Songwriter Needs Help: GoFundMe Fundraiser for Hugh Prestwood and Judy Ahrens–ArtistRightsWatch

By Chris Castle

[This post first appeared on ArtistRightsWatch.]

If you ever thought we were too aggressive in our campaign to end the 15 year freeze on statutory royalties for physical, consider the situation of songwriter Hugh Prestwood and his wife, photojournalist Judy Ahrens. Songwriters and photographers are two occupations that are devastated by the digital blight that has visited apocalyptic devastation on creators.

As Hugh says in their GoFundMe page, his songwriting income was destroyed by the massive change in the economics of songwriting that split apart the album format with no commensurate increase in songwriter royalties. Songs became a major driver of wealth for hardware manufacturers and Internet providers (remember dancing cows chanting rip, mix, burn?) in the 2000s, and streaming drives wealth for catalogs and platforms. The doubling effect of Moore’s Law imposes a halving effect on creator royalties. Hugh and Judy are living proof of what happens to an aging population of creators who could not have possibly planned around the digital blight–other than learning to code, I guess.

Of course we want to encourage readers to contribute what you can to Hugh and Judy’s GoFundMe, but we also want to make a larger point. 

The Copyright Royalty Judges need to understand that there are real consequences to real people when they freeze mechanical royalties. While the Judges are not responsible for all the harms that accrue to songwriters in the rigged statutory licensing and royalty scheme, they do play a part and they can make a difference. Songwriters may not expect the Judges to fix their problems, but they do expect them not to make it worse. Freezing rates for 15 years makes it worse.

The Judges should also understand that they have an opportunity to do something to add fairness back into the system that the Judges effectively control. Creators like Hugh and Judy will never appear in their courtroom alongside the well-heeled lobbyists and lawyers who make millions off of the rate proceedings and the black box in what has become a laughingstock. 

Congress, too, needs to listen up. It is well past time for a songwriter advocate to be a permanent part of the Copyright Royalty Board proceedings for mechanical royalty rate settings. A songwriter advocate would speak for people like Hugh and Judy. As Linda said of Willie Lohman in Death of a Salesman, “Attention must be paid.” I’m not asking that songwriters should be able to overrule the lobbyists, although that’s not a bad idea.

But at least hear them out before they’re all gone.

All Economic Indicators Are Flashing Red at the Copyright Royalty Board on Frozen Mechanicals–MusicTech.Solutions

by Chris Castle

All of the economic indicators are telling us that inflation is going to be around for a while–so songwriters should expect some cost of living adjustment based on the Consumer Price Index when the Copyright Royalty Board sets mechanical royalty rates, especially for the frozen mechanical rate on physical phonorecords. Why do I say that?

The U.S. Consumer Price Index closed 2021 at 7%. That is the highest inflation level since 1982–and remember in 1982 the U.S. had already had a solid two to three years of Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker’s anti-inflationary surge after the malaise of the 1970s.

The Producer Price Index for 2021 was measured at 9.7% by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the largest calendar year increase since 2010. The PPI is a leading indicator of inflation as measured by the CPI because it measures a large basket of raw inputs and future price increases that will affect the CPI in weeks or months.

The University of Michigan survey of consumer sentiment fell to 68.8%, its second lowest level in a decade (the lowest being in November 2021). The survey also measured “confidence in government economic policies is at its lowest level since 2014.” The consumer sentiment survey indicates that consumers expect bad times ahead, or at least expensive times. This can have a pronounced effect on consumer inflation expectations.

Consumer inflation expectations remained unchanged after rising strongly over the last year, particularly the one-year outlook. Inflation expectations can be a self-fulfilling driver of inflation for a number of reasons such as FOMO pricing on homes and cars as well as wages–if you expect inflation to rise x% in the next 12 months, today you will seek wage increases of at least x% (if not more).

All of this tells us that the entire idea of extending the freeze on statutory mechanical royalties gets more absurd by the day. It’s entirely reasonable to “index” statutory mechanical royalties during the current rate setting period of 2023-2027 as we’ll all be very lucky to get through that period without suffering crippling inflation that will further erode the 2006 rates the CRB has used for the past 15 years.

[Why this wasn’t fixed in Music Modernization Act is anyone’s guess. This post first appeared on MusicTech.Solutions]

Dylan Smith: Electronic Artist Skee Mask Removes Music From Spotify, Citing Lack of Respect for Creators and Investments In Defense Technology — Artist Rights Watch

Electronic music producer and artist Skee Mask (full name Bryan Müller) has officially removed “all” his tracks from Spotify over the platform’s perceived lack of respect for creators, in addition to CEO Daniel Ek’s multimillion-dollar investment in AI-powered defense company Helsing. he Germany-based “Rev8617” artist announced his voluntary Spotify exit on social media, and the much-publicized move follows Skee Mask’s May of 2021 decision to release Pool physically and digitally sans a streaming option.

“it’s done, all of my sh-t is gone from Spotify,” Skee Mask said of his music’s just-finalized removal from the Stockholm-headquartered service. “i have nothing against streaming in general, it’s one of many good ways to make music even more accessible!….

“my music will be available there again as soon as this company starts (somehow) becoming honest & respectful towards music makers. if you really don’t have the money to listen to my music in any other way, feel free to digitally steal it anywhere, BUT don’t give you’re [sic] last penny to such a wealthy business that obviously prefers the development of warfare instead of actual progression in the music business. PEACE!” concluded Skee Mask.

Regarding the “100 MILLION €,” “development of warfare,” and “PEACE” components of the statement from Skee Mask, Daniel Ek’s Prima Materia in November provided €100 million (about $113 million at the present exchange rate) in funding to Helsing, “a new type of security and artificial intelligence company.”

Read the post on Digital Music News

Justice, Thy Name is Kathy: NY @GovKathyHochul Vetoes the Metashills’ Illegal Library Compulsory License

By Chris Castle

[This post originally appeared on MusicTechPolicy.]

Yesterday (Dec. 29), the Big Tech tetrarchy got dealt some bad cards: New York Governor Kathy Hochul vetoed their unconstitutional land grab for a compulsory license for books that would have had a crippling effect on New York authors. Authors everywhere should appreciate Governor Hochul’s clear-eyed rejection of the Big Tech metashills at “Library Futures” and their mean-spirited end run around centuries of US copyright law. The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they do turn.

How did this veto happen? First, I want to thank all of the Trichordist readers who signed the petition calling on Governor Hochul to veto NY Assembly bill 5827B. (Read the backgrounder here.) There is no substitute for direct grass roots action on these efforts, particularly when you are on the side of righteousness in the season of hope. But it must also be said that authors should thank the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers and the Copyright Alliance for standing in the breach against the horrendous injustice of the vile legislation. I know our readers are not always joiners and are often skeptical of these groups, but it’s a round world and they did a fabulous job in marshaling resources and focus.

But most of all, we have to be grateful to Governor Hochul who realized that she was being jammed by a bunch of low down grifters pushing hateful legislation and gave them what they deserved.  In the words of Maria Pallante, head of the American Association of Publishers, a long-time defender of copyright:

We thank Governor Hochul for taking decisive action to protect the legal framework that has long incentivized the American private sector to invest in, publish, and distribute original works of authorship to the public, in service to society. The bill that she vetoed was rushed through the state legislature in response to a coordinated, misinformation campaign supported by Big Tech interests and lobbying groups that are notorious for wanting to weaken copyright protections for their own gain.

What she said.

So let’s give a cheer for the team and then get back up on the wall. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. The metashills are not going away and the fight goes on.

The Revenge of the Internet Archive: Google and the Metashills Lead the Long March Through State Houses to Weaken Copyright for the Metaverse

By Chris Castle [This post first appeared on MusicTechPolicy]

[Trichordist readers will not be surprised to know that Artist Enemy No. 1 Senator Ron Wyden (aka Senator Data Center) is leading the charge of the insane bagmen to impose a compulsory license on any content that gets in the way of Facebook, Google and the metaverse.]

Google has led a long march through the institutions to weaken copyright by propping up proxy warriors who mean to take us in a rush. That effort has now come to a head in Maryland with a bizarre statute that got through the Maryland legislature Tommy Carcetti-style–a state law compulsory license for ebooks. (Maryland Education Code §§ 23-701, 23-702).

The Maryland law is wrong for so many reasons, but is also an unconstitutional usurpation of the federal government’s exclusive domain over copyright. This is a solution in search of a problem–ebooks are already routinely licensed to libraries under voluntary agreements at a market rate. The legislation would allow the State of Maryland to force the authors to license but the state would set the rates. Songwriters can tell you this is a nightmarish process at the federal level–and by the way songwriters, you’re next, just see the fever dream of compulsory licenses for sync (see Here Comes the New Dark Age: Blanket Licenses for Everything Based on the MMA). Just because a library is a non-profit doesn’t mean they get everything free or get to dictate the price. The librarians certainly don’t work for free so how can they expect the authors to do so?

There has never been a compulsory license for books and you have to believe that the Maryland law is a probing operation by Big Tech to see whether their land grab works at the state level. Do you think the oligarchs could jam a compulsory license for books through Congress if their true invisible hand was seen? Unlikely. If they couldn’t do it with wind in their sales from a noxious disease that devastated those pesky small businesses but enriched Big Tech beyond comprehension, it seems unlikely that they could get it through Congress during the nadir of Big Tech popularity.

This machine-state strategy is also an in-your-face rebuke to Senator Thom Tillis’ opposition to the Internet Archive’s pandemic rights-gouging practices, a rebuke that is supported by the “Library Futures” front group (which bears a striking strategic similarity to Engine Advocacy). Needless to say these “metashills” include all the usual suspects among their members including the Internet Archive next to the panoply of anti-artist groups.

The way shills become metashills is that they get grouped togther–economical for the donors and makes them look bigger than they are like a self-inflating animal.

Why does an obviously unconstitutional bill become law? Unhinged, you say? Blatantly unconstitutional from another looneyverse? True, and yet there it is, a monument to bagmen and shills. There is no other explanation for how this legislation got through that paragon of high-minded public policy, that epitoma suprema of the virtuous life and good government where corruption fears to tread also known as the Maryland General Assembly. (Followed closely in Annapolis’s sister city Albany, another hotbed of honesty.)

What about Google’s long march through the institutions? You may have neutral to fond memories of librarians from school days but I encourage you to look deeper. Is that librarian a helpful smart person? Or someone else. Is that librarian someone who grew up feeling ignored and overlooked like the one who never got asked to do the fun things? Is that librarian the one who really wrote the Great American Novel but had that Creative Writing Masters Thesis go–gasp–unpublished? Is that librarian someone who is ripe for manipulation and grooming by unfathomably rich people in the addiction business who claim to understand their problems and want to be their allies to Alinsky those who dared to commercialize their beloved books, those helpful tech moguls who want to build the Digital Library of Alexandria for the greater good and promise to not be evil? You know, for all mankind?

Whatever actually happened, Google has weaponized libraries starting at least with their mass digitization project that ultimately became the kloogy Google Books that one academic described as a “disaster for scholars” and that was the subject of criticism as culturally biased by no less than Jean-Noël Jeanneney, a former president of France’s Bibliothèque nationale in a scathing critique.

So not all librarians sip the Kool-Aid imported from the Googleplex or aspire to heated bidets. And not all state houses are as welcoming to Google and the other Tech Oligarchs as they were even a year ago or so when Senator Tillis recognized that the Internet Archive was being weaponized by its honcho Brewster Kahle (pronounced “kale”) against the world’s authors. Why do I think this? Because an anonymous whistleblower librarian gave us some insight into what is really going on in the faculty dining room in an open letter to Brewster Kahle during his pandemic-induced land grab he called the “National Emergency Library”:

You claim [the Archive is a] charitable organization. Charitable organizations provide money from their own funds to those in need or they collect donations of money or property, voluntarily offered by the original owners, to distribute to those in need. Taking from others despite their objections and offering the stolen material to those in need does not fall into the description of a charitable organization. It is, as has been pointed out, looting.

Your activity undermines the copyright system for your own benefit and in the financial interests of some of the wealthiest corporations in history. As has been said, the Internet Archive is not a public service but a pirate website. You are not here to help others- you are helping yourself to others’ property. It’s unfortunate that your supporters can’t admit this, or don’t realize it.

Well said. And let’s understand that what the Silicon Valley oligarchs really want is a true compulsory license for all works of copyright–which I think is exactly what the eponymous Mr. Kahle was actually after with his National Emergency Library, what Google wanted with Google Books, what YouTube wanted with the DMCA, and what Grokster and Morpheus wanted with file sharing. (Note that Napster was always trying to get a license, however hamhandedly, and shut down when they couldn’t get one.)

The Anonymous Librarian goes on to offer a lifeboat, which, unfortunately, will be summarily ignored by the metashills. While she was speaking of the pandemic effort at a compulsory license, these are words that will ring through the history of all these misguided efforts at undermining copyright:

It is a tragedy within a tragedy that anyone supports you in this effort to steal livelihoods away from authors who struggle to create the works that we love to read, as is evidenced by the glowing praise for the books you have taken and given away.

Brewster, you claim that the Internet Archive is a library- but do you want to know what real libraries do? They pay license fees for e-books and then allow their users to access the books. To be decent and truly human, you will apologize to the world and discontinue your grotesquely unfair challenge to authors. You will transform into something resembling a real library and provide funds to license access to these books for the benefit of the public. You have enough financial assets to pay for licenses to use these works. It has been pointed out that you have more than 100 million dollars in your Kahle-Austin Foundation [Now where might that $100 million have come from?]. You could provide the books to the public by paying license fees to authors and publishers- that is what real libraries do.

You could do this, Brewster, and then you would get real praise, and you would be worthy of it.

Pitch perfect summary of what is going on in Maryland and what may be going on in New York. In order to stop the Maryland bill from going into effect in 2022, authors are going to have to dip into their pockets to litigate against states with unlimited litigation budgets backstopped by the biggest corporations in commercial history. This is a familiar role to anyone trying to protect artist rights which is a group that clearly doesn’t include the Maryland General Assembly or Maryland Governor Larry Hogan who should all be ashamed of themselves. If you want to tell the Governor what you think of his unconstitutional travesty, you can contact him here.

Worse yet, it appears that New York has passed similar legislation that may be sitting on the Governor’s desk. I guess the real question is whether New York Attorney General Leticia James would like to come by the Algonquin Hotel to explain why New York has a compelling interest in crushing New York authors.

Save the Date! Free Webinar Tomorrow (12/8/21) on Radio Royalties and the American Music Fairness Act

Learn about Radio Royalties and the American Music Fairness Act from industry stakeholders and experts during this FREE educational webinar sponsored by: Austin Music Foundation, Austin Texas Musicians, I Respect Music Austin, SoundExchange and Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts.

The American Music Fairness Act is a bipartisan bill which would establish a performance right for sound recordings broadcasted via terrestrial radio. As you may know, the United States is one of the few countries in the world and the only western democracy that does not recognize a performance right for sound recordings on terrestrial radio broadcasts. 

Artists and record companies have long advocated for a change to the law to provide a payment when their recordings are broadcast. The U.S. made a step in this direction in 1995 with the Digital Performance Right In Sound Recordings legislation that led to the creation of SoundExchange and the compulsory license for digital performances like webcasting and satellite radio with a royalty rate set by the Copyright Royalty Board.

The legislation has many carve outs and special treatment for small radio stations, college or other non-profits and public radio. 

The panelists will provide a background on the history of this issue and discuss how the American Music Fairness Act will ensure artists are compensated fairly for their works when broadcasted on terrestrial radio.

To learn more before the event, check out these informative materials first: https://musictechpolicy.files.wordpress.com/2021/12/talaamfa-1.pdf

Please register for the event at Eventbrite, and you can also tell Congress to pass the legislation by signing the Copyright Alliance petition here.

Panelists:

Chris Castle, Christian L. Castle Attorneys

Sean Glover, Director of Royalty Administration at SoundExchange

Terrany Johnson (“Tee-Double”), Artist, Producer, and Artist Advocate

Gwendolyn Seale, Mike Tolleson and Associates

Find this free online event streaming LIVE on Facebook, December 8th at noon CST on the following pages:

Artist Rights Watch

Austin Music Foundation

Austin Texas Musicians

I Respect Music Austin

Texas Accountants and Lawyers For the Arts

Interview: @TerranyJohnson aka Tee Double on Radio Royalties and the American Music Fairness Act #IRespectMusic–@musictechpolicy

Terrany Johnson pka Tee Double

[Tee Double is speaking on the free “Radio Royalties and the American Music Fairness Act” live stream panel hosted by Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts, Austin Texas Musicians, SoundExchange, I Respect Music Austin, Austin Music Foundation and Artist Rights Watch on December 8 at noon CST. Register on Eventbrite. If you’d like to support the American Music Fairness Act, you can sign the petition to Congress here.]

1. Tell us a little about your history as an artist and your work in the Texas music community.
Well, I’ve been recording and releasing music since i was 9 years old in Austin, Texas around the same time I sent my first demo I self-produced and performed on to Warner bros. Records. I have been on various boards such as the Texas Chapter of The Grammys, Austin Music foundation, Black Fret a nonprofit which give artist grants yearly to further sustain their craft. I currently am the founder of the urban Artist Alliance which is a leader in education in the music business for underserved creatives who never have access to the tools to succeed in an ever-changing industry. Which recently won the Austin Business Chamber A-List award for Best Bootstrap Company FOR 2021.

2. Can you explain a bit about radio royalties as an artist and then as a songwriter? Sure. Royalties are one of the many ways artists can continue to benefit off their art in new platforms. As an artist, radio royalties are not paid to us even though we are the driving force behind why the song is a hit or synced for commercials and so on. We are as much a contributing factor as the song itself. As a songwriter which I am both an artist and a songwriter of my catalog, I receive those monies which depending on the frequency of the song can generate a nice bit of change. As an indie you don’t go rich but you have some sort of return on your time and effort of creating the song for which someone else ( in my case me) would perform.

3. When SoundExchange opened up a whole new income stream for webcasting and satellite radio, did that have an effect on your revenue as an artist? Any new platform is a good thing if it also includes some positive financial upside for the creatives. But artist must not just limit their potential revenue streams to radio as there are many channels to funnel your art through to add on top of that money. Education is key and adding a unified front to approach unfair practices or outdated laws that truly damage the livelihood of creatives is a step many should be taking moving forward.

4. How will the American Music Fairness Act help working artists, especially those who Blake Morgan calls “middle class artists”? TheAmerican Music Fairness Act will not just help “middle class artists” but also new artists first releasing music to be able to see the economic benefits of that art when it is played on radio now and future technology that will introduce new ways of sharing music. By keeping smaller stations unscathed and making sure larger ones are held accountable to the artist that sustain their ability to remain economically feasible by ads and so forth it is only a good thing.

5. When I speak to artists about copyright policy issues, they often seem overwhelmed by the process and tend to leave it to others. What advice do you have for artists to take direction action to get involved in copyright policy making? My advice would be to join organizations that have your interest at heart. Grammys on the hill is a great one as it also has artist going to their local reps to push their cause. Following blogs and publications that speak to YOU and build up a mental database of ever-changing ideas within the music industry. As I tell artists I mentor, if it makes you one more cent you should be aware of it because music is not a rich person’s game but a long-term journey. Stay the course and stay inspired.