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Should professional tour guides be paid royalties for their recorded content and be protected by an organization like ASCAP?

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) or HearPlanet. These opinions are strictly my own and published here to stimulate open discussion.

Yesterday I reviewed a new tour platform called HearPlanet. I will give a more detailed review later, but here is the idea: HearPlanet operates like a digital radio, playing whatever audio content is geotagged to a location, including descriptions of local points of interest submitted by professional tour guides, or by amateurs. HearPlanet works on a variety of Internet enabled devices, like smartphones or soon, in-vehicle dashboard systems.

As the traveler drives along, “tuned in” to HearPlanet, she will hear this audio streaming through the speakers, one audio file after another. HearPlanet offers channels so the tourist can tune into a single source of audio, say the Rick Steves channel, or listen to a genre, say restaurant reviews. It’s a cool idea.

Here is my question: If your 1-3 minute audio description of a point of interest is like a song, and HearPlanet is like the radio, shouldn’t your intellectual property and livelihood be protected the same way songs are so that you get paid whenever it gets played?

HearPlanet will not be the only digital “radio” station that wants your valuable content. Google, TripAdviser, Pocketguide, and other platforms will all be vying for your knowledge, your wit, your insights, and your hard work. Why not make it available to all of them equally as long as they pay you for it? The better “songs” (your spoken word audio content) will get played, and the losers will get dropped. The smaller stations will pay less because they play less, and the bigger stations will pay more, based on the number of times your audio gets played. In other word, the well-established music royalty model that’s been around for 100 years.

ASCAP, whose members are songwriters, authors and publishers, is U.S. based, but there are other organizations like them focused on advocating and collecting royalties for audio artists. As professional tour guides whose work has value whether performed “live” or on the “radio”, why would we not want to organize under one of these societies so we get paid for our work as it increasingly gets digitized and deployed on Internet connected, mobile devices?

What do you think?

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