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ECAD | Razing The Royalties Machine

Above: Scandal at ECAD — the Brazilian ASCAP! Cruelty to the beloved Creative Commons! A reform of authorial rights legislation that would prevent the labels from keeping everything! Falling out with prominent leftist intellectual Emir Sader, who is disinvited from heading the Rui Barbosa Institute!  Since the media blitz began here — Bring Me the Head of the Minister of Culture — I have been trying to get to the bottom of certain vague accusations against the Brazilia ASCAP, ECAD, which collects and  distributes royalties, handling a modest amount of funds in the low hundreds of millions per year. All I have found is a single case in which ECAD distributed money in error to a fraudster who gamed its IT system, reported after the fact by a journalist who simply leaked what someone else told them. The organization says it detected the fraud, has already charged the man criminally and is suing to get the money back. Even so, the episode is being used to leverage the proposition “the Minister of Culture consorts with corrupt or incompetent lobbying organizations!” This is bullshit, I think. Today, for example, in the Estadão, we read that a parliamentary commission of inquiry is moving forward with respect to ECAD. Absolutely the only concrete reason for ordering the expensive and time-consuming probe is the single documented case of someone defrauding the distro system. It is as if Congress, espying a single sparrow in the snow, launched a probe of why spring was so cold this year. You enthusiasts of informal logic know what I mean: One case does not constitute a trend or patterm. I smell a media-driven ratfuck — the first of the season. But audit reports by ECAD are too adequate, by far, to raise the spectre of systematic fraud based on a single case, for one thing. So I have to admit it: I am rooting for Ana Buarque. I like her music, too.If the CPI follows the pattern of others, it will either peter out when it loses its political relevance or else it will suddenly swerve into other matters entirely. The item, gist-translated, is that Senator Randolfe Rodrigues (PSOL-AP) announced he had the 27 votes needed to establish a CPI into ECAD. The House has more than 500 members, and plenty of committees with subpoena power to hold hearings.

In late April, a report in O GLOBO showed Ecad unduly paying R$ 130,000 in royalties to the forger  Milton Coitinho dos Santos, involving works by composers like Caetano Veloso and  Sérgio Ricardo. Both government and opposition Senators signed on — Itamar Franco (PPS-MG), Lindbergh Farias (PT-RJ), Eduardo Suplicy (PT-SP), Aécio Neves (PSDB-MG), Paulo Paim (PT-RS), Sérgio Petecão (PMN-AC) e Wellington Dias (PT-PI).

The left is furious with the Minister of Culture for firing an eminent leftist thinker in the wake of unfortunate public remarks — showing she would brook no more of the kind of wild insubordination that prevailed under Gilberto Gil, The right is furious because they have made side deals with that whole Creative Commons crowd that they now cannot deliver on because they lost the elections. That is to say, that whole Creative Commons crowd picked the wrong house but wants the trifecta to pay off anyway. This is how I see the matter.

“I hope this CPI of Ecad is not like the 1995 one, which went nowhere. It remains relevant, however, given that 15 years later there are still irregularities at  Ecad,” said Senator Randolfe. According to him, Ecad collected more royalties in 2010 than the entire federal investment in culture.

Yes, but this is a good thing! Living on government handouts, as our artist friends Gigi and Sandra Lee do, is a sovietical experience, and both the budget of the MiniCult and the receipts of ECAD are just pitiful. Also, my wife never saw one red cent from her last book. Net assets of ECAD — R$211 million or $131 million — in 2009 fell to $190 million or 118 million — last year. We are talking about amounts of money

  1. in the context of which R$130,000 — already placed in collection — is peanuts, and
  2. are the financial equivalent of a single Hollywood summer blockbuster

You would think that most artists — and consumers — would welcome opening up the Culture Industry to competition. Because a commissar is a commissar. It matters little whether the little man with a gun in his hand, breathing down your neck, is from the Party or from the Oligopoly. It still tends to break your concentration. On the other hand, I agree with the senator to a degree: If you are going to investigate a topic like the distribution of earnings in the Culture Industry, then get to the bottom of it. There are those who say the record labels (1) price gouge and (2) screw the artist. Interview witnesses. Last years’ CPI of the NGOs, for example, simply disappeared after a political deal was struck — “I will not talk trash about your wife’s charitable foundation if you will not talk trash about mine.” The CPI was seated in  2001 and left not even a final report behind it. And there is plenty to talk about regarding NGO governance than just cases singled out for their political  headline-worthiness. There are systematic problems with NGO governance, and a whole brigade of less than dramatic but nevertheless very smart people lined up to make practical suggestions.