Copyright Royalty Board Responds to Coalition of Songwriter Groups on Frozen Mechanicals

A group of songwriter organizations from around the world wrote to the Copyright Royalty Board last week opposing a proposed private “settlement” between the major labels and the major publishers to freeze mechanical rates on physical and downloads at the 9.1¢ 2006 rate that was filed in the current Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) rate court hearing called “Phonorecords IV”. (You can find the entire list of filings in the case here.)

The twist here is that if the CRB approves the private settlement at the request of “the parties” and doesn’t take into account the views and evidence of people who actually write songs and have to earn a living from songwriting, it will be grotesquely unfair and possibly unconstitutional wage and price control. The CRB will have frozen the mechanical rate for physical and downloads at the 2006 rate when inflation alone has eaten away the buying power of that royalty by approximately 30%. This would be like the Minerals Management Service adopting a settlement written by Exxon.

On average–on average–the physical and download configuration make up 15% of billing for the majors and for some artists vinyl is a welcome change from fractions of a penny on streaming. And then there’s Record Store Day–hello? These are a couple of the many reasons anyone who is paying attention should reject the terms of the settlement.

US Revenue by Source 2020

The Coalition had a simple ask: Let the public comment:

In the interests of justice and fairness, we respectfully implore the CRB to adopt and publicize a period and opportunity for public comment on the record in these and other proceedings,especially in regard to so-called proposed “industry settlements” in which creators and other interested parties have had no opportunity to meaningfully participate prior to their presentation to the CRB for consideration, modification or rejection. In the present case, hundreds of millions of dollars of our future royalties remain at stake, even in a diminished market for traditional, mechanical uses of music. To preclude our ability to comment on proposals that ultimately impact our incomes, our careers, and our families, simply isn’t fair.

The Copyright Royalty Board responded! According to our sources, the Copyright Royalty Board said that they would publish the private settlement in the Federal Register and give the pubic the chance to comment. This is great news!

But we will see what they actually do. The Copyright Royalty Board does not have a great track record in understanding songwriter interests in raising the mechanical rates as we can see in this except from their final rule freezing mechanicals again in 2009:

Copyright Owners’ argument with respect to this objective is that songwriters and music publishers rely on mechanical royalties and both have suffered from the decline in mechanical income. Under the current rate, they contend, songwriters have difficulty supporting themselves and their families. As one songwriter witness explained, “The vast majority of professional songwriters live a perilous existence.” [Rick] Carnes [Testimony] at 3. [Rick Carnes signed the Coalition letter as President of the Songwriters Guild of America.] We acknowledge that the songwriting occupation is financially tenuous for many songwriters. However, the reasons for this are many and include the inability of a songwriter to continue to generate revenue-producing songs, competing obligations both professional and personal, the current structure of the music industry, and piracy. The mechanical rates alone neither can nor should seek to address all of these issues.

We simply do not accept that the Founders put the Copyright Clause in the Constitution so creators could have a side hustle for their Uber driving which is exactly where frozen mechanicals take you, particularly after the structural unemployment in the music business caused by the COVID lockdowns.

Here is a summary of who is for and who is against frozen mechanicals.

Against Frozen MechanicalsProposing Frozen Mechanicals
Songwriters Guild of AmericaNational Music Publishers Association
Society of Composers and LyricistsNashville Songwriters Association International
Alliance for Women Film Composers 
Songwriters Association of Canada 
Screen Composers Guild of Canada 
Music Creators North America 
Music Answers 
Alliance of Latin American Composers & Authors 
Asia-Pacific Music Creators Alliance 
European Composers and Songwriters Alliance 
Pan African Composers and Songwriters Alliance 

Which side are you on? If you want to write your own comment to the Copyright Royalty Board about frozen mechanicals, send your comment to crb@loc.gov

By Trichordist Editor

Trichordist Editor