Missing no chance to scrape the bottom of the barrel to furnish richly deserved pretty portraits to the ugliest of persons, today we drop to new lows of sleaziness and shameless thievery personified by a real tool named Eduardo “Teddy” Bautista aka “the Judas of culture”. His portrait has as a backdrop the SGAE, the Spanish equivalent to the RIAA, a private entity that charges royalties in the name of its recording artist members and then is supposed to give the artists their part… right Teddy? Hello?
But his story goes back further than that, back to the early 1970s, when Bautista was an aspiring singer vying for a spot among the bland and affeminate Spanish pop stars of the time. His musical career sputtered along with relative success, peaking in 1975 with the part of Judas in the Spanish version of Jesus Christ Super Star (please hold while karma has a chuckle… thank you), and in the early 80s he announced he was quitting the stage to pursue a new but still music-related profession: to preside the Spanish Sociedad General de Autores y Editores (SGAE), which at the time was an anachronic institution still mired in the sluge of the regime and generally detested by the country’s young artistic talents.
Now, Teddy had spent some time in the US in the 70s picking up on “new” sounds to rip off and hawk as his own back home. During this time he also learned how the Americans made of royalty management a profitable business, which seems to have been a strong (although not the only) motivation behind his “surprise” decision to head the SGAE over 30 years ago. When elected to his first term, Bautista was hailed by the Spanish performing arts sector as a much-needed agent of change in an outdated and rigid institution, and indeed the entity quickly adopted an aggressive American style business model that slowly began expanding its area of influence to reach even the most mundane aspects of everyday life, charging bars for playing the radio and even charging organizers of charity events for the use of songs performed for free by the artists who wrote them. But the great game-changer was the arrival of digital music, P2P networks and the whole piracy issue, in which, not surprisingly, the greatest pirate of them all turned out to be… you’ll never guess.
The Digital Windfall
Pegleg Teddy was, again not surprisingly, among the first in this country to realize that the whole digital media sharing controversy could mean very good business for him. After a few years of steady whining about “piracy”, “crime”, “the poor artists” and “the need for tougher regulations”, Bautista brought forth his most outrageous proposal to date: the “Digital Canon”, a tax to be levied on ALL DIGITAL SUPPORTS and payed directly to the SGAE to cover lost royalty payments. Despite massive public outcry and rejection of the plan, the canon was signed into law in 2008 under the auspices of the still Culture Minister, Angeles “I’m either stupid or crooked” Sinde. For the past three years, Spanish consumers have paid extra for every blank DVD and memory stick bought, every device with hard drive or flash memory, every iPhone, smartpad, camera and console, and the government has given this money directly to the SGAE without any oversight, as has become evident in light of the recent events.
The approval of the canon, aside from representing a windfall of hundreds of millions yearly without any effort, also accomplished the seemingly impossible task of inflating Bautista’s ego even further, making him respond to the public indignation against his person with comments like: “the canon is law; if you don’t like it, tough luck” and even “the canon is not a canon”. We now know that 2007, the year before the canon’s passage into law, is the year the secret judicial investigation that has culminated in the recent events was launched. Insert karmic cackle here.
After four years investigating what really happened to the money that the SGAE was raking in hand over fist, two days ago came the bombshell “recent event”: 50 policemen arrived early at the SGAE’s Madrid headquarters and spent 10 hours carrying away boxes of documentation and computers, while pegleg Teddy and eight other directives of the SGAE and subsidiaries were arrested, accused of skimming off up to 400 million Euros of member royalties into an opaque company network. Seldom has there been a more unanimous cheer at the fall of a public figure… it reportedly went global trending topic on Twitter, and here in Spain the sights are already being set on the political enablers of this fraud, namely minister Sinde, as well as the paid shill performers that acted as SGAE spokesturds.
Bautista must have thought he had the best scam on Earth going, but he got greedy and forgot the golden rule about how many people you can fool at any given time. His betrayal of the organization’s members is of exquisite karmic symmetry with his artistic pinnacle as Judas, and indeed I suspect his role in the musical may indeed have been where it all started, the result of the trauma of having Camilo Sesto –the blandest and most affeminate pop star of the time– chosen to play the lead role instead of him. He threw himself on the role of Judas in body and soul, and swore that someday he would find a way to repay the entire artistic community for his humiliation.
Now, some may accuse me of kicking the man when he’s down, but they would be wrong. This is not a kick, it is a kinetic interaction between his soft parts and my foot. Plus, I vaguely recall having bought a blank DVD once, so like the guy OWES me.
Just another privateer to hang by his crooked frame in the rogue’s gallery. Pretty portrait, check.