A little while ago, I had reason to learn a little about public broadcast rights in copyright law. This is where copyright owners (say of sound recordings) can grant firms rights to play those recordings to a group. This was the issue at the heart of the ‘nightclubs’ case at the Australian Copyright Tribunal. But there are others too.
In my mind, a public broadcast right license fee should be no higher than the sum of individual license fees. So if you play a recording of a song to a group of 30 people, then it seems reasonable to me that the license fee for that cost no more than 30 x $1.69 (that is, the cost of each buying the song from iTunes). Of course, that is an upper bound. iTunes songs can be played again and again and kept forever and so are more valuable as an individual than a public license but it surely provided some sort of cap on what a public license fee could be.
In explaining this to others (i.e., lawyers), there was confusion as they thought I might literally mean that individuals would come to the event with the song on their iPods and press play simultaneously. I didn’t mean that, it was just a thought experiment but I must admit I thought that such a technology might exist in the near future. Anyhow, it turns out that Improv Everywhere have proved that this could exist right now using iPods in the ‘press play together’ mode. Click here to read an account.