this issue that has been a problem for its members for so long?? MONEY, they can’t be arsed, as the financial gain would be minimum or even might work out for the worst for them. There must be some sort of financal arrangements from the worlds cds people, and the bbc streaming rights, for a start. so why would the rspba start looking into things thay may cost them in the long run. Turkeys voting for christmas and all that

    1. The RSPBA . . . has been doing it for so long now they just don’t see it as an issue anymore. Custom and Practice: 101. The simple waiver they affix to the world championships entry form is akin to intimidation – ‘sign this or you don’t play’. There are no grounds. It is simply the RSPBA yielding to the record label and (now also) the BBC. Not once do they look out for the interests of their members, they just worry about attracting as many stakeholders and underwriters as possible and the bands (who all get there off their own steam) are just pushed to the side and taken for granted. Not one band does this for profit, nor do most composers, but that does not excuse this practise by the RSPBA or any unscrupulous publisher. It is inexcusable and these organisations are only saved from being annihilated in court by the general apathy and goodwill (never reciprocated) in the pipe band world.

  10. Well, I suppose this is one advantage to being an unknown composer – no one steals my works, although, on the other hand, precious few play them! and I gotta few crackers, if I say so meself.

    Maybe I should publish my own book of chunes…I’ll call it Scots Guards Vol IV and we’ll see how they like that…

    1. Joel,
      You’d probably have to call it Scott’s Guards collection for legal reasons. If you start at number one you may be able to get some sales due to confusion. You may want to call it (Numb)er one. All kidding aside I support the rights of composers. What’s happening is theft. At some point pipe band dues or fundraising efforts are going to have to increase to pay composers that aren’t part of the band. I wonder how long it will take for someone to sue the company that’s responsible for putting the world’s cd out. It would be pretty awful if the winning medly in grade one isn’t included because of a copyright violation. I think it’s something like 75 years after the composer’s death before a tune becomes public domain. Susan MacLeod could likely buy a new car for the amount of times that stathspey has been played and broadcast since 1979. Let’s not forget the rest of Wee Donald’s compositions that have been included in pipe band repertoires over the last 30 years.

      Someone somewhere is making money and they’re not sharing it with the composers.

  11. I work in the broadcast industry and music rights are a big deal of course, but they don’t benefit the artist, they benefit the record company, and I guess in this way the Scotts guards are the record company. Top40 artists and what not don’t make their money off their music sales, they make it off of their performances. Perhaps maybe start looking at the pipe bands that play the tunes. The way I see it is the book is more of a delivery system. The profit made is to pay for effort, the work in finding these tunes and backing it by a reputable source. I’m more likely to give a tune a second look at a tubes in the book then off of a random PDF that I’ve had to pay for on the internet. Think of of as free marketing.

    1. Devin W, with all due respect, I can’t understand how you can miss the point as badly as you have here, especially when you work in an industry that is touched by this issue all the time. The point you’re missing is that in the commercial music case you mention, the artists HAVE negotiated and finalised a contract with the record companies. In the case of SG III and the like, there is no such contract, much less discussions on any level. The material is basically being lifted for commercial gain without the consent of the composer. Simple as that.

      Performance points/royalties is another kettle of fish and there are grounds there, but only if the rights of the composer are respected. The fact that the record company that produces the worlds CDs/DVDs even publishes the composer’s names in the album sleeve is an even bigger kick in the pants – they have the temerity to name the people they’ve shafted.

      These vague justifications that some people seem to be espousing about this all being ‘good marketing’ and a privilege etc. What rot. Here’s a real example – my brother’s guitar band was asked to play at a restaurant. There was no fee offered, only the promise of ‘great exposure’ and all that. My brother responded by asking if the head chef might like to prepare dinner for his upcoming birthday party, free of charge, as it would be good exposure for the chef in question. You can guess the response. The two things are one in the same, but seen so differently depending on which side you’re on.

      The record company and any publishers who practice like those in this topic do are at fault and there’s no excuse for it.



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