Sunday, 20 October 2013

Why aren't there CMOs for software?

Most countries have a copyright law that provides for Collective Management Organizations. These are typically non-profit or state-run organizations that act on behalf of copyright holder members. The CMO collects royalties from copyright users, usually by issuing fee-based licenses that give users access to a broad selection of copyrighted works.
We are stronger together than apart...
The Fall of Poland, Jan Matejko, 1866

The Nigerian Copyright Act provides a good definition of a CMO: “an association of copyright owners which has as its principal objectives the negotiating and granting of license, collecting and distributing of royalties in respect of copyright works.”

Computer source code is subject to copyright, so programmers constitute a class of "copyright owners." Why, then, has this Leo never heard of a CMO for software developers?

CMOs are particularly common for music-related copyrights. In Kenya, there are three such CMOs, one each representing: music authors/publishers; sound recording producers/owners; and music performers.

Music is ideal for a CMO because users typically use a wide variety of copyrighted works, but each work is used relatively infrequently. For example, a retail business may have background music provided by a radio playing a wide variety of music from many musicians. Thus a typical user owes a large number of small royalty payments to a large number of authors. The CMO enhances efficiency by centralizing collection of such royalties.

On the face of it, software seems quite different. Most people typically use a relatively small number of software programs, and use them quite frequently. There is also no equivalent of radio (i.e., a legitimate source of entirely freely distributed music) for software. The standard model is for users to purchase an ongoing license to use software, and the user receives a personal or business copy for such use.

Nevertheless, might there be some similarities between software distribution and music distribution? Or, might a total re-design of the current software distribution model - a re-design that looks more like music distribution and makes use of CMOs - make sense for the software industry?

Some software developer companies (particularly those making mobile phone apps) have literally hundreds of independent pieces of software on offer, much like some musicians have vast repertoires of music. Furthermore, cloud computing is already changing the standard model of software distribution, by allowing users to access programs and data stored on remote servers (rather than being stored locally).

Perhaps a pizza or chicken restaurant would benefit from having access to thousands of video games sourced from hundreds of developers, all of which is licensed for a set fee from a CMO. Or perhaps individuals could buy a license from a CMO to gain access to thousands of apps for their mobile phone. Or perhaps businesses could buy a license from a CMO and gain access to hundreds of types of business software from different providers.

Readers, do you know of any CMOs (or similar collective rights organizations) for software?

1 comment:

IPKenya said...

Isaac,

Collectivism, generally speaking, may be beneficial to software owners but the CMO structure does not seem to be particularly attractive among the industry players. An important prerequisite for the establishment of CMOs in any industry is a concerted push from the copyright owners themselves. This is perhaps a clear indication that software owners have no intention or desire to assign their rights to a collecting society.