By Chris Castle
This post first appeared on MusicTechPolicy
A2IM, the independent label trade association, filed comments with the Copyright Royalty Board opposing increasing the mechanical royalty to songwriters from the “frozen rates” to the 12¢ (plus cost of living adjustment) settlement rate of the participating record companies with the NMPA and NSAI. I wrote a reply to the A2IM comment that was timely filed with the CRB–barely. I will repost that comment in a few parts here on MTP. As I had about 10 minutes to write the comment due to the lateness of the A2IM filing, I will add some bracketed language to make it a bit less inside baseball.
Unfortunately, A2IM did not participate in the Phonorecords IV proceeding and came in a bit late to the party complaining of the check. Nobody stopped them from participating; it appears they put it all on red and it came up black.
As I told the Judges, I will focus on a few issues raised by the American Association of Independent Music regarding the CRB settlement process in general, the penny rate structure of the mechanical royalty system in the United States, and their proposal that mechanical licensing for physical configurations be handed over to the Mechanical Licensing Collective.
The Clean Slate
A2IM raises the idea of compensating songwriters on a percentage of wholesale basis which is how mechanicals are paid in many if not most other countries. I understand why labels favor this structure but I also understand why publishers and songwriters do not.
First, I am of the view that a percentage of wholesale royalty is incompatible with a compulsory license. [To my knowledge, the European countries operating on a percentage of wholesale basis do not have a compulsory licensing regime.] Imposing a compulsory obligation to have a third party set the “just compensation” for rights the government takes from the songwriter has that unconstitutional ring to it [see 5th Amendment and Takings by Prof. Richard Epstein, an oldie but goodie].
And that really is the problem with a percentage of wholesale royalty—it allows the conflicted record company to call the tune [for songwriters] which is the very definition of moral hazard. Having said all that, I am happy to have a conversation about a clean slate and reimagining of the entire structure as long as it really is a clean slate. Of course, that will mean throwing away the entire controlled composition structure.
It must be said that in countries with a percentage of dealer price mechanical royalty there [are] no controlled composition terms at all. So if we are to have the discussion, let’s have all the discussion for all the record companies including catalog. If we want to be like Europe, let’s be European.
We cannot overlook that changing that compensation system will throw royalty compliance examinations of every record company onto the table with great force. How can songwriters be asked to give up a system that has been in place since 1909 without knowing whether they have gotten a straight count heretofore?
It must also be said that if A2IM members feel justified in changing the entire U.S. mechanical rate system, there is nothing stopping them from creating such terms in their new signings under controlled compositions clauses. In fact, such arrangements might be a good laboratory to experiment with these alternative structures.
[To be continued.]