Well, another quarter is rolling around and the MLC is still sitting on 100s of millions of dollars of songwriter money as far as I can tell. Billboard says the MLC has “matched”–maybe different than “paid”–$200 million of the $427 million in black box that it was paid by the services in 2021. This doesn’t count the unmatched that the MLC has itself added to that sum. And Congress still haven’t required them to disclose their investment policy, returns on investment or much of anything else.
Compare the MLC to community banks. There are approximately 1,000 community banks with net assets between $250,00,000 to $500,000,000. There are approximately another 1,200 community banks with net assets between $100,000,000 to $250,000,000. It’s admittedly rough justice, but why should one entity holding hundreds of millions of other peoples’ money have virtually no disclosure requirements and be essentially unregulated while another is the opposite?
Remember that the MLC is supposed to pay interest “at the Federal, short-term rate” “for the benefit of copyright owners entitled to payment of such accrued royalties.” Note that the Federal short-term rate is today a lot higher than it was when the lobbyists wrote the Music Modernization Act, currently 4.21% or thereabouts. And through the power of compound interest, that’s a bunch of cash the MLC is supposed to come up with. I wonder where they’ll get it from. Wouldn’t you like to know?
Anyway, let’s talk about interest rates. The “risk free rate” is often thought of as the rate of interest paid on US government bonds. That interest rate is thought of as risk free because it is backed by the full faith and credit of the United States that you hear so much about these days. Want to know where you can find that full faith and credit? Look in the mirror.
When you ask around about what collective management organizations do with their “black box” monies while they are waiting to match money with songwriters or at least copyright owners, you often hear that the money is invested in very safe instruments, like U.S. treasury bonds. This might be particularly true of CMOs that are required to pay interest on black box because that interest has to come from somewhere.
But–and here it is–but, as we have learned from the Silicon Valley Bank collapse and the number of federal government officials in the mumble tank about why these banks are failing and why they are getting bailed out by, you know, the full faith and credit of the United States, “risk free” seems to be a relative concept. When you buy US government bonds, there are a number of different maturity dates available to you, kind of like buying a certificate of deposit. A common maturity date is the 10-year bond and the two-year bond, both of which were recently down sharply.
But–there is a connection between the interest rate that the bond pays, the price of the bond, and the maturity date of that bond. When bond interest rates increase, the face price tends to decrease. So if you paid $100 for a bond with a interest rate of say .08% and that rate then increased to say 4.5%, the face price of that bond will no longer be $100, it will be less. If that increase happens fairly quickly, you can have difficulty finding a buyer. The good news is that when the Federal Reserve raises the interest rate, there is about as much news coverage of the event as it is theoretically possible to have, both before during and after the rate increase, not to mention the Federal Reserve chair testifying to Congress. It’s very public. Closely watched doesn’t really capture that level of attention.
When bond prices decline, holders only “realize” the loss or gain if they sell the bond unless the bond is marked to market so the firm has to disclose the amount of what the loss would be if they sold the bond. Hence the concept of “unrealized losses,” “maturity risk,” or “interest rate risk.” Some think that US banks currently have $620 billion in unrealized losses due to interest rate risk. And don’t forget, these are your betters. These are the smart people. These are the city fellers.
This interest rate risk issue is not limited to banks, however. It is also present anytime that an entity tasked with caring for other people’s money invests that money in treasury bonds, crypto, or whatever. Like the MLC. You don’t have to be Wall Street Bets to end up losing your shirt or something in this environment.
Snoop Dogg had strong words for Spotify, Apple Music, and other music streaming services during an interview with former Apple Music Creative Director Larry Jackson at the Milken Institute Global Conference.
“I know I’m going off-script right now, but fuck it. This is business,” said Snoop “In a room full of business people and somebody may hear this so the next artist don’t have to struggle and cry for his money because some of these artists are streaming millions and millions and millions and millions of fucking streams and they don’t got no millions of dollars in the pot.”
Silicon Valley’s answer to Charles Ponzi may be called StubHub or its parent company Viagogo. I’m sure you’ve run into the StubHub grift. A band releases tickets for a show, the bots descend and having grabbed the best seats turns to StubHub and its ilk to resell the ill-gotten tickets at ever higher prices. Everyone denies they did anything wrong, they had no idea where their tickets were coming from. Instead of being prosecuted for wire fraud and other bad juju, these ticket scalpers allow reselling of botted tickets on a grand scale. All the while decrying bots as an illegal practice while leaving out the “but we make money together” part. See Better Online Ticket Sales Act (“the BOTS Act”), 15 U.S.C. § 45c.
However vile is this grift, it’s kind of an old story. The only thing that’s breaking news about a Ponzi scheme is not the ghost of Charles Ponzi. Rather, its when smart people–you know, your betters–fall for it yet again. But StubHub revealed yesterday in the Georgia Legislature that they actually thought they would put one over on a wiley old committee chairman who just didn’t buy the huge helping of Smarm by the Bay when the Silicon Valley lobbyists oiled their way into the Georgia House of Representatives Regulated Industries Committee. You have to get up pretty early in the morning to fool and old fox and Valley Boys are not early risers.
The Chairman caught onto the con very quickly, and David Lowery helped to highlight the scalper scam. But the thing you always have to remember about our brilliant friend David is that he’s been known to pick up his pen and write the song that struggled to be written or the song that was not well received, but five years later be promoted as his best work. That’s why he’s got so many loyal fans. David takes know your customer to a whole new level, so was the perfect subject matter witness for the committee.
So here’s the new twist. What if you didn’t have a ticket but thought that you could get one, no problem once they went on sale–thanks to your friendly neighborhood ticket bot farmer. But what if StubHub made a market for people to buy the opportunity to buy a ticket at some point in the future. That’s right–selling the botted ticket itself isn’t enough for these people.
Now they want to sell bot futures.
The seller could not sell the ticket yet because there was no ticket available. But why leave money on the table?
The seller of these future contracts was confident enough to make a contract with someone of unknown business acumen or sophistication who they convince that the seller would have a ticket available by the time the underlying tickets went on sale. As a market maker, StubHub would bring buyers and sellers together in a supposedly arms length transaction–I guess, I mean how would you really know how arms length it was–and the seller sold the buyer a contract to deliver a future ticket. Let’s call these contracts “futures” or “naked call options”. Or perhaps we should call them “securities.”
So just like short sellers have to cover their shorts, when the tickets get released somebody has to come up with the real tickets. Somebody would have to be confident they could get the very ticket described in the option contract–like you would be if you were the beneficiary of botting. Which, as StubHub will tell you, is illegal. So I’m probably just being cynical.
Technically, “botting” is circumventing “a security measure, access control system, or other technological control or measure on an Internet website or online service that is used by the ticket issuer to enforce posted event ticket purchasing limits or to maintain the integrity of posted online ticket purchasing order rules.”
Personally I think it’s worth asking if the act of selling the futures contract is itself a violation of the BOTS Act as a circumvention of various elements. StubHub may have a legal opinion telling them this is outside the BOTS Act, but let’s ask the FTC, shall we?
On the other hand, if StubHub is selling securities, there’s a whole different regulatory agency that should be examining their business, or it could just be Silicon Valley’s answer to hawala.
So when is a ticket a security? One way we can determine this is through a U.S. Supreme Court case that gives us a pretty clear test. One way—and it’s just one way–that an option on a ticket might be regulated as a security is if it is determined to be an “investment contract” under the test in SEC v. W.J. Howey Co.
The Howey test asks if:
1. there is an investment of money or some other consideration, [Yes]
2. in a common enterprise, [yes]
3. with a reasonable expectation of profits, [oh, yes]
4. to be derived from the efforts of others. [Mos Def]
So that’s pretty inclusive criteria. Before anyone brushes aside the possibility that the SEC could determine a futures contract to buy tickets to be a security, take a close look at those criteria because how the basic question is answered is one to discuss thoroughly with your securities litigation lawyer (or engage one). That advice may be a good idea whether you are either an issuer or an endorser of at the ticket or ticketing platform..
One might say that a one-off sale of a unique product—which is truly “nonfungible” in the sense that there is only one of the product in existence—may be less likely to be determined a “security” under the Howey test. But while any one ticket is a one-off, there are many tickets available to many shows as a general rule, so tickets probably are pretty fungible.
You really do have to get up early in the morning to put one over on a wiley old Georgia committee chairman. You can tell just by looking at the body language that he believes what another wise old bird told me as a youngster. If something feels illegal, it probably is.
Suzanne Wilson General Counsel and Associate Register of Copyrights U.S. Copyright Office 101 Independence Avenue S.E. Washington D.C. 20559 Re: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: Termination Rights and the Music Modernization Act’s Blanket License Docket No. 2022-5 Comment
Dear General Counsel Wilson:
Thank you for the opportunity to make this comment on the docket referenced above.[i]
I am a music lawyer in Austin, Texas and write this comment on my own behalf only and not on behalf of anyone else.
Others will address the substantive termination issues that are well-described and assayed in the Notice, so I will focus on the procedural tension between The Mechanical Licensing Collective, Inc. (“The MLC, Inc.”) currently designated as the mechanical licensing collective (“MLC”), its officers and directors, and the law as described in the Notice.
I argue that the need for this Notice is symptomatic of a larger problem in the relationship between Congress and The MLC, Inc. I hope the Office will consider resolving this tension as it has been authorized to do under the Music Modernization Act[ii] such as through regulations establishing the type of code of conduct that is common for other federal contractors.
This tension is alarming. The Notice states the MLC “does not follow the Office’s rulemaking guidance”[iii] regarding terminations, and that The MLC, Inc. “declin[es] to heed the Office’s warning….”[iv] These disclosures are diametrically at odds with the clear intent of Congress in crafting the MLC’s role.[v]
The disclosures confirm clearly that there are governance and oversight controversies at The MLC, Inc. that in my view need to be conclusively disposed of, and quickly.[vi] These governance issues are symptomatic of what may be much greater problems with the administrative capabilities of The MLC, Inc. that may be metastasizing but have not yet risen to the level of a public inquiry.
The recklessness that gives rise to the Notice also highlights The MLC, Inc.’s general lack of accountability and suggests a conscious disregard for the Copyright Office’s oversight role on a significant matter of law that is not capable of proper resolution through any “business rules.”[vii]
I also note this troubling statement in the Notice:
But, having reviewed the MLC’s policy, the Office is concerned that it conflicts with the MMA, which requires that the MLC’s dispute policies ‘‘shall not affect any legal or equitable rights or remedies available to any copyright owner or songwriter concerning ownership of, and entitlement to royalties for, a musical work.’’[viii]
It seems clear that The MLC, Inc.’s conscious failure to comply with Congressional intent as well as the Office’s guidance is, or ought to be, a decision of some import that surely must have been taken by someone—that is, one or more persons—employed or appointed by the MLC. It seems likely to be a subject that would have been reviewed both by its General Counsel and as part of the millions in outside counsel fees[ix] spent by The MLC, Inc.
The fact that the decision-making process is not readily known is itself of concern and leads one to further consider developing a code of conduct for The MLC, Inc. to assure the Office, the Congress and the public of its administrative capabilities.
Respectfully, I request that you determine how this decision was arrived at and what internal controls The MLC, Inc. has put in place to assure the Congress, the Office and interested parties that these mistakes will not happen again. This should not be an “oh well” moment and should be taken seriously by The MLC, Inc.
If The MLC, Inc. fails to disclose what it is doing by establishing opaque “business rules”, it is essentially creating de facto regulations that have the practical effect of law or regulations made behind closed doors unless the Office or other oversight agency happens to catch them out. The public will never know that the business rule was established, how the “business rule” was arrived at, or have a meaningful opportunity to comment such as in response to this Notice.
For example, do the minutes of The MLC, Inc.’s board of directors or statutory committees reflect a discussion or vote on the adoption of the MLC’s policies on termination treatment? Did such a vote implicate any conflicts of interest? Who determined that there was or was not a conflict of interest in the MLC’s decision to adopt the termination policy, however it was taken? Were there any dissenting votes recorded? Did an officer or director of The MLC, Inc. certify the completeness of the record in these findings in the corporate minute book?
This leads to other concerns under public discussion regarding the hundreds of millions of “black box” monies being held by The MLC, Inc. Given that the public has very little information available to it regarding the results and implications of the MLC’s operational decisions, I respectfully request that you determine what, if any, financial implications have arisen as a result of The MLC, Inc.’s reckless failure to comply with the law and the guidance of the Office in implementing its termination policy. Such determination should likely include any funds[x] that The MLC, Inc. is apparently trading in the market for its own account.[xi] Any curative action required by the Office should, of course, be retroactive in scope which will require considerable before-and-after accounting disclosures.
It must be asked whether the “business rule” established for terminations increases or decreases the enormous black box which was of considerable interest to Chairman Leahy at the recent Copyright Office oversight hearing at which the Register testified.[xii] This is particularly true if the implementation of the business rule results in financial harm to interested parties who rely on The MLC, Inc. to get it right.
The subject of black box came up in the Questions for the Record from Chairman Leahy. The Copyright Office’s response to Chairman Leahy’s inquiry about the hundreds of millions in black box held by the MLC directed the Chairman to the MLC’s annual report for answers.
Respectfully, I find this odd. Chairman Leahy did not ask what the MLC told the world in its annual report; rather he asked, “What can the Copyright Office do to help ensure that the MLC is working to make sure that rightful owners of music works are identified and paid?”[xiii]The question is transitive: We have oversight of you, you have oversight of The MLC, Inc., therefore we have oversight of the MLC.
Surely no one is surprised by this. The question many have is why The MLC, Inc. itself—a quasigovernmental organization operated by inferior officers[xiv] of the United States–is not the subject of an oversight hearing at Senate Judiciary regarding the hundreds of millions it is sitting on. Maybe next time.
It must also be said that the answer to Chairman Leahy goes on:
Notably, the MLC plans to wait to process historical unmatched royalties from the Phonorecords III rate period [2018-2022] until the Copyright Royalty Judges finalize those rates in the ongoing remand proceeding and digital music providers provide adjusted reports of usage and royalty payments. It is the Office’s understanding that the bulk of historical unmatched royalties come from that period.[xv]
Without getting into the timeline of what came when, how is it exactly that The MLC, Inc. took the decision in February 2021—nearly two years ago–to sit on top of hundreds of millions of other peoples’ money that they were somehow investing under their undisclosed “Investment Policy”? Was anyone asked? Who gave the MLC the permission to do this? Do they not hold the black box corpus in trust for songwriters and copyright owners yet to be identified? Does this not compound the already painful series of failures that resulted in the black box in the first place, the delay in accounting to songwriters (or their families) under Phonorecords III remand, and still more delay while legions of lobbyists and lawyers argue over the post-remand true up accountings?
Respectfully, there is also, of course, a larger question that the Office may consider answering: If The MLC, Inc. adopts a policy or takes some action outside of the law or its remit, is that policy binding on any future entities designated by the Office as the MLC?
These are all questions that I would expect to have answers that are readily available to the public given that The MLC, Inc. is in a position of public trust administering a compulsory license on behalf of the United States and has been given great privileges under the MMA.[xvi]
Thank you again for the opportunity to comment.
Very truly yours,
Christian L. Castle
[i] U.S. Copyright Office, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Termination Rights and the Music Modernization Act’s Blanket License 87 FR 64405 (Oct. 25, 2022) (Doc. No. 2022-5) (hereafter “Notice”).
[ii]Orrin G. Hatch-Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act, Public Law 115–264, 132 Stat. 3676 (2018) (“MMA”) and specifically Title I thereof.
[v]See S. Rep. 115-339 (115th Cong. 2nd Sess. Sept. 17, 2018) at 7 (“Senate Report”). (“The collective is expected to operate in a transparent and accountable manner.”)
[vi] I would hope that this failure will be weighed and measured by the Copyright Office as part of The MLC, Inc.’s quinquennial review as is required under the legislative history. See, e.g., Senate Report at 5 (“[E]vidence of fraud, waste, or abuse, including the failure to follow the relevant regulations adopted by the Copyright Office, over the prior five years should raise serious concerns within the Copyright Office as to whether that same entity has the administrative capabilities necessary to perform the required functions of the collective.”)(emphasis added).
[vii] It must be said that the MLC’s disregard for this particular matter may present a moral hazard (at best) for the publishers represented by at least some of its board members.
[x]See the MLC’s annual report stating that the MLC invests the black box according to its internal “Investment Policy” established by its board of directors but not made public. MLC 2021 Annual Report at p. 4 available at https://www.themlc.com/hubfs/Marketing/23856%20The%20MLC%20AR2021%206-30%20REFRESH%20COMBINED.pdf(“Annual Report”) (“Investment Policy: This policy covers the investment of royalty and assessment funds, respectively, and sets forth The MLC’s goals and objectives in establishing policies to implement The MLC’s investment strategy. The anti-comingling policy required by 17 U.S.C. § 115(d)(3)(D)(ix)(I)(cc) is contained in [The MLC, Inc.’s] Investment Policy. The Investment Policy was approved by the Board in January 2021.”) (emphasis added).
[xi] Realize that every CMO is confronted with the decision about what to do with the royalty float and black box, but not every CMO decides to invest these funds in the market. If they do invest the funds, it is generally the case that any trading profits, dividends or interest goes to offset the CMO’s administrative costs that otherwise would be deducted from collected royalties. However, the MLC, Inc.’s administrative costs are paid by the users of the blanket license (making the United States, I believe, the only country in history or the world that charges for the use of a statutory license). Therefore, the return on the MLC’s investment of the songwriters’ money would not be used for the same purpose as all the world’s CMOs that follow a similar practice. The continuity in ownership for profits derived from The MLC, Inc.’s trading is also unclear; if The MLC, Inc.’s existing designation is not continued but securities are being held or profits generated, what happens?
[xii]Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Oversight of the U.S. Copyright Office, Responses to Questions for the Record by Shira Perlmutter, Register of Copyrights and Director of the Copyright Office (Sept. 7, 2022), available at https://artistrightswatchdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2022/10/qfr-responses-perlmutter-2022-09-07.pdf. (“Questions for the Record”) (“With respect to the historical, pre-2021, unmatched royalties, which were reported to be about $426 million, the annual report says that the MLC recently started distributing those that it has been able to match. It also says that the MLC has begun making associated usage data for historical unmatched royalties available to copyright owners, which will facilitate further claiming and matching.”)
[xvi]See, e.g., Senate Report at 5 (emphasis added). “For the responsibilities described in subparagraphs (J) [distribution of unclaimed royalties] and (K) [dispute resolution] of paragraph (3), the collective is only liable to a party for its actions if the collective is grossly negligent in carrying out the policies and procedures adopted by the Board of Directors pursuant to section 115(d)(11)(D). Since the Register has broad regulatory authority under paragraph (12) of subsection (d), it is expected that such policies and procedures will be thoroughly reviewed by the Register to ensure the fair treatment of interested parties in such proceedings given the high bar in seeking redress.”
In this comment to the Copyright Office, Abby North (independent publisher and Artist Rights Symposium III Moderator) calls on the Copyright Office to stop the MLC quango from unilaterally establishing “business rules” that hurt songwriters and their heirs and protect working families from these arbitrary actions of The MLC. The passing of Jeff Beck reminds us once again that we must take care to protect the heirs of creators.
Re: Termination Rights and the Music Modernization Act’s Blanket License
To the United States Copyright Office:
My name is Abby North. I am a music publishing administrator based in Los Angeles. My views expressed in this letter are solely my own.
With my husband, I am a copyright owner of the classic song “Unchained Melody,” among other copyrights. I also administer musical works and sound recordings on behalf of songwriters, their families and heirs. In many instances, I assist my clients in identifying their termination windows, assist in the research required, and interface with the attorneys who process termination filings.
I’m thankful for the opportunity to submit comments in support of the Copyright Office’s proposed rule.
The ability to recapture rights via the United States copyright termination system truly provides composers, songwriters and recording artists and their heirs, a “second bite of the apple.” Many of my clients exercise this right, and in doing so grow their family’s revenue, which, given today’s inflation and very high interest rates, coupled with a depleted stock market, is absolutely necessary.
Allyn Ferguson was a successful composer of film/television scores including “Little Lord Fauntleroy,” “Les Miserables,” “Charlie’s Angels,” and “Barney Miller.” According to Variety in its June 27, 2010 obituary, Ferguson was “among the most prolific composers of TV in the past 40 years.” My company North Music Group administers works controlled by Ferguson’s family.
In addition to his scores, Ferguson wrote songs performed by artists including Johnny Mathis, Count Basie Band and Freddie Hubbard. While the bulk of his film and television scores were created on a work for hire basis, and therefore are not eligible for termination under US copyright law, Ferguson’s commercial compositions and songs were not created as works for hire. Ferguson’s family has been able to exercise its termination rights in various musical works,
thereby increasing its earnings as it now collects the publisher share of United States royalties generated by the terminated works. Individual songwriters and composers and their heirs are not copyright aggregators. Every musical work, and every penny generated is very necessary to these families.
The Music Modernization Act created the blanket digital mechanical license. This move from one-off copyright licenses to a blanket license was a dramatic improvement in US mechanical licensing. However, the suggestion that rights held at the inception of this blanket license might remain, in perpetuity, with the original copyright grantee was frightening. I concur with the Office’s proposed rule and legal analysis of the relevant statutes and authorities.
I appreciate the Office requesting comments on the mechanics of solving the payment issues, because for the independent publishers I speak with and for me personally, many operational questions arise regularly regarding The MLC’s uncharted territories.
As one of The MLC’s statutory goals is to provide transparency to songwriters and copyrightowners, I would ask that the Office require The MLC to notify copyright owners (1) if The MLC’s unilateral termination policy has already been imposed on payments previously paid or that are being held in the historical or current black box, and (2) when the adjusting payment required by the proposed rule had been made.
To be clear, this rule must absolutely be retroactive to inception date of The MLC. Beyond the simple, clarifying amendment to the MMA, I believe there are additional, related issues that must be resolved:
1) What is The MLC’s “business rule” regarding the MLC/HFA Song Code for the terminated work? Prior to the inception of The MLC, the Harry Fox Agency would assign one HFA Song Code fr the work and its pre-termination parties, and a different HFA Song Code for the work with the post-termination parties.
What happens now? Do these multiple HFA Song Codes remain in The MLC’s database? Will there continue to be two separate MLC/HFA Song Codes, particularly given the Harry Fox Agency continues to license physical and download mechanicals on behalf of many publishers? Is it reasonable for the HFA Song Code to be the same as The MLC Song Code, when there is no derivative works exception in Section 115?
2) Which party is entitled to the Unmatched (Black Box) royalties, the related interest fees and to The MLC’s investment proceeds for a terminated work?
Finally, it should be noted that the initial concept proposed by The MLC Board (that the server fixation date should impact termination dates) most likely would have served large publishers, not songwriters.
It is crucial that the Copyright Office exercise vigilant oversight and governance of The MLC’s reporting regarding any payment obligations to copyright owners. Specifically, composers, songwriters and their heirs must have as significant a voice as the largest publishers and copyright aggregators.
Additionally, in the spirit of full transparency, I request full disclosure of board or committee votes, minutes of meetings or other documentation of process. For me and others like me, this would tremendously enhance our understanding of The MLC.
Decisions are being made by The MLC’s board and committee members, while the general MLC member or songwriters have no mechanism to gain information regarding the discussions, the decisions and the implementations thereof. Access to minutes and notes would provide valuable insights to the general membership.
I applaud the Copyright Office for moving swiftly to create this rule and clarify and codify how The MLC must treat copyright terminations. It is important that this rule be dictated by the Office as it is absolutely not The MLC’s job todecide who controls rights and is entitled to collect royalties.
That said, a “business rule” established by The MLC could have the effect of law absent vigilance by the Copyright Office.
On behalf of my family and clients, I wholeheartedly support this proposed regulation, and I truly appreciate the Copyright Office’s consideration of my comments.
The literature suggests that in the presence of…positive feedbacks [from the Get Big Fast strategy], firms should pursue an aggressive strategy in which they seek to grow as rapidly as possible and preempt their rivals. Typical tactics include pricing below the short-run profit-maximizing level (or even below the cost of goods sold), rapidly expanding capacity, advertising heavily, and forming alliances to build market clout with suppliers and workers and to deter entry of new players. Intuitively, such aggressive strategies are superior because they increase both industry demand and the aggressive firm’s share of that demand, stimulating the positive feedbacks described above.
You may have seen that the UK Competition and Markets Authority released a report on music streaming in the UK. Of course, because the same players dominate the UK market like they do in France…sorry, I meant Germany…sorry I meant Canada…sorry I meant Sweden…sorry I meant the United States…how different could the competition issues be for US artists and songwriters? You have the biggest corporations in commercial history (Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google) and the “get big fast” wannabes like Spotify (and Pandora in the US) on one side, the three major labels and the music publishing affiliates on the other side and the artists, songwriters, indie labels, indie publishers and especially the session musicians and vocalists squeezed in the middle.
Plus you have all of the biggest of Big Tech companies as well as wannabe Get-Big-Fast acolytes like Spotify and Pandora setting almost identical price points and freezing them there for a decade while refusing to exercise pricing power and nobody finds that just a trifle odd? Then in the grandest of grand deflections passing this off as the “pie” that everyone should look at instead of acknowledging that it’s the poptart served at the kid’s table in the nursery instead of the feast at the adult’s table in the dining room where the gravy bowls of shares of public stock are handed out dot-bomb style with a side of advertising barter. All while singing an apologia for payola and consumer welfare based on cheapness? You know there’s another way to get really, really cheap goods for consumers that ain’t quite so well received in history.
And yet somehow the Competition and Markets Authority passes this off as good for the consumer? With no meaningful discussion of the Malthusian and anticompetitive effects of the pro-rata model and pretty much summarily ignoring the actual revenue earned by “successful” artists in the beggar-thy-neighbor pricing and revenue charade. Not to mention the complete failure to discuss the supervoting stock at Spotify, Google and Facebook and all the other accoutrements of power that give Daniel Ek, Martin Lorentzen, Tim Cook, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos control over the global music industry–pale males one and all and also looking pretty stale around the edges the singularity notwithstanding. And then there’s Bytedance and Tencent.
The logic of the CMA in avoiding these issues rivals the Warren Commission’s Single Bullet Theory. But makes total sense as the triumph of the lobbyists for the biggest corporations in commercial history. And sometimes you just might find you get what you need.
We will continue to dig into this latest report and its methodology as will others like Tom Gray, the dynamic founder of the hugely effective #BrokenRecord campaign that led to this investigation which is not over by a long shot. Tom had this reaction to a what’s next question and we take his guidance:
The CMA’s initial findings are:
the music market doesn’t have much competition;
the actions of the Majors and DSPs actively reduce that competition;
artists and songwriters are mostly, if not entirely, doing badly out of it;
but they accept the status quo using the narrowest paradigm of competition and its value to the consumer. It doesn’t go near the fact that the Majors used market power to create the very ‘norms’ the report resigns us to.
A difficult read: one which points to the weakness or indifference of national ‘authorities’ in the face of the gross expansion of multi-nationals unfettered by regulation. Monopolies should be broken to protect citizens and workers, not only to defend consumerism’s need of a saving.
What’s most ironic is you could take the CMA’s findings to a different authority with a more progressive outlook and get a completely different result. They simply don’t seem to have considered it their job to care about the hugely visible negative consequences of concentrated power on musicmakers.
Many readers participated in the Physical and Download Mechanical Rates Survey that various organizations have sent to their members over the last few weeks. Here are the results of the main questions for which we had 361 respondents who self-selected their participation. (Other answers included comments which we chose not to publish for privacy reasons.).
The results suggest that participants were mostly informed songwriters who had never been asked before what they thought about the issues in the Copyright Royalty Board. We would have to conclude that any of our regular readers would be a bit skewed toward knowledgeable because between the Trichordist, MusicTechPolicy, ARW, Hypebot and Celebrity Access we were probably carrying a very high percentage of the available information on the frozen mechanicals issues.
It also is striking how few respondents said they had ever been asked what they think about any mechanical rates (physical, download, streaming), an important and easily measurable issue. This is something to add to the learning from this episode. It may be that our data is skewed, but even so we didn’t expect that 68% would say they’d never even been asked their opinion. An easy way to find out what people think about something is to ask them.
Thanks for the HUGE response to the songwriter survey on what you think the new unfrozen mechanical rate should be!! The response has been so strong we’re going to keep the survey open so more of you can participate.
This Survey Monkey questionnaire is anonymous and easy to take–3 minutes to complete–and you could really help a lot by giving your opinions on what you think the rate should be! We will post the results so everyone can see.
After all the effort and achievement by our great audience in support of songwriters getting paid fairly in the #FrozenMechanicals crisis, we are finally coming to where the rubber meets the road and trying to decide how much songwriters should get paid by record companies selling music in three ways (called “configurations”):
permanent downloads, like iTunes and Amazon;
vinyl discs, like you buy in record shops on Records Store Day;
and compact discs (CDs).
We’re expecting the final proposal to get made in a matter of days, and we thought it would be good to start with a short Survey Monkey questionnaire to get an idea of what this audience thinks. We’re collaborating with a number of songwriter organizations to distribute the questionnaire to their members and friends.
All the data will be anonymous and will be released when the questionnaire is done!
The plan is to get some more evidence of what we all think about a few core pricing ideas, thanks to the awesome Copyright Royalty Judges who have rejected extending the 16 year freeze in response to comments from the public and objections by George Johnson, the only songwriter in the Phonorecords IV proceeding.
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