What is a “Tribute”

Melbourne is suffering a nostalgia plague manifesting itself in the form of the “tribute show”. I understand that this is a societal issue people want to listen to the songs of their youth, so do I but I prefer to listen to the real thing on my home sound system or in the car on CD’s and vinyl that I have purchased knowing that the artist got some of the proceeds.

If you copy a movie and sell it or even give it away they call is piracy, if you take someone else’s writing and present it as yours they call it plagiarism, if you use someone’s logo or marketing material they call it copy right infringement and if you use another businesses technology, data or processes they call it industrial espionage … but if you take another artist or bands material, dress up to copy their look and play their music on stage for profit … they call that a “tribute”. How does that work? How can you justify piracy by calling it a “tribute” … that is kinda like saying I stole your dog because you have a nice dog and I want to introduce it to more people.

It seems there are no barriers to prevent a promoter, venue or musicians from advertising a “tribute show” and charging punters $50 – $80 to see a stage full of imposters playing material that they do not own and making a profit from it. Now I’m not talking about the local pub rock cover band who play a mix of old favorites that people like to listen and dance to or the solo acoustic artist who plays a few covers mixed in with original material. I am talking about the imposter “tribute shows” you know the one’s that come on stage with flannel shirts and long haired wigs and for a few hours become the world famous Eagles (yeah I know “you love their music and you just want people to hear it” blah blah blah) as the play their songs, talk some BS this song is about this or that. They can advertise as the Real Eagles Show including using images and logos of the actual Eagles, then walk off stage collect their reward for pretending to be the Eagles while the promoter counts his profit and the venue tallies up the beer sales.

Supposedly because the Artists own their own images and logos APRA can not do anything about the deceitful advertising. If an image of Janis Joplin is used, unless Janis or her heirs are there to see it and have it removed, the promoters, venues and musicians can do as they please in an effort to make their pirate shows seem the real thing. Now hopefully in Janis’ case most people know that she is no longer performing live but still someone owns the images. Now you go and use a photo of a MacDonalds Hamburger in advertisement for a new Hamburger Joint and see how fast they come after you … but with music it just seems to be cool.

They get away with this piracy by using the venues Live Music License which is issued by APRA but there is another license category that should be applied called the Dramatic Content License … if you did an Elvis Impersonation Show you would be liable for a Dramatic Content License but if you are just paying a “tribute” to the Door’s music … despite the fact that you wore costumes and tried to act like Jim Morrison you can get away with it. These “tribute shows” are referred to exactly as Shows … they are not gigs or playing a few tunes, they are put on as Shows … what is that if not Dramatic Content?

I, and the venues, promoters and musicians, know that APRA can’t send investigators to watch and listen to every imposter show so they can basically do whatever they want and then collect the money. The venue is required to provide a set list so at least the writer and publisher can collect their 12 cents a song for them having been played live … but that rarely if ever occurs.

We original songwriters, artists and musicians have a Rights Organization APRA of which most of us are Writer Members. APRA is seemingly charged, or at least should be, with promoting and advancing original Australian Artists and Songwriters rather than sitting back watching us being pushed further in to the black hole of small pubs and cafes or further on to the busking corners around Melbourne. Original artists are trying to make it putting their heart and soul in to their art but they find themselves reduced to playing covers or worse joining an imposter band just to pay the rent. Sad but true.

I don’t blame the venues they are in business to make money and if they can get 100 people in to their venue at $50 a head to listen to a band of imposters play old Credence songs then they are going to do it … and they are not going to call up APRA and say “hey do we need a Dramatic Content License for this show”.

It is up to APRA and since they can’t police every one of these pirate shows then the solution is simple; if it is being called a “tribute show” or some similar title or it is exclusively concentrating on 1 artist or bands material … the Dramatic Content License applies. Then it is up to the venue and the promoter to determine whether they raise ticket prices, pay the band less (the first option most likely) and if they will still be able to take a profit … if they can great as long as they have paid the license fee and done the proper documentation and submit a set list.

This is a simple correction for APRA they are a law unto themselves and can set, charge, make rules, levy penalties etc as they see fit . Remember they are supposed to be promoting and advancing Australian original art and artists … not promoting the rehashing by imposters of old American, English or even old Australian music.

It is high time for APRA to act … before we start having “tribute shows” of the great imposter acts of our time.

I note the composition above is my own … nobody wrote this first, it is my position and I hereby give permission for you to copy, paste, share and post wherever you think is appropriate. Maybe if we Writer Members of APRA start putting some pressure on APRA they will take a stand on our behalf and do something.



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