Songwriter Bill Bragg was struck by the news that Bebo co-founder Michael Birch has walked away with $600 million after the site was bought by AOL. Bragg has some ideas about what Birch should do with the money:
I heard the news with a particular piquancy, as Mr. Birch has cited me as an influence in Bebo’s attitude toward artists. He got in touch two years ago after I took MySpace to task over its proprietary rights clause. I was concerned that the site was harvesting residual rights from original songs posted there by unsigned musicians. As a result of my complaints, MySpace changed its terms and conditions to state clearly that all rights to material appearing on the site remain with the originator.
A few weeks later, Mr. Birch came to see me at my home. He was hoping to expand his business by hosting music and wanted my advice on how to construct an artist-centered environment where musicians could post original songs without fear of losing control over their work. Following our talks, Mr. Birch told the press that he wanted Bebo to be a site that worked for artists and held their interests first and foremost.
In our discussions, we largely ignored the elephant in the room: the issue of whether he ought to consider paying some kind of royalties to the artists. After all, wasn’t he using their music to draw members — and advertising — to his business? Social-networking sites like Bebo argue that they have no money to distribute — their value is their membership. Well, last week Michael Birch realized the value of his membership. I’m sure he’ll be rewarding those technicians and accountants who helped him achieve this success. Perhaps he should also consider the contribution of his artists.
The musicians who posted their work on Bebo.com are no different from investors in a start-up enterprise. Their investment is the content provided for free while the site has no liquid assets. Now that the business has reaped huge benefits, surely they deserve a dividend…