Early Results of Poll Indicate How Far Pandora Has Fallen In Eyes of Songwriters

It’s still early but it’s interesting to see how Pandora’s 18 month assault on artists has left them the clear favorite to win the “Shirts Off Our Backs” campaign. Pandora has gone from being seen as the most artist friendly service to being synonymous with the screwing of artists. Given the fact Pandora can not operate without either the protection of the DOJ OR the goodwill of songwriters, it’s fair to ask if a year from now Pandora’s investors will lose the shirts off their backs.

Fascinating that Sirius which has stopped paying royalties to Pre-1972 performers seems to be getting a free pass.  Maybe Sirius should thank Chris Harrison for making them not look so bad.

 

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#ShirtsOffOurBacks” Vote Which Enemy of Songwriters Should be Focus of New Campaign

Yesterday I crashed a nearly secret kangaroo court style “hearing” on Capitol Hill. I presented the National Association of Broadcasters, The Digital Media Association and Computer and Communications Industry Association with the shirts off the backs of three songwriters.

 

http://thetrichordist.com/2014/07/21/why-i-gave-the-national-association-of-broadcasters-dima-and-ccia-the-shirt-off-my-back-during-congressional-panel/

In brief I did this because these three Washington DC lobbying organizations represent companies with a market cap of over a trillion dollars.  Clear Channel, Google, Amazon, Pandora, Apple, Sirius/XM, Yahoo, Microsoft to name a few. The Lobbyists were there to urge the Department of Justice to keep in place the “temporary” DOJ supervision of  songwriters (first enacted in 1941) and extend it to the final three percent of songwriters who’ve managed to escape the decree by joining the tiny SESAC songwriters organization.

That’s right, these companies with more than a trillion dollars in market need the DOJ and federal courts to protect them from Songwriters. Crybabies.

Since this panel I have been barraged by songwriters suggesting we start a campaign.  WE MAIL THE SHIRTS OFF OUR BACKS TO ….??

Well thats just it.  Who would we mail our shirts to? lets have some FUN with this. And I mean that. This is all in good fun. At least for the time being.

The obvious three choices are the lobbyists that represented NAB, CCIA and DiMA on the semi-secret panel.  That would be Schruer, Barnes and Oxenford.

Chris Harrison the Assistant Chief Counsel to Pandora  needs to be on this list because I have a sneaking suspicion he has coordinated much of the anti-artist activity over the last few years. IRFA? Not paying royalties on recordings before 1972?  Certainly he’s been screwing over songwriters since the DMX case and he is the guy constantly suing songwriters in rate court. He’s probably songwriter enemy #1.

But there are also the two Judges or “Song Czars”  that set the “reasonable” rate for songwriters (less than $17 dollars for a million plays on pandora remember? )  that would be Stanton and Cotes.

There is the unnamed Chief of the anti-trust division who will investigate songwriters “collusion.”

Drummond is there cause Google gives money to virtually every anti-copyright organization in the world.  Oh and don’t forget the YouTube indie label ban!

Donnelly of Sirius is there for going along with Pandora and  cutting off royalties for pre-1972 artists.

Walls is there just cause Clear Channel is Clear Channel.

These are all people engaged in the public policy issues in Washington DC.

Vote away.

Why I gave the National Association of Broadcasters, DiMA and CCIA the Shirt off my Back during Congressional Panel

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Diverse group of Washington DC lobbyists.

 

The major webcasters and broadcasters decided to convene a nearly secret last minute congressional panel to urge Congress and the DOJ to keep in place the 73 year old “temporary” consent decree that forces songwriters to let companies like Clear Channel, YouTube, Sirius, Pandora, Amazon and Spotify use our songs without any negotiation whatsoever.  The consent decree also empowers a single appointed-for-life federal judge to arbitrarily decide what a “reasonable” rate  is for songwriters.   In effect we have been forced by federal courts to provide  subsidy to corporations that have a combined market cap of more than a trillion dollars.

As I demonstrated in this an earlier post  as a songwriter I received less than $17 dollars from Pandora for over a million spins of my song Low. 

http://thetrichordist.com/2013/06/24/my-song-got-played-on-pandora-1-million-times-and-all-i-got-was-16-89-less-than-what-i-make-from-a-single-t-shirt-sale/

How is this a “Reasonable” rate?

The panel was hosted by Greg Barnes of DiMA.  Other panelists included David Oxenford National Association of Broadcasters and  Mathew Schruers from the  CCIA.   The companies represented by these lobbying outfits (Amazon, Clear Channel, YouTube/Google, Spotify, Pandora, Microsoft, Yahoo have a combined market cap of over a trillion dollars.  YET THERE WAS NOT A SINGLE REPRESENTATIVE OF SONGWRITERS ON THE PANEL.   This is particularly appalling considering that songwriters are the ones living and working under the consent decree.

I had prepared a short set of comments detailing my experience as a songwriter, especially the financial  effects of the consent decree on my digital royalties.    I parked myself in the second row and waited for the moderator Greg Barnes to start taking questions from the audience.  Mine was the first hand up and Barnes indicated that he would call on me but first he wanted one more comment from Oxenford.  It was during Oxenford’s comment that I noticed the lobbyist (?) seated directly in front of me pulled out her smartphone and started frantically texting something.  Curious I leaned forward and could clearly read my name and then the  phrase “watch out”.   Funny stuff.  I wanted to say “Hey dumbass, I’m sitting right behind you.” But I resisted.

Curiously it was immediately after this that Barnes suddenly announced that they would only be taking comments from “Staff” members and I would have to wait “til the vey end and time permitting only.”  He then proceeded to call upon a college student from GW.

SERIOUSLY? The Digital Media Association is in the business of selling songwriters music but their chief DC lobbyist is afraid of having a songwriter speak.  Spineless coward.  If that’s not clear, Yes, Greg Barnes, I am calling you a spineless coward. And I’m standing by it.

When the college student finished his comments I raised my hand again.  Once again Barnes told me that they were only taking questions from staffers despite the fact he had just demonstrated that they were in fact taking questions from anyone.

This went on for a while and I realize that Barnes clearly intended to not let me ask a question.  For amusement I started to stare down the not-quite-slimey representative of the National Association of Broadcasters.  He suddenly found something in his lap extremely interesting and wouldn’t look up.  If I was absolutely certain that he was not suddenly transfixed by the unexpected appearance of  a colony of miniature unicorns dancing on his lap I’d call him a spineless coward as well.  But as I actually couldn’t see his lap, I can’t rule out the possibility of miniature unicorns, and so for now I’ll give him a pass.

The night before this event I had been warned that it was likely that I would be blocked from asking any questions or making any comments.  Considering the fact I was gonna have to get up at 5:45 am to make it to the panel I wasn’t really in the mood to go to all this effort for nothing.  I had to have a plan B.

A few days before a songwriter friend remarked that the current licensing system for songs and digital services was so fucked up that songwriters really had nothing left to lose except “the shirts off our backs.”    I remembered this.  I went across the street to the local grocery store bought some gift bags and wrapping paper and proceeded to gift wrap  three shirts that had been worn by me and my bandmates  as “gifts” for the  NAB, CCIA and DiMA.  I figured that at the very least I could present them with the shirts off our backs and eke out a photo op.

Of course it didn’t go that way.   Clearly Barnes was terrified of having an actual songwriter air a viewpoint that was contrary to the party line.   When he asked for questions again,  I asked that as the only person in the room forced against their will to live and work under the consent decree I be allowed to speak.  He refused.

So shit, I did what I had to do. I marched up to the panelists and presented each of them with a gift wrapped “shirt off of a songwriters back”.    They looked like they were gonna pee their pants.  It was priceless.

“I got less than $17 dollars for a million spins on Pandora, that’s your consent decree at work.”   I told the room and walked out.

The whole thing was so fucking stupid on the broadcasters/webcasters’ part.  If they’d just let me speak they could have spent the final 15 minutes to counter my questions and statements with measured doses of non-sensical legalese and mock concern for the plight of the independent songwriters.    But by acting like spineless cowards they totally screwed themselves.  Just goes to show that if you  put on a “Show trial?” you very well may end up with a show you didn’t expect.

Welcome to Washington gentlemen.

For those of you keeping score it’s now

Scooby Doo Gang 2

Broadcasters 0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Some Mangers and Agents Love Streaming and Piracy.

Seems like every six months or so I have friends  forward me an article or interview with a manager or agent extolling the virtues of streaming (and sometimes even piracy.)  Usually this comes with some note that reads something like this “Agent/Manager  X thinks streaming/piracy is a good thing, Why don’t you?”  I am always  perplexed by this.   Of course some managers and agents love streaming and piracy! Less revenue from recorded music means their artists must play more and more live shows to make up the difference.  I thought everyone knew this.

You see managers and agents make virtually all their money from an artist’s live performance not from the artist’s recorded music.    However screwed up it might seem from an artist’s perspective it makes perfect financial sense (at least in the short term) for managers and agents to turn a blind eye to piracy and low payouts for streaming. Precisely because  it seems to result in more touring.  You can’t really blame them for this can you?

I teach a class on the finance and economics of the music business at the  University of Georgia.  I usually spend at least one lecture on the differing financial incentives for artists, managers and agents, and in particular how managers and agents are often incentivized to work against the artists long term interest.  Let me try to summarize that lecture here.  Especially how it relates to streaming and piracy.

First , have artists resorted to playing more shows to make up for declining revenues from their recordings?   In my case? Yes, absolutely. So have virtually all my friends.   There are plenty of  anecdotal stories of artists touring into their old age because recorded music royalties have dropped off.  Levon Helm of The Band is one tragic case and here’s Robert Hunter from The Grateful Dead spelling it out clearly.    But you don’t have to rely on anecdotal data as it is clearly reflected in the records kept by companies like Pollstar.  It depends on how you interpret the data but even the most conservative reading suggests there has been a 200%  rise in the number of shows since the advent of Napster.  Now this would all be great news except that average attendance has fallen and any gains in revenue appear to have gone to the top 1% of acts.

So why is this good news for managers and agents but not artists?   You have to consider the order in which people are compensated.   Managers and agents are paid first and off the top before expenses.  Artists are paid last and after expenses. Let me explain.

Agents.

An agent’s only source of revenue is commissions on live performance.  So if artists play more shows this is generally good for agents.  But dig a little deeper. Specifically agents usually receive 10% of gross.   Not net, but gross.  You get what that means, right?  Whether the artist makes a profit or loss on the show the agents commission comes off the top.  The agent always gets paid.

Example: a baby band gets a $500 club show but it costs them $465 dollars, in hotels, gas, rental vehicle, meals etc.   The agent still get’s his/her 50 bucks.   Off the top. Before expenses.  So the band would actually lose $15 dollars on that show.

A more subtle example is to examine what happens when a  band that normally plays 75 shows a year  suddenly starts playing 150 shows a year to make up for lost recording revenue. My wife is a concert promoter and books hundreds of shows every  year.  We see this situation all the time.  We are very familiar with what happens.    In order to accomplish this an artist may needs to play smaller rooms;  go into smaller markets and overplay and hence saturate some major markets.  The artists annual gross for live shows will not double as the result of playing twice as many shows. If the band is lucky they will see a rise in revenue of around 50%.   But unfortunately for the band, expenses may come close to doubling! As a result the artist usually only sees a small increase in their income since they get paid after expenses.  In some cases I’ve seen artists actually earn less by doing more shows!  I think this was the case for my band  in 2007! Regardless the 50% rise in gross revenues never turns into 50% rise in income to the artist.  But the agent DOES see a 50% increase in income.   As a result the agent has a much bigger financial incentive to see an artist play more shows even if the artists doesn’t see a substantial increase in income.

Managers.

Unlike agents, a manager typically does make money from recorded music revenue.  So you would think a manager might be more concerned about piracy and low payouts from streaming services.   But as it turns out managers make such a small percentage from recorded music revenues when compared to live revenues their financial incentives are no different than agents.   Again let me lay it out for you.

Like agents, managers are paid a gross percentage on their artists live revenues.  Typically a manager will get between 15%-20% of gross from concerts.  But it is customary that a manager take their cut of all other income after all expenses have been deducted,  i.e. they get paid when the artist (finally) gets paid.

So for instance if a band receives a recording advance of $70,000 and the band spends $50,000 recording the album, the manager only gets 20% of $20,000 not $70,000!

Similarly an artist is typically compensated for recorded music with an “Artist Royalty” of 10-20% of the wholesale price of a download, “stream”  or CD.  So a manager’s 15-20% of that means a manager only  nets 1.5%-4% of recorded music revenue.  And these royalties are only payable  after the artist has recouped it’s recording and promotion costs.  So in practice a manager receives very little money from these sources.

Finally a time-tested way for a manager to generate additional revenue is to get the label to pay for “tour support” and send the artist out on an otherwise unprofitable tour.  Stick with me  on this one cause this is brilliant scam.

Let’s say band X is planning a  tour and they have gross guarantees of $50,000 dollars but they have $60,000 in expenses.   The band would normally cancel this tour and the manager would get nothing.  Instead the manager requests 10k in tour support from the record label.   The record label hoping to generate sales agrees. The band then goes out on a break even tour but the manager still  pockets 20% of $50,000 which is $10,000.   Now where does that $10,000 in tour support really come from?  Does it really come from the label?  No.   It’s almost always configured as an advance against the artist’s royalties.   So in effect the manager has traded  20% cut of $10,000 in future artist royalties for 20% cut of $50,000 in live revenues.   The manager turned $2,000 potential commission into $10,000 actual bird-in-the-hand commission.

There are a zillion of these clever tricks that managers have dreamed up over the years, but that’s not really the point of this post.  The point is that managers and agents don’t really make anything off of recorded music revenues at least when you compare it to the amount they make off of live concerts.  Managers and agents have never really cared about revenue from recorded music and they have even less incentive to care about it now that streaming has obliterated what little revenue there was.

So managers and agents are free to say whatever they want about streaming and piracy.  But just remember  what’s good for managers and agents is not necessarily what is good for artists.  Keep that in mind next time you see an agent or manager extoll the “virtues” of streaming or piracy.   Heck some managers even own pieces of these low paying streaming services or worse unlicensed services that pay nothing to artists. No wonder they love  streaming and piracy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In China Digital Music Services Go After Ad Supported Piracy and Illegal Services.

I’m in China for the next two weeks performing and doing a series of IP and Music Industry events.   I will be occasionally updating readers on my activities. 

Congress Should Ask Digital Music Services Why They Don’t Go After Ad Supported Piracy.

Why don’t services like Spotify go after unlicensed competitors like Grooveshark? Why didn’t Apple or Amazon complain about unfair competition from the likes of MegaUpload? Why don’t the ad supported services like Pandora or Spotify complain about the ad supported piracy that directly competes with their advertising dollars?  This is something that has always puzzled us here at The Trichordist.  Why would otherwise rational business people who are obligated to protect their shareholders interest allow unlicensed competitors to get away with it?   Hell I’ve watched them cozy right up to unlicensed competitors. I’m not gonna name names here but a little people watching at SF Music Tech is quite instructive.  (The FTC or DOJ should try it sometime).

Well we gave these services the benefit of the doubt.  “Maybe no one has really thought this through? So we  back-channelled to one of these companies and asked them to join us in our campaign against ad supported piracy.  They declined.  Why?  Because they claimed they didn’t want to be seen as “anti-consumer.”  Huh?!

While it’s tempting to just call the entire digital music distribution business a bunch of glassy eyed free-culture Kool-Aid drinkers who’ve never grown up and actually  turned a profit, I won’t.  Cause while they’ve never made a profit they aren’t totally stupid.   In fact I believe they are consciously (and perhaps illegally) running a fairly sophisticated racket.

I believe that the digital services have specifically used the threat of piracy to negotiate exploitative deals with artists and rights holders.  Now they can’t come right out and say “That’s a real nice album you got there, I’d hate for it to get torrented” cause that would be illegal.  But they can create a fake scientific corporate study that says the same thing and here it is.

But as a regular reader you know this is just business as usual for these guys. This isn’t really news. What is news, is that in China the services and the content owners have come together to fight the illegal services.  As  China Music Business reports

It is impossible to make a concerted switch into a paying model when there are hundreds of sites with freely available music. While there are definitely fierce rivalries at play here, the key stakeholders are making an aligned move towards addressing this, including setting up bodies like the Alliance of the Digital Music Industry (ADMI), representing both content and service providers.

Holy shit.  Why don’t the western services get this? It’s a no brainer.  Maybe it’s time for Shareholders to ask some questions.

Read the rest here: http://www.chinamusicbusiness.com/article/china-great-digital-music-leap-forward/

Credit Check: Serial “Bad Actors” Should Lose Access To Compulsory Licenses.

Here are the comments I filed with the Copyright Office concerning the continuing use of compulsory licenses by services with histories of non-payment and other abuse.

Dear General Counsel Charlesworth:

I am a songwriter and performer of some note. I have been writing, recording and producing albums for over 30 years. I have also been active as a songwriter and artists’ rights advocate. I have on more than one occasion submitted testimony to Congress on copyright and related issues and have testified before the House Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet.   Today I write to you as a songwriter.

Many songwriters first find out they are being compelled to participate in a digital music service when they get a paper claiming to be a statutory notice under Section 115that is frequently late, backdated or otherwise noncompliant.  This notice may come with a letter seeking to induce the songwriter to agree to statutory terms as well as other terms they may not know that they are not required to accept. Sometimes the notices are accompanied by a statement showing the songs have already been used by the service. I have in my file cabinets dozens of these seemingly non-compliant notices covering hundreds of my songs.

Now, if the songwriter is savvy enough to recognize that the notice is deficient the songwriter may challenge the notice as defective.  I routinely hear from songwriters who have challenged defective notices that they receive no reply to their challenge and that the services concerned continue to use their works and may eventually even send royalty statements to the songwriter!

In order to get the service’s attention, a songwriter would likely have to hire a lawyer.  And if the notice is from one of the services operated by Amazon, Apple or Google the songwriter must find a lawyer willing to go up against one (or more) of the largest corporations in the world. Even if statutory damages and attorneys’ fees might eventually be available to a songwriter if victorious, it’s unlikely that expensive federal copyright litigation is the most likely outcome to incorrect notices or deadbeat services.

And what is the most likely outcome?  The service uses the songs in violation of the statutory requirement. They may even send payment!  I have files full of checks for pennies or (rarely) a couple dollars. I don’t deposit these checks because they often come with documents that seem to suggest that I’m agreeing to terms that I don’t understand. Who would consult a lawyer for a $0.11 check?

A similar process happens with some services or record companies when they send an “opt in” for electronic notification of compulsory licenses. I’m not an attorney, but these click through agreements seem to contain language that has little to do with electronic notification! I wonder how many songwriters blindly cash these checks or agree to mysterious and confounding terms that accompany an electronic notification opt in?

All this is what I call “licensing by attrition.” And it happens to independent songwriters on an ongoing basis because the compulsory licensee can continue to operate whether or not it has complied with the Copyright Act in the past.

I have seen instances where a supposed compulsory licensee has failed to comply with its payment obligations for years, ignored termination notices, and yet is still able to continue to receive the benefits of new statutory licenses for songwriters who await the same fate.

Nothing in the Section 115 license scheme requires any consideration of the creditworthiness or trustworthiness of the compulsory licensee.  The songwriter has essentially been compelled by the government to grant a license with absolutely no care given or concern shown by the government as to whether the compulsory licensee is unreliable.  The entire burden of determining whether the licensee complies with even the most basic terms is entirely shifted to the songwriter—often after the fact.

Now in theory songwriters can attempt to terminate under Section 115, but this seems to require that the songwriter acknowledge that there was a valid license in the first place. Plus it assumes that the compulsory licensee will pay any attention to a termination letter from a songwriter.

Given the fact some services habitually fail to comply with the statute particularly when they “carpet bomb” notices of intention to use songs, it seems unlikely they live in fear of some individual songwriter.   Without a court order I suspect none of these supposed compulsory licensees would comply. And I suspect, given the small amounts often involved, these compulsory licensees realize it isn’t worth it to the songwriter to bear the expense of going to court even with the promise of an eventual reward of statutory damages and attorneys’ fees for those who have jumped through the registration hoops.

But even if a songwriter can find a way to sue the deadbeat, why on earth should the government compel songwriters to submit to new licenses for a licensee with a history of nonpayment?

Would it not be both prudent and efficient to empower songwriters to request the Copyright Office deny habitual offenders the ability to rely on new compulsory licenses? Shouldn’t songwriters have some recourse short of a lawsuit to stop the corrupt compulsory licensee from abusing the government’s awesome power to force songwriters to license to all comers, even the deadbeats?

What I am suggesting is that songwriters have the ability to report noncompliant compulsory licensees to the Copyright Office and that after a suitable investigation, the Copyright Office have the ability to publish a notice that certain parties lose the right to use the compulsory license under Section 115.

In an arm’s length direct license, I certainly would not choose to make a new license for my songs with someone who didn’t respect my rights or honor the terms of my agreement in the past—particularly someone who owed me money. Why should a compulsory license be any different?

Sincerely

David Lowery

Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven

YouTube Continues to Bully Indie Artists. Now Threatening to Reveal Personal Information.

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“Letters in red read: Claimant Information will be published on the Youtube site in place of the disabled video”

Nothing says “I’m a total dick” like threatening to reveal one’s personal information to the world. But that’s exactly what the second largest company on earth does.  This is YouTube/Google’s stated policy.  Not even the TV show Silicon Valley has brogrammer-villains this vindictive.

Here’s how this works:

If you are an independent songwriter or performer and say one of your songs is leaked in advance of the record?  You do what you’ve done a hundred times on other sites. You fill out a DMCA notice and most of the time the site pulls the song.

But YouTube/Google of course has to be a total dick about it.  When you attempt to do this with YouTube this is the  screen that greets you when you attempt to file a complaint.  Read it.   They’ll let you take the song down but they’re gonna plaster your personal information all over the web.

This goes beyond bullying.  This is flat out intimidation. They get to keep something of  YOURS  or they reveal your personal information.  Didn’t they used to call this EXTORTION?

Of  course the major record labels have access to something called the Content ID system.   They don’t get treated the same.  Indie artists?  We get bullied and intimidated.  Don’t stand for this.

Write your congressmen, state AG, and the DOJ directly.

To write your congressman:

http://www.contactingthecongress.org

To find your state Attorney’s General:

http://www.naag.org/current-attorneys-general.php

To report anti-trust concerns directly to the DOJ:

http://www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.html#document

 

 

 

 

 

DOJ Should Investigate Google/YouTube Bullying of Indie Labels. If Not? Congress should investigate DOJ.

What does Google have to do to finally get the anti-trust and anti-competitive practices scrutiny it deserves?

If the facts being reported in this Guardian article are correct  Google/YouTube has clearly crossed the line.  The Guardian reports:

“WIN, which represents independent labels worldwide, claims that YouTube is approaching labels directly with a “template contract” and threatening that if they do not sign it, all their music videos will be blocked on YouTube.It also claims the terms of the contract are non-negotiable, and undervalue the music of these labels in comparison to Spotify, Rdio, Deezer and other subscription streaming services.”

So YouTube is using it’s video monopoly to leverage concessions in the music streaming marketplace?  Sure looks like it. This is by definition an anti-competitive practice.   How f—ing blatant do you have to be to get the DOJ’s attention?  If the DOJ does not investigate perhaps Congress needs to investigate the DOJ?   If the feds can’t get it done it’s time for the State AG’s need to look into this.

If you are an independent musician or you own an indie label consider contacting your congressman, state AG office or the DOJ.

To write your congressman:

http://www.contactingthecongress.org

To find your state Attorney’s General:

http://www.naag.org/current-attorneys-general.php

To report anti-trust concerns directly to the DOJ:

http://www.justice.gov/atr/contact/newcase.html#document

 

 

 

Q. When does $0.000126 = $3.2 Billion? A. When Apple Buys Beats Music.

Someone sent us this interesting document.   This is real.

Never mind that Beats only has 110k subscribers.   Is Apple Buying Beats simply because of the  ridiculously low royalty that songwriters are paid?

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++++++++++++++++++++++++UPDATE++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

People may be getting the impression that we are down on the Beats service. We actually like Beats from an performers perspective for several reasons. here are two.

1)  As a pay platform-not advertising supported-there is higher revenue per stream.  We are paid on a percentage of revenue.  We make more money as a consequence.

2) The major record labels appear to own less of Beats (then they do of Spotify) and perhaps another explanation for the higher royalty rate at Beats is less was traded away for stock. Perhaps we will get more information about this if there is a Hart-Scott-Rodino Act hearing on the sale given Apple’s dominant position in hardware and music services.

What we don’t like is that as Songwriters we are paid so little.

Has Pandora Stopped Paying Civil Rights Icons “The Freedom Singers?” Has Sirius Ever Paid Them?

 

 

The Freedom Singers were a landmark Civil Rights church singing group from Albany, Georgia.  They toured the country 1962-63  performing at hundreds of civil rights rallies culminating in the march on Washington. They may be best known for their recording of “This Little Light Of Mine.” The surviving members still perform. I saw them just last year.   Unbelievably powerful performances.

Here you can play it on Pandora.

Just don’t expect them to be compensated by Pandora or Sirius.  In most cases performers are paid a small royalty through SoundExchange when songs are webcast, streamed or digitally transmitted.  But Pandora and Sirius have decided not to pay these heroes of the Civil Rights movement performances of their recordings on these services.

Why? The Freedom Singers had the misfortune of recording this performance before 1972.  Huh? Let me explain.

Recently Pandora CEO admitted that Pandora have stopped paying performers royalties on their pre-1972 recordings.  (BTW this is a guy who received $29,000,000 in executive compensation last year.)

Sirius apparently never paid artists on pre-1972 recordings. So it’s unlikely they have ever paid these performers either.  How is this fair?  How does this happen in this country in this day and age? How do these companies get away with this?

Well both of these multi-billion dollar public listed companies have taken a novel legal approach to pre-1972 recordings.  Because pre-1972 recordings are covered by a patchwork of state rather than federal copyright law (or at least that’s Pandora’s and Sirius’s interpretation) these two companies claim they don’t have to pay performers royalties on these recordings.  Understand–it’s not that these recordings are not protected at all, it’s that federal copyright protection for sound recordings started on February 15, 1972 and the performance royalty is in the federal Copyright Act.  There is nothing in the Copyright Act that excludes pre-72 recordings.

Or in other words Pandora and Sirius treat some recordings less equally than others.