The Shackles of Copyright Law: Brazil’s Tecnobrega
The crisis in the recording music industry has diminished the breadth and diversity of record label catalogs at a time when there are more artists and musical works than ever. Around the world, moreover, local and regional music may be in danger of becoming marginalized as the traditional distribution structures focus just on pasteurized product. And yet there is hope.
New ‘open business models’ are being considered overseas and involve the creation and dissemination of artistic and intellectual works under a more flexible and autonomous copyright regime. If successful, it is argued that such a regime would generate more revenue for the music stakeholders and cut prices for consumers.
A book by two Brazilian writers illuminates the approach and may well shape thought in years to come.
Its title, Tecnobrega–O Pará Reinventando o Negócio da Música (’Tecnobrega-The State of Pará Reinvents the Music Business’) at first may seem pretentious. But the authors are Ronaldo Lemos, Director of the Center for Technology and Internet Society at the famous Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV) in Rio de Janeiro, and Oona Castro, FGV ‘s Project Leader. Lemos, in particular, is active in academic discussions of intellectual property law around the globe, has been an articulate spokesman on copyright legislation for emerging economies, and serves as the director of Creative Commons in Brazil.
The work of Castro and Lemos is scholarly and relies on in-depth mining of qualitative and quantitative data in situ. It has become a part of the Open Business Project, a global initiative between Brazil, the UK, Nigeria, Chile, Mexico, and South Africa that is partly funded by Canada’s International Development Research Center (IDRC). Brazilian think tanks FIPE, an economics research foundation, and the Instituto Overmundo were also involved. Lemos and Castro also advise Brazil’s Ministry of Culture, lately an international advocate of a new legal architecture for music.
Tecnobrega, the music from which the name of the book is derived, is a genre from the state of Pará. Pará is far removed economically, geographically, and culturally from the main centers of the country, Rio and Sao Paulo. Brega, a kitsch regional style, became mixed with European Tecno, but the major labels or mass communication media never picked it up. (even though the old Brega was widely popular across Brazil during the 1980s, the genre faded as the industry declined). Yet it has now returned morphed into a new and complex ecosystem that provides revenues in the millions and employment for thousands. The key appears to have been both a loose copyright enforcement policy and an informal commercial structure that enabled the growth and promotion of the genre.
The traditional paradigm illustrates, among other things, the exchange between composers, producers, record labels, and publishers. This is not how the tecnobrega model works, for the interaction there is between the aparelhagens, i.e the sound system companies, the artists, the live and studio DJs , the promoters, the venue managers, the mass reproducers, and the street vendors.
According to Castro and Lemos, the sequence of tecnobrega is as follows:
(i) artists, either solo acts or bands, record songs in self owned or other studios; (ii) the best productions are sent out by the studio DJs to mass copiers; (iii) street vendors sell CDs locally at an affordable price, typically $2.50; (iv) DJs play their choice of songs at aparelhagem parties; (v) artists that have popular songs assemble bands to make performances; (vi) new CDs and DVDs are recorded and sold at concerts; (viii) the cycle is repeated while success lasts.
Artists are compensated primarily through live performances at an average of $1,200 per show. Since royalties are not a feature of that business model, musicians are driven to perform their own songs, and 84% of the artists are also composers. In fact, what usually happens is that composers only form bands after their songs have become popular by either being part of compilation CDs or because they were performed at aparelhagem parties. Artists that are solely composers are rare, but such artists tend to write for jingles used in broadcasts and political campaigns as well as for songs that are exclusively commissioned to pay homage to the aparelhagens.
The aparelhagens, in fact, are a crucial element of the tecnobrega business. These sound system companies are hired to provide large setups that combine computers, sound, video, and lighting technologies for large parties in which tecnobrega music is played by DJ’s. There are four major companies running aparelhagens throughout the state, and several hundred of smaller ones. Aparelhagens are mostly family businesses. Local promoters are then responsible for organizing the parties and subsidizing the acquisition of new equipment for the aparelhagens—a major selling point in the eyes of the attendees. Ticket prices typically range from $5 to $10, with an attendance range between 3,000-5,000 people on average. When aparelhagens debut their new equipment at special parties as many as 8,000 people have been known to attend.
The gatekeepers of the tecnobrega are the studio and aparelhagem DJs. They determine which songs will be a hit by either distributing them on compilation albums for mass reproducers, or by playing them at live events and through the electronic media channels. Not all the deals are based on the exchange of monetary values, and sometimes the network of contacts and the capacity of access to certain people is sufficient consideration.
It is important to note the informality of this business model. The absence of written contracts and the sale of mass reproduced copies by street vendors (approved by artists but in fact illegal) prove that the tecnobrega is a model based upon norms rather than law. The lack of a strong copyright culture, combined with the fact that the parties themselves foment this structure of distribution, breeds an environment conducive to growth.
Tecnobrega artists don’t expect any revenues from copyright exploitation, believing that giving up control allows for the free circulation of their songs thereby reaching a broader audience. Piracy is not seen as a threat. In fact, artists support the practice because it can significantly increase the size of the audience for their concerts. Considering unauthorized distribution as a marketing tool, artists sell their albums and DVDs at concerts with a price sufficient to cover their costs of production, and the show’s revenue comes mainly from ticket sales. In a country where legal albums are sold at a price well above what most of the population can afford, the tecnobrega model guarantees broader access for the lower-income layers of society.
The book suggests that in some cases the application of copyright protection mechanisms might not be necessary to stimulate creation and sustainability within the creative industries. As well, copyright mechanisms may have a negative impact on the access to music, which for the authors is a ‘cultural’ good. The tecnobrega model navigates a grey area within the margin of the established legal canon, but the case of Pará shows that when creators do not make an issue of their private intellectual property, a music economy may evolve just as well.
Lemos and Castro urge the public to consider that there are new effective ways of generating income for the stakeholders of ‘cultural’ industries. They make the case for easier copyright policies in Pará. In addition, the tecnobrega economy emphasizes the sale of ancillary services and strategies that leverage publicity to sell other goods. Similar examples of these so-called ‘open business models’ are found in the technology sector with open-source software, in the Nigerian Nollywood film industry, in Wikipedia–and, as well, in the much scrutinized initiative of Radiohead offering their album at whatever price a consumer might be willing to pay.
For the stakeholders in tecnobrega, the formality of the copyright system stands in the way of their trade in music. Although Lemos and Castro warn that the replication of the model is unlikely on a bigger scale and in a different context, it remains an exemplar of a vibrant musical exchange in an emerging economy. It makes everyone interested in the future of music pause for thought, for where intellectual property law cannot be seen as the chaperone of trade, but its shackle, musicians and the public at large are victimized.
The English translation of the book is pending; the Portuguese version can be downloaded free at: http://portalliteral.terra.com.br/lancamentos/download/715_tecnobregamiolo.pdf.
by Luiz Augusto Buff