MRI (Music Reports Inc) is a company that collects and licenses royalties on behalf of songwriters and publishers. They also act as a licensing agent for digital services. That is, like HFA they work both sides of the digital music market. Personally, I think these sorts of arrangements present some competition and conflict of interest problems. And eventually, those problems will emerge. As a frequent investor in startups, I don’t invest in companies like this. But that’s just me. Other folks like to make money by seeking out and exploiting legal loopholes.
So MRI’s appearance on both sides of the streaming music marketplace raises eyebrows. But to be clear that is not illegal. However, I’ve never seen anything quite like this: MRI is the DMCA Agent for TikTok! That means a company that is supposed to be licensing artists and rightsholders work is aiding and abetting a massive infringer (TikTok*) in a whac-a-mole DMCA scam.
And I do mean scam. Like highly misleading. Bordering on fraudulent. Here’s why. As I detailed in my last blog, I don’t think TikTok qualifies for the DMCA safe harbor on much of the infringing activity that occurs on TikTok. Here is the quick summary:
After a couple of hours messing around with app it appears:
- TikTok makes available my work and then provides the copy to the user before the user makes any content.
- The copy would seem to be more than “ephemeral” (an important copyright act legal distinction) as at certain stages I can repeatedly access the content even when my device lacked internet connectivity.
- TikTok app “marries” or “syncs” the music to audiovisual content provided by their service or uploaded by the user. Note this is after the recording and composition have apparently been copied and distributed to the user’s device. In other words, the infringement occurs before user publishes content.
- Before the “marrying” or “syncing” of the music to audiovisual content I cut off internet connectivity. The process of marrying video to music failed. This suggests TikTok service requires sync license, not the user.
- Only after all sync has occurred does user have the option to “publish” the work. This is long after many activities requiring licenses, and thus infringement has occurred.
DMCA safe harbor provides the digital service protection from its user’s copyright infringement. Not infringement committed by the digital service. Grooveshark made this mistake and was promptly put out of business.
I’m saying it appears something similar happens with the TikTok app. So if in fact, I’m right, that would imply MRI by operating TikTok’s DMCA safe harbor operation they are helping to perpetrate a fraud.
Finally I would like MRI explain to its songwriters and publishers, why it is helping TikTok intimidate songwriters and publishers into NOT filing a DMCA notice. It’s right on the TikTok website. TikTok basically says they will doxx songwriters and publishers if you file a copyright complaint. And where will they get those complaints? From MRI.
This is yet another example of why my focus of this blog has switched from investigating civil abuses of artists and rightsholder to investigating criminal abuse. My hashtag for the year is: #PutADigitalMusicExecutiveInJail2020. Why? it’s the only thing that will ever stop the abuse.
*TikTok is a massive infringer. No public performance licenses. Few if any “mechanical” licenses. My work has been used and as far as I can tell, there are no licenses, nor have roylaties been paid. To pretend that TikTok is largely licensed service is objective fiction.