Exclusive: Vancouver Buskers Facing Fee Increase Due to New Copyright Licensing Deal, Though Not as Much as Initially Thought

Exclusive: Vancouver Buskers Facing Fee Increase Due to New Copyright Licensing Deal, Though Not as Much as Initially Thought
Recently, word spread quickly about Vancouver transportation authority TransLink's still-in-the-works copyright licensing deal with SOCAN (the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada), which may substantially increase buskers' annual licence fee of $75.

Last October, Buskers were sent a letter saying they might have to pay as much as $1,500 a year for a performance licence under this new licensing agreement, the Vancouver Sun reports. However, buskers rejoice: word from TransLink is that, although there will be a fee increase, it will not be of that magnitude.

Under the new agreement, SOCAN is demanding royalties for songs being performed in stations, a cost TransLink is transferring onto buskers. However, unlike early reports, this will not cost TransLink per station, but per station that has performers in it, leading the transit authority to currently calculate how many stations should allow performers so that the company can make the deal cost effective.

In an interview with Exclaim!, Judy Rudin, manager of media relations and communications at TransLink, points out it's a three-phase project. There is the pre-Olympic phase, which will see everything continue as is; the Olympic phase, which will feature additional short-term, licensed performers (who have paid $50 for their run); and then starting April 1 TransLink and SOCAN will have their new licensing agreement nailed down and buskers may see new fees come into place. Before that April 1 date, Rudin stresses that TransLink will keep consulting with buskers about what the program will look like, before any details are finalized.

"By April 1, we will take a look at things such as how many stations we want to use, because that's going to figure into the affordability of the program," says Rudin. "SOCAN collects by the location. At first, we were a little concerned, thinking, 'We've got how many SkyTrain stations that they would want?' But from further talks we understand we can figure out how many locations we would want the buskers at. So we still have to go through that with SOCAN to let them know what we're doing and see where that all falls."

Angela Vink, manger of communications and marketing at SOCAN, tells Exclaim! that the organization does not yet have a licensing agreement with TransLink but confirms that one is indeed in the works.

"As the operator authorizing these public performances on its premises, TransLink acknowledges that it is required to pay a licence fee to SOCAN and will be working on an agreement with SOCAN," says Vink.

Of course, many Vancouver buskers aren't happy about the proposed changes. "I think it's shit," a busker, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of ruining his chances of getting a busking licence during the Olympics, says of the potential fee hikes. "I mean, I already have to pay to play on the street; why should I have to pay more? I'll just stop putting out a hat, then I won't need my licence and can play all the copyrighted music I want."

Rudin says TransLink is sympathetic to buskers being upset about fee hikes, but says that the company is running a business.

"Well, I can understand [buskers being upset], but we have to consider that it's really them running a business on our property," she says. "We want to support them as much as possible by giving them the opportunity to play, so it's kind of a two-way street, we feel."

According to the anonymous busker, this isn't a two-way street, it's a dead end. The musician says he just wants to play music for the public and increasing fees - even if they're not as high as originally reported - is one more step towards not being able to play at all.

"If TransLink and SOCAN would stop making us jump through fucking loops and taking advantage of us, we could just play," says the busker. "The bottom line is the entertainment."