Intellectual Property Rights Speaker Program in Montenegro
Steven Beck, Founder of OnlineRock
© 2005 All rights reserved
recently had the amazing opportunity to visit Montenegro and speak
to musicians, club owners, media, law enforcement and government
officials about intellectual property rights (IPR) and how they
affect musicians in the United States (US). This trip was put together
by the State Department and in particular T. J. Grubisha of the
US Consulate in Montenegro. His colleague Sasa Brajovic was also
a key figure in putting together this program. At first I questioned
why they would want me to head these discussions but looking back
on my history in the music industry, it made perfect sense. In
1999 I founded OnlineRock as a place for musicians to sell their
music in a downloadable format. This was three years before Apple
launched iTunes. It was also during the Napster pirating days which
had a dramatic effect on my business model. Also, in 2004 OnlineRock
released the Autumdivers’ second CD and four songs were illegally
used by a major television network during a worldwide sporting event
broadcast. Ironically they are also members of the Recording Industry
Association of America (RIAA). I could put a face on this issue and,
instead of getting a lawyer or another suit to present this information;
T.J. had the vision to get real people involved. Aaron Boucher, the
drummer of the Autumdivers also joined me during this trip.
is a small country in south-eastern Europe. It has population of
about 650,000. Its territory is approximately the size of the state
of Connecticut. Montenegro was one of the six republics of the
former Yugoslavia. The United Nations economic sanctions against
Yugoslavia in 1992 damaged the Montenegro economy deeply, especially
its tourist trade. In 2002, the Serbian and Montenegrin components
of Yugoslavia began negotiations to forge a relationship. These
talks became a reality in February 2003 when lawmakers restructured
the country into a federation of two republics called Serbia and
Montenegro. The Constitutional Charter of Serbia and Montenegro includes
a provision that allows either republic to hold a referendum after
three years that would allow for their independence from the state
union. Independence appears to be a major goal of the current administration
however many feel this will cause additional instability. Integration
into the European Union (EU) and World Trade Organization (WTO) is
another goal and although much of Montenegro’s economy is related
to black market, piracy and cigarette smuggling, new laws have been
adopted and will be put into place on January 1, 2005 that are geared
to respect and enforce IPR.
preparation for my trip I tried to learn as much about Montenegro
as I could. I also took a look back at my career in the music industry
to see what issues might be relevant and how these points could
be presented. I studied US copyright laws and saw how they developed
as technology evolved. I researched music industry groups and saw
how their influence could be used to change both the laws in the
US and the mentality of music consumers. I wanted to combine all
of this information and present a clear, easy to understand message.
I wasn’t a lawyer and didn’t think quoting laws
or presenting industry numbers would have an impact. In addition,
I wanted the people that I spoke with to walk away from these meetings
thinking about this issue and what it meant to them. I posed the
question; how important is creativity to your culture?
arriving in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro on Sunday afternoon,
I settled easily into my hotel room, took a shower and decided
to explore the city a bit. Everyone was extremely friendly and
many spoke English which made getting around pretty easy. The downtown
streets are filled with cafés where locals would drink coffee
and people watch. Music filled the air as each café played
CDs through powerful systems trying to attract patrons. Many had
TVs which broadcasted soccer games. Basketball was also on the minds
of everyone as the European Championship was being played in Podgorica
however the Serbia and Montenegro team was eliminated later in the
week. While walking the streets we stopped into a number of CD and
DVD shops. Most all of these shops were stocked with blatantly pirated
CDs selling for one or two euros each. Why would anyone pay 16 to
20 euros for a legitimate copy when these were so easily available?
We could see the problem first hand.
started off Monday with a visit to the US Consulate and were introduced
to everyone who helped put this program together. After this briefing
and understanding of how the week would go we headed out for our
first meeting with Ljiljana Filipovic, the Deputy Minister of the
Ministry for International Economic Relations and European Integration.
She was extremely graceful and gave us a good background on why
Montenegro was taking on IPR and what hurdles they needed to overcome.
She made a point that Montenegrins were seen as being “lazy” and
that change would be difficult. This is understandable when you
look back at the history of the country where changes occur often
and political stability is questionable. We also met with the Ministry
of Culture and Media later in the day.
next morning we met with the Broadcasting Agency of Montenegro.
When we arrived at the Agency, we were escorted into a conference
room full of people from television, newspapers and other people
involved with the production of arts in Montenegro. Television
and newspapers captured our opening statements as we introduced
ourselves and our purpose. During this meeting, we heard from local
artists who expressed their frustrations with the current system
and described how at one time there was some sort of performing rights
association and that radio and television stations had to report
the music that they played over their station. The new law that will
take affect on January 1 st, 2006 doesn’t mandate that and
it seems that stations, both radio and television can still use music
without the artists permission. Later that day we met with officials
at then Cultural-Information Center to discuss our public meeting
later in the week. At night almost every news station on the television
covered the morning meeting in depth.
Wednesday morning we met with government officials (Customs, Tourism,
Culture/ Media, Police, Courts, European Integration) to discus
U.S. legal frameworks and enforcement mechanisms. While there were
a few people at the meeting that we met before, most were new and
very attentive to what we had to say. After we presented our viewpoints
and background, we opened this meeting up to discussion and had
each of the people in attendance tell us who they were and what
their background is on the subject. I felt that this was one of
the most productive meetings we had during the trip and that everyone
there was fully aware of the problem and wanted top help fix it but
were concerned that they didn’t have the proper tools, manpower
and laws to change things. They also felt that the mentality of all
people involved with piracy issues would be hard to change.
Later on Wednesday we had what I feel was the
least productive meeting. This was with club owners and although
these guys were some of the nicest people we met, their views on
the issues were skewed towards what would make their business more
profitable (looking back that seems reasonable). They raised issues
about what bands were charging them to have them perform music in
their clubs. I personally felt that these were basic supply/demand
business issues and we tried to explain that in the US, bands rarely
get paid more than they are worth to that business. If the owner
of the club wants to lose money on a band, that is their decision.
Thursday was probably our lightest day but one
of our best. In the morning we met with a number of different journalists
from a variety of publications. The main goal of these meeting was
to publicize the public meeting on Friday however we were also able
to share our stories and thoughts on IPR which hopefully, through
the press, would reach a larger audience. The reporters that interviewed
us asked great questions and I felt they understood why we were there.
Thursday evening we had dinner with a number of Montenegro’s top musicians, composers and film directors
at the Hotel Podgorica. I have to say that this was the highlight
of the trip for me. The surroundings, the food and all of those present
made this an unforgettable evening. A number of different topics
were covered and both sides were curious as to how the other went
about their business. Throughout the evening it seems as though everyone
realized that they all would need to work together to help make Montenegro
respect their rights as artists. I remember hearing one gentleman
comment that even if it doesn’t help them directly, it will
help artists in the future and make their country a better place.
was the last day of the speaker program and boy did the week go
fast. In the morning Aaron and I split up to talk to two different
groups. He spoke with musicians and performers and I talked with
producers and promoters. There were also students in the audience.
I felt there was great interest from the audience as usual but
there was still the concern that nothing would be done about these
issues. I couldn’t promise that anything would
change but the fact that there is a new law going into place and
that people were talking about it were all steps in the right direction.
last presentation was on Friday afternoon and this was open to
the general public. After a week of press coverage we were hoping
for a slightly larger audience but the people who came were very
attentive and interested. There was one person who didn’t
agree with our points on the subject and was a bit disruptive.
Eventually he left and those who stuck around contributed to a
very open discussion on IPR issues. There were a number of people
from young kids just starting a band to producers that had a stable
of acts who stuck around and talked more in depth even after the
presentation was finished.
I look back on the week of talks, I feel we did an amazing job
putting a face on an issue that has a major affect on Montenegro’s
culture. While our background is mainly in the music industry,
all aspects of intellectual property are at risk if not protected.
Film, software, clothing and medicine are but a few areas that
need to be covered. It is said that every great journey starts
with one footstep and I feel we helped put a few footsteps in motion.
whole program would not have been possible without the help and
knowledge of a number of different people whom I’d like to thank. From Barbara Durant who put together our
travel accommodations to T.J. Grubisha and Sasa Brajovic who had
the idea to make this happen in the first place. But most of all
I’d like to thank the people and country of Montenegro, who
welcomed us, heard what we had to say and exchanged views with us
and were open to new ideas. I look forward to visiting you again.