If you’ve received one of these emails from the MLC about having to recast their monthly statement inside of a single month, when you’re eying that $500,000,000 of supposedly unmatched money that’s sitting in the MLC, Inc.’s bank account (maybe?), or if you’re trying to figure out when they are launching the vastly overdue claiming portal, you’re probably wondering–who’s in the clown car today? Bozo or Pennywise?
But maybe they’re smarter than they look. Because all they have to do to distribute that $500,000,000 on a market share basis is keep you looking at the bright and shiny object while they run out the clock.
And if you’re waiting for the Copyright Office to save you because they have “oversight”, you’re going to be waiting for a long time. Here’s the reality–nobody is minding the store. There’s a difference between “oversight” and “overwatch.” In Washington, “oversight” means finding someone else to blame and from the very beginning it has been clear who the MLC intends to blame–you. Because you didn’t “play your part” or sufficiently “connect to collect”.
The Copyright Office has done a couple things while under the supervision of the current head lobbyist for Spotify. They’re good at studies, terrible at oversight, so let’s give credit where it’s due. But also realize that’s where it stops because they have about as much moxie as a starfish. (And if you think the NMPA is going to save you, take a look at the frozen mechanicals debacle and ask yourself if a rational person could really take that seriously.)
At the core of the MLC’s business model is the ability to match. Matching is kind of a “See Spot run” building block. If you can’t match, it’s very close to saying you can’t count. Because it depends on what the definition of “match” is.
So what is a match? Or as the Bard might say, how can I screw thee? Let me count the ways. The Copyright Office produced the Unclaimed Royalties Best Practices study partly on this very topic. Notice the difference between “best practices” and “rules.” “Best practices” is not the same as “rule”. If you violate a best practice, nothing happens to you, so therefore perfect for Washington. If you violate a rule, bad things happen to you. The connective tissue is enforcement. If you violate a rule at the Securities and Exchange Commission, you wear stripes. If you violate a rule at the Environmental Protection Agency, you will pay a fine, for sure. If you violate a rule at the MLC? There really aren’t any so it can’t happen. In other words, it’s just like the Harry Fox Agency.
But that’s what we have so let’s look at one passage in particular from the Best Practice Study because that’s the closest we have to a rule book.
The Office recommends that the MLC make all [matching] metrics publicly available, except to the extent it would cause confidential or business sensitive information to be improperly disclosed. [God forbid.] Specifically regarding match rates, the Office acknowledges the MLC’s point that “vendors can easily increase their claimed ‘match percentage’ by simply dropping the confidence level at which they call something a match.” For that reason, the Office recommends that the MLC provide appropriate context for its metrics, including information surrounding how it defines a match, relevant confidence levels, and how confidence levels are tuned. Additionally, so that they are clear and precise, and to avoid possible confusion, the Office recommends that all royalty figures be provided both with and without accrued interest. [How about a best practice of how they are practicing complying with best practices best?
The Office recommends that in addition to providing annual statistics in its annual report, the MLC also have a dedicated public webpage displaying all of these metrics in a clear, well-organized, user-friendly, and accessible manner. The webpage should be interactive and allow users to search, sort, and break down the data so it may be more easily reviewed and analyzed. The webpage should also have an export or download feature, including bulk exporting/downloading, to aid public consumption and dissemination. The Office recommends that the webpage be updated monthly after each batch of new reports of usage arrive and go through initial matching processes. All metrics should be retained and made available online indefinitely (though the MLC could distinguish between current and historic metrics in the future) so long-term trends can be assessed and to ensure the public and the Office have access to them in connection with the review of the MLC’s designation every five years. The MLC should also be very clear about how applicable metrics may change in response to DMP reporting adjustments and the reconciliation of any related royalty underpayments or overpayments permitted by the Office’s regulations. Relatedly, the Office also recommends that the MLC make publicly available relevant metrics about DMP reported usage that the MLC determines is not subject to blanket licenses (e.g., where it is subject to a voluntary license instead, public domain musical works, etc.), such that any related paid royalties have been credited or refunded back to the DMP.
What would also be nice is to tell you how much of your money they are holding and how you get it back. Maybe they could practice the best out of that.
There’s nothing particularly insightful about any of that, right? It’s the kind of thing that any songwriter giving the subject a moment or two of thought could have figured out at any point in the last 100 years. It’s also the kind of thing that you would have expected to have been built into the MLC’s system–which is essentially the HFA system–from the beginning.
It doesn’t matter what they say they aspire to do. Naturally they have to say they aspire to get it 100% correct–because otherwise that raises some interesting questions about intent, right?
Will they ever be called to account for their failures? Doubtful. The only business in the world where you can get the government to let you hold $500,000,000 of other people’s money and then keep it because paying it out was just too hard for you.
Do you think this mess is what Congress had in mind after they were fed a bunch of crap by the know-nothing lobbyists?
So let’s ask again–Bozo or Pennywise?