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Indie music scores class action victory

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Self-styled digital "copyfighters" love to think they're doing good by battling the "evils" of major record companies. But as with most things on the web, it's empty talk. When there's a real battle on, they're nowhere to be found.

Indie labels and songwriters find themselves a little bit better off today as the result of a class action settlement between broadcaster XM Satellite Radio and Merlin, the independent digital licensing network. XM allowed radio devices such as the Inno and Helix music players to store broadcast songs permanently, a clever idea, which was nicely implemented. Except for one small detail: XM didn't want pay the creators of the music – and argued it had a legitimate exemption for home recording, which was designed to cover format shifting of songs you'd already bought. The RIAA swung into action. But the resulting private settlement between XM and the majors in 2007 and 2008 excluded the independents.

It was a similar story with P2P service Kazaa. IFPI sued on behalf of the global recording industry, and reached a $100m settlement in 2006. But the $100m went to just four major labels: Universal, Sony, Warner Music Group and EMI.

Now Sirius, which merged with rival XM in 2008, has announced a class action settlement for independents and publishers. Merlin and the Harry Fox Agency, which collects mechanical royalties for songwriters, are able to file on behalf of indies and composers. Merlin, which came together to represent independent labels in negotiations with digital services, and in that capacity, acts as a "fifth major". (Merlin members can opt out if they so wish.)

"It might once have been argued that it is the proper job of bodies such as the IFPI, the BPI and the RIAA to resolve such disputes as part of their anti-piracy activities, but it was the major labels themselves who settled out of court with XM, variously in 2007 and 2008, leaving the indies, until now, out in the cold," an indie source told us.

"In the new era of digital services, the larger rights-holders have decided to fight the fight themselves and reap their own rewards."

Freetards need little invitation to type thousands of words of poorly informed, self-justifying vitriol on "Big Music". But they're never around when they're needed. Naturally. ®

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