Oxfam gets sound advice on music plan from Bird & Bird

Oxfam has taken the unprecedented step of becoming the first charity to launch a music download site, with Bird & Bird advising on a pro bono basis.

As part of Oxfam’s ‘Make Trade Fair’ campaign, it is poised to launch music downloading site www.bignoisemusic. com to enable it to raise awareness of the campaign and to raise money.

The site is endorsed by pop stars Chris Martin and George Michael, and every 10p in the pound goes directly to Oxfam. As a result of negotiations between Oxfam and record companies and artists, the site will contain a number of songs available exclusively on the Oxfam site.

Oxfam, the first charity to enter the market for online music distribution, approached Bird & Bird for advice in February 2004. The charity had already begun commercial discussions with On Demand Distribution, the Peter Gabriel-founded European online music distributor, which agreed to provide backend technology, licensing and billing. With the draft agreement already in place, Oxfam was looking for general commercial advice on how to structure the deal, as well as on IT, data protection and e-commerce issues.

Lance Phillips, an IT and media lawyer at Bird & Bird, was involved in the project throughout. He commented: “Oxfam made the move to online music in order to capture a particular demographic, and hoped to be able to tie in its campaigns with online music trade. The ‘Make Trade Fair’ campaign wasn’t intended to be a massive money-making scheme – it was designed in-stead to be an awareness-raising campaign.”

The team at Bird & Bird worked on data protection, which according to Phillips was a tricky area in this case. “Oxfam were looking to make the site available in one form or another to children – those under 16 years. All e-users have to register with the site, which involves the transfer of personal information. The meaning of ‘children’ was an added complication – while there’s a lot of conflicting guidance available regarding children, there’s nothing direct in case law or in the Data Protection Act.”

Oxfam’s decision to enter into the online music fray is indicative of a general move towards accessible and legitimate downloading.
“Generally, the music industry is now making downloading work. The industry has inched towards legitimising and acceptance, because the bottom line is that people are doing it anyway,” Phillips said.

The site, which is still under construction, will provide the firm with resulting pro bono contract management work. Phillips, who has a background in the music industry, added: “The Oxfam project has been my first big pro bono work and has combined all the areas I like.”

Bird & Bird’s pro bono involvement has also seen lawyers advise the Toynbee Hall Legal Advice Centre in London’s East End for 13 years. The firm has worked with the British Red Cross on a variety of legal matters, as well as the Charity Skills Council, an independent and not-for-profit website that supplies voluntary organisations in England and Wales with professional advice, internet services and training.