Wondering Why Music Licensing Is The Way It Is

The NYTimes has a nice article on Matt Porterfield's truly free film PUTTY HILL. I got to moderate a discussion around the film last year after its Berlin premiere and again this year for our screening series at Goldcrest -- yet the movie had a significant change during the time that passed. The Times piece touches upon it: The Rolling Stones wouldn't even enter into discussions about licensing "Wild Horses" to Matt and his team.

Why is it if you are an artist whose art is singing other people's songs, our culture has worked it out in the most frictionless way manageable? But if you are an artist whose art is filming artists whose art is singing other people's songs, you have to go to herculean tasks to gain permission?  Filmmakers are required to go through a much more difficult process to practice their art in this instance.

To sing another artist's song, you pay a royalty on record's sold (and in countries outside the USA, even when it is performed in a public context). To film an artist performing a song, be it theirs or someone else's, you can't simply pay a royalty, you have to get permission. In the case of PUTTY HILL, this lead to a costly reshoot to replace The Rolling Stones. Now some may say, why film this to begin with if you don't have permission, but what if your style is, like PUTTY HILL's, a combination of fiction and doc, where you are trying to capture the world as it is when it is, and that includes someone singing "Wild Horses"? Shouldn't we find a way for our culture to be inclusive and allow this to happen?

On "The Devil And Daniel Johnston" some great scenes of Daniel covering others' compositions could not be included in the film precisely because of this reason.

Maybe someone can explain the logic behind this for the rest of us...