May 13, 2021 – By Email
Senator Dianne Feinstein Senator Alex Padilla
United States Senate United States Senate
331 Hart Senate Office Building B03 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510 Washington, D.C. 2010
Re: Potential Settlement of Mechanical Royalty Rates in CRB Phonorecords IV
Dear Senators Feinstein and Padilla:
I am a California-based music publisher.
I’m writing to you to express my concern regarding the private party settlement submitted to the Copyright Royalty Board by the NMPA, NSAI, UMG, WMG and SME related to the Phonorecords IV physical and download mechanical rate.
My father-in-law was the composer and songwriter, Alex North. Alex worked for years, crafting scores to Hollywood feature films, and writing songs to accompany picture.
In 2015, Alex’s score to A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE was added to the Library of Congress’ National Registry, as a recognition of the music’s importance as part of the fabric of United States arts and culture.
Alex composed the score to a 1955 film entitled UNCHAINED. The theme to that film became the melody to the song “Unchained Melody,” with the lyric written by Hy Zaret.
“Unchained Melody” has been recorded by thousands of artists, in all styles and genres. The lyric has been adapted to at least 20 different languages. “Unchained Melody” is among the most popular wedding songs of all time. Listeners still download recordings of “Unchained Melody.” They still buy CDs and vinyl releases.
I am the music publishing administrator of “Unchained Melody,” on behalf of my family and the Zaret family. I also administer over one hundred thousand other copyrights on behalf of legacy songwriters and their families, and on behalf of current songwriters and composers.
Songwriters struggle to earn a living wage. With the advent of digital streaming, physical and download sales have certainly declined. However, they have absolutely not disappeared. Anybody who says this royalty stream does not matter is simply not telling the truth.
The royalty amount for the digital stream of a song is a micropenny. Unless it is a top songwriter with hundreds of millions to billions of streams, there is an excellent chance that songwriter still may be driving Uber to support herself and her family.
It takes hundreds of streams of a recording to equal the 9.1 cent mechanical publishers receive for a physical sale or download. That’s why this physical and download mechanical rate is so important.
Vinyl sales are strong for many retailers including Amazon and Best Buy. CDs remain a significant media format, and many listeners still prefer to “own” rather than temporarily cache the music they listen to.
Increasing the statutory mechanical rate to simply adjust for inflation will dramatically (and positively) effect songwriters’ and publishers’ bottom lines. This fight is akin to the battle for an increased minimum wage.
Major music publishers do not face the same struggles as independent publishers and songwriters. Major publishers are part of multi-national conglomerates that own both the major publishers and major record labels. Major publishers that agree to fix the statutory rate simply are leaving more money in the pockets of the labels that are their sister companies.
Those of us that do not have sister companies have no such opportunity. That’s why we must fight to be heard.
Each quarter, I process statements from approximately 100 domestic and global sources, many of which include mechanical royalties for physical and download media. Each quarter, I make distributions to the multiple families that are heirs to, and owners of these copyrights. Songwriters and their families depend on royalties for food, mortgages, education and more.
From the initial publication of “Unchained Melody” in 1955 through 2005 (approximately 50 years!), the statutory mechanical rate was fixed at 2 cents. Starting in 1977, the mechanical royalty incrementally increased from 2¢ to 9.1¢ per unit until 2006. But since 2006, the statutory rate again was frozen and remains so. The private settlement would extend that freeze until 2027.
I ask that you review the Copyright Royalty Board practices and consider allowing songwriters and independent publishers – who do not speak through trade organizations or major multi-national corporations — to voice their concerns through public comments that the CRB takes into account before it makes its final decision.