Toronto needs a song. Yes, there are plenty of tunes about Toronto, plenty of albums inspired by Toronto, plenty of lyrics that namedrop Toronto. But we lack an anthem. Songs that have this city as their explicit subject tend to be at least one of: a) ironic, b) mournful, c) novelties, or d) dated. Yet we suspect there are already some hymns-in-waiting that defy these categories; perhaps you’ve even written one yourself.
Torontoist was considering doing a survey of songs about Toronto and even holding a contest to pick a new anthem. But then in the course of a thousand words, the Globe‘s Jeff Gray beat us on the first count and informed us that the mayor’s office was a step ahead of us on the second.
Details of the official Toronto Song Contest were supposedly “available on the city’s website, http://www.toronto.ca,” as of mid-March, but we were unable to find them—par for the course for info hidden on the Escher-esque site, where pages will sometimes link back to themselves. But now that we have come across the particulars, we realize that, like the ending of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the bureaucracy may be doing the public a favour by burying it.
Even if you ignore that Toronto allegedly already has a legally official song (see embed below), this contest is quite the racket.
The rules speak for themselves:
When you submit your entry to the Toronto Song Contest, you will create a Sonicbids Electronic Press Kit (EPK). The EPK will store your audio, biography and the lyrics to your song and make all of that information easily accessible to our Contest judges.
• If you are not already a Sonicbids user, you will first need to register.
• Each new Sonicbids member is given a three-month complementary [sic] trial membership.
• When registering, you will be asked for a credit card number but your card will NOT be billed at this time.
• Sonicbids will e-mail you prior to the expiration of your trial membership and if you would like to remain a member of Sonicbids, do nothing and your credit card will be billed (see Sonicbids.com for pricing).
• If you do not wish to remain a member of Sonicbids, cancel your membership prior to your expiration date. Your membership will be cancelled and your credit card will not be billed.
So in order to enter the official City of Toronto Song Contest, you have to provide your credit card number to a third party; the Boston-based Sonicbids will then start billing you three months down the line if you neglect to opt out. We’re sure the Information and Privacy Commissioner is thrilled.
There is apparently a bureaucrat at the City who considered this a more straightforward approach than letting people mail in CD-Rs or—gasp!—upload music to their own sites or any others that don’t ask for collateral. (The City, having gone for a “promoter” account on Sonicbids, presumably didn’t have to offer up anything.)
The process for activating your Sonicbids account, necessary to take part in the City of Toronto’s Song Contest.
The competition rules also struck us as reminiscent of the CBC’s ploy to wrangle a new Hockey Night in Canada theme on the cheap by having aspiring songwriters who don’t know any better sign away their rights. Joe Clark—who in addition to being an expert on TTC signage, Canadian English, captioning, and several categories of accessible design—knows a shitload about copyright law and covered the HNIC contest exhaustively. So we asked him to take a look at the Toronto Song competition rules, and he produced a thorough line-by-line report, in which he warns that:
• The City can “reproduce, play and review” your submission “in any ways they fit as long as they deem those ways to be ‘promotion and advertising of the contest.'”
• “Without any ambiguity at all, if you win this contest you lose your song. The City of Toronto then owns it in every sense, not just in metaphorical or practical senses. It isn’t your work anymore. Very significantly, they later on insist you waive your droit moral, which includes the right to be identified as the creator. Once that happens, the city can say that Rob Ford wrote the song, or that Ernst Zündel did, or that nobody did, or that nobody knows who did. While all those statements would be lies, they wouldn’t be illegal.”
• The City “can sell the song if they want; they own the winning entry, but this clause applies to all entries. To repeat, if you enter the contest they can stream or set up for download your song for free, or charge for it and keep all the money.”
• “Not only can they do what they want and keep all the money, they can assign those rights, non-exclusively if they wish, to anyone and everyone. The city can decide who shares the wealth, but they can decide you won’t.”
• “This contest may put you in violation of e.g. SOCAN rules, if you are a member of that collective. (This will impinge on any royalties or other rights you and your musicians may have.) This requirement [to excuse yourself from ‘any arrangements you may have with any music publishers or other people in respect to the songs you compose’] either predisposes amateur musicians to enter the contest (the intended outcome, I assume) or it obligates professional musicians to lie to or defy their own union. I say that because I don’t think anybody is going to go to the trouble to secure the right permissions (from collectives) in advance. While theoretically possible, people aren’t going to bother.”
• The disqualification of songs that contain objectionable content “is clearly the De-Gaybashed ‘I Get on the TTC’ Clause.”
• “You are also sublicensing your work to CP24 and Now Magazine. The point is almost moot, since the City can do nearly anything it wants with all entries and absolutely anything it wants with the winning entry, including assigning it in any way to CP24 or Now.”
Oh, City of Toronto, we love you, but you’re bringing us down. Perhaps we will hold our own contest after all.