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Music On Hold And The Cabal

Playing music on hold (MoH) on your phone system whilst your caller is waiting to connect to the person or department they are after, or whilst someone ducks off to get some information, is a given these days, no-one wants to sit there and listen to silence, or nothing but the sound of keyboard tapping for 5 minutes.

Am I still connected? Did they forgot about me? Hrmm... is this thing still working? C'mon aren't you done yet?

Whatever their thoughts, they are not what you want going through the mind of your clients, or prospective clients.

Now you sit back with your thinking cap on wondering what to play them, promo material? That gets boring, and annoying - fast, what about radio, streaming audio, CD's, mp3's, perhaps the typical default PBX included elevator music that's worse then listening to a cat fight that seems to go on for hours?

Most PBX's come with something you can play, or ability to play, even if it's just plugging in a radio, CD or MP3 player, nearly all modern systems allow you to upload MoH content to the PBX itself. FreePBX allows uploading your own content, and the ability to stream, just as well too, to be honest, its included default tracks are, well, lets say it would be more pleasurable listening to those squealing cat fights, so the first thing I do is replace that content with other Royalty Free music, mostly a few tracks from Incompetech's Kevin McLeod or Opus No 1, this way it's all above board and the music licensing cabal can't come round making demands for not submitting to their extortion racket.

I configure MoH how it's requested, by default, that's Royalty Free material as previously mentioned, but I provide options, which include playing CD's, MP3's, and online streaming, whilst making them aware of those options I also advise that using most commercial music requires a MoH licence - however I don't get involved in that side of things, I'm not the music police, it isn't my place to say or do anything more than my initial advice.

Now, you're probably wondering why I'm referencing music rights agencies as the cabal, well, pure and simple that's exactly what they are, secret organisations that set their own rules and fees, now, I don't begrudge performing artists getting paid, but seriously, you should check out these agencies and see just how little actually goes to the artists after they take their huge cuts.

It's bad enough the cabal demand you pay for licences to play music on hold, or even just in general in an office or shop - yes, I'm not kidding, they hit you every and every way they can! But there are multiple agencies you need to get licences from, now two of them, APRA and AMCOS, merged a few years back, their fees now reflect that merger, but the PPCA is still a separate entity and you need a licence and pay them in addition in cases of medium shifting (copying).

It comes down to how your playing your MoH, lets use the example of Pink Floyd's Turning Away, the money you pay APRA/AMCOS is for Pink Floyd writing and performing the song, and production of the CD version, but, the version nearly everyone plays is in MP3 or WAV format, so needs to be ripped (extracted/copied) (medium shifted) from a CD, DVD, or maybe you bought and downloaded it from iTunes or other online source, now you must pay PPCA for rights use of that medium-shifted material too - yes, even if its from iTunes and you don't change the format, they deem it a copy so it has been medium shifted... FFS... talk about draining blood from a stone...

Note: Medium shifting is lawful in Australia for personal private use only, but personal use means just that, the copy you have on your synology NAS for backup, or the MP3's on your PC and phone/tablets you ripped from a CD or bought from iTunes is perfectly legal and no further licencing is required, however the moment you take those files and put them in a non-personal environment or any third party system, like a PBX, it's not personal private usage and you need licencing.

Recently the cabal semi merged in an attempt to [cough-splutter] "make it easier for businesses", you can still go to each of the two main separate agencies, in fact if you're only going to play CD's I recommend it, as you only have to deal with and pay APRA/AMCOS not PPCA, or you can use the more recent single point licencing they call OneMusic which covers all agencies. Some businesses who used this new single point were outraged, the new OneMusic bill for same thing they were paying was higher than when they paid these extortionist organisations separately, apparently if this is the case, you can contact them and they will amend it, WTF is there to amend, the question is WHY is there a discrepancy in the first place?

So this brings us back to MoH, the rates they have for this are jaw dropping, and the way they calculate those rates is just profiteering unbelievable.

Let's now look at how they calculate your MoH licence.

It's pretty simple, how many circuits (their terminology for line) can you have at one time? No, not how many people do you have on hold at one time, nor on average, nor at peak, but how many circuits is your system capable of?

On POTS and ISDN that was easy, 1 circuit = 1 channel = 1 line, but they are history now with NBN using VoIP, so what about VoIP? With VoIP the number of circuits (channels) in most cases is only limited by your bandwidth and hardware - whichever is the weakest link.

In an age of high speed internet and NBN, where calls are about 90 kb/s each, even on my lowly home connection my bandwidth can easily handle 300 concurrent channels, and 300 does not need a lot of PC grunt so can easily run on hardware like an i5 with 16Gb RAM with plenty of guts in reserve.

So 300 calls, yet I rarely have even 1 person on hold, and usually that's only because they are sent to a ring queue whilst system rings the phones for me to pickup - however, APRA/AMCOS and PPCA don't care, they see it this as a get rich quick scheme, because they are using a 1990's charging model (and fees), so to be legally licenced for MoH, I have to pay for a 300 user OneMusic MoH licence, have a guess how much THAT will set me back, are you sitting down?

$ 9,772.80

That is how the cabal extort you, even for 2 lines you're looking at over $300 a year, even if you never have anyone on hold. Don't just take my word for it, get it from the horses arse mouth in their information PDF (480kb)

Even a raspberry pi 3b+ can handle 10 concurrent calls with ease, so using raspbx and a pi will earn you a bill of $600 :-O

This is beyond outrageous, it's extortion, and needs to be fixed urgently. A simple fix is to charge fairly, a number that is determined by an average maximum number of circuits on hold at any one time. Example, if you have 100 circuits, but you can show the most that has ever been on hold at a given time is 16, then you should only be billed for 16 circuits, not the entire 100 which is the current cabal requirement. Why should anyone pay for circuits that never go near MoH?

The minimum payable fee is also very excessive, especially for even just 2 circuits. A more reasonable fee would be $22 a circuit based on my above circuit number calculation formula, they'd probably find they get a higher compliance rate too.

The cabal questionably claim compliance is 95%, yeah... I call bullshit on that, with their charging regime it's probably closer to 25% and they figure putting 95% on the website will make people think "oh it must be fair everyone's paying for it", when we know the truth is far from it. I've worked for places that do not have licences for MoH, nor one for staff to listen to music privately at their desks with headphones, how screwed up is that, not even someone sitting at their desk listening to music on their phone with no chance of a member of the public or anyone else hearing it requires a licence, I mean really, you need a licence for that? You extortionate criminal cabal bastards...

Note: A closed office at a business who employs no more than 20 people in total and where no members of the public can hear, can have an exemption for the "office radio or TV" but this applies only if it's pure TV or radio, not DVD, not CD's, not MP3's, and again certainly not applicable if it can be heard by members of the public - but even then, you still need a licence for MoH they do not exempt them, not even for a one person office, and the exemption does not apply if your business employs 21 people, but only 20 work out of the office, it's based on total full time employee count.

Seriously, this rort has to end, there needs to be an urgent overhaul of the Copyright Act in Australia, when the government allows this to go on, there is something very seriously wrong.

The best solution is for the government to fix this mess, but that is unlikely to happen given the attitude of our current elected leaders, so the alternative is to use Royalty Free music, depriving these criminals of their extortion fees. 95% of this country is built on small business, I wonder what would happen if even half of them complained to their local members about this extortion. Because sadly I think that's what it will take for the government to even listen, well, unless your name is Murdoch.

A lot of royalty free music out there is garbage, you're not going to find your perfect fit in 5 minutes, you're not going to find Pink Floyd, but if you use someone like Kevin McLeod, you will easily find material very suitable, and obtainable all legally for free on the internet, even the default Cisco phone system MoH, Opus 1, is royalty free and is more than acceptable for MoH.

So there are alternatives out there if you don't want to be concerned about paying the cabal until the government fixes the laws to stop their extortion, there are also a lot who take the risk and stream music and radio without paying the cabal, some that have been doing it for years, as there are genuinely a large number of businesses out there that have no idea that they even require a licence for MoH, or even for playing that radio in the corner of their office - yeah that one really bites and needs to be fixed.

Although it appears they prefer education on licencing over legal action, so if you do stream or play commercial music without a licence and they find you out, they will in all likelihood contact you and advise you of your requirements and give you time to rectify the situation, either by moving to Royalty Free or pay the licence fees, they know most people are ignorant to these requirements and that's an acceptable excuse, but be forewarned, if they come knocking and you blatantly ignore them, continuing to stream or play commercial material after whatever reasonable period of time they gave you, I'm pretty sure you might find them not so friendly, and they probably wont give you a third warning, that will come from a judge likely along with a hefty price tag, the judge may even agree with you that the system is very broken, but he or she can't change the broken Copyright Act, all they can do is enforce what's written in law at the time, but hey, if you got deep pockets, you could try your luck with the High Court ;-)


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Micah Tye on :

Been playing music on my hold system for some time now, the music cops never been round, the moment they do I'll go to my MP
and protest these thieves

Andrew Coyle on :

Are you serious we need a music licence to play music in our office? What BS is this, why would a government allow this?

We have a Panasonic phone system with portable am/fm radio plugged in, we're not paying for any on hold licence either (as the accounts officer I know this).

Just quickly went to youtube and searched opus 1, yes, it would suffice for on hold if we got served notice.

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