Back in 1881 music publishers were fighting a constant battle against sheet music pirates. The Copyright Act 1842 hadn’t provided any suggested penalties against copyright fraud and publishers had to take civil court actions to obtain injunctions and damages. This absence of proper protection led to nine publishers gathering together to form the original Music Publishers Association:
They were soon joined by Charles Boosey, Edwin Ashdown and George Patey.
Two of the association’s original goals were to “watch over the general interests of the music publishing trade” and to “communicate with the proper authorities on all matters connected with copyright whether home, colonial or international.”
By 1887 the MPA had its own offices in Air Street, London. Over the years the offices have been situated in several London locations, most recently moving to British Music House in December 2005 close to PRS for Music, the BASCA and UK Music.
By 1905 the MPA had grown to 19 members and would continue to expand its membership to the present total of close to 250 publishers handling over three thousand subsidiary companies, dealing in classical, popular and most musical genres.
In our hundred and twenty-five years the MPA has had to face all sorts of new copyright issues with every new technological advancement, including the development of the gramophone, talking pictures and the wireless - all within one 20 year period!
The first recorded music was introduced in the form of perforated rolls, cylinders and discs produced in limited quantity and poor sound quality but as these soon made way for mass-produced discs of better quality, a serious new source of income for publishers emerged. These mechanical royalties would be collected by the MCPS (Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society) when it was formed in 1924.
The birth of broadcasting in 1922 was another huge new issue for the MPA and dealings with the BBC (formed in 1926) are still a dominant feature for us due to the vast amount of music they use. In 1927, the first talking picture (The Jazz Singer) led the way to another source of revenue for music publishers and further issues of how to handle royalties.
Throughout the thirties and forties "plugging” was a big problem, where band leaders whose bands were being broadcast on the radio would take bribes to play publisher’s chosen works. In 1948 the “Anti plugging Agreement” was agreed between the MPA and the BBC whereby any offending band leaders or publishers would be taken off air for a suitable period of time.
In the fifties the MPA became involved in several schemes to promote British music, including the introduction of the Ivor Novello Awards in 1956. A few years earlier in 1951 the MPA became a founder member of the British Joint Copyright Council (which would later become the British Copyright Council in 1965).
The arrival of the Beatles in the sixties helped sway the market away from popular American music and back to British works. Around this time the MPA alongside the British Copyright Council pressed the government to take action against pirate radio stations, which were not paying royalties for the music they played.
In 1976 the association acquired ownership of the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society.
In the eighties we established the Code of Fair Practice, a guide for students, teachers and other music users, giving information on when it is or isn’t acceptable to photocopy printed music. This was also the decade when video tapes, cable and satellite broadcasting were all opening up new challenges for the MPA in terms of potential copyright infringement, but were also providing new revenue generating opportunities for our members. In 1981 we developed our Catalogue of Printed Music, originally on microfiche, more recently on CD-rom and soon to be launched online. MPA Catalogue of Printed Music on CD-Rom.
In the nineties and through the turn of the millennium the MPA faced more leaps forward in technology with CDs and DVDs. We were a founder member of British Music Rights (formed in 1996) together with the British Academy of Composers & Songwriters, the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society and the Performing Right Society. In 2008 British Music Rights grew into an expanded body called UK Music. UK Music provides a consensus voice promoting the interests of the commercial music industry.
Today, the MPA is a non-profit making body, controlled by our articles of association and governed by an elected board. We also have several specialist sub-committees including the Education and Training Group, the Printed Music Publishers Committee, the Pop Publishers Committee, the Classical Publishers Committee and the Library Publishers Committee. The MPA has liaised with many users on behalf of our member publishers over the years – including the BBC, the Association of British Orchestras, Making Music (the national federation of music societies) and other music users, and provides a huge range of other benefits to our members. We also run several seminars, courses and social events each year including the famous MPA Christmas lunch.
In the age of the internet and MP3 players we continue to support our members and look forward to doing so for the next 130 years…