Senator Leahy Says Show Me the Money on the MLC’s Black Box

Readers will recall that the Mechanical Licensing Collective, Inc. aka the MLC, is sitting on a pile of other peoples money (remember that the Mechanical Licensing Collective is the digital music services’ one-of-a-kind joint venture quango mandated by the good folks from Washington who are here to help). We estimate that the MLC has got at least $500 million socked away at City National Bank in Nashville collecting dust–or interest. More on that later. This would include current black box accruing since January 1, 2021 plus $424 million or so in historical black box that was voluntarily paid to the MLC by the DSPs in February 2021–an inexplicably large sum given all the DSP audits over the years. 

And the clock is ticking, tick tock, tick tock.

Readers will also recall that the U.S. Copyright Office is responsible for the operations of the MLC, or as they say in Washington where all the children are above average and no one is responsible for anything, “has oversight” which usually means “gets to blame somebody else” when the fan takes over. And of course the Congress has oversight of the Copyright Office. Every so often, the head of the Copyright Office gets the rare joy of attending an oversight hearing at the Congress which happened recently and resulted in certain follow up “questions for the record” that get answered in writing. 

The MLC and its employees should get one thing straight–they are about to be blamed for some grubby practices when Congress wants you to show them the money. And you will be thrown under the bus, count on it. Just think–you could have stolen the money the old fashioned way. In the dark. But no, you wanted the government to force songwriters to deal with you and you could not stop congratulating yourselves about how smart you were. Well, you wanted it, and now you’ve gotten it.

Senator Patrick Leahy, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, submitted some rather pointed questions about the MLC black box which drew a rather pointed response:

Question: The Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC), the organization created under the Music Modernization Act to collect mechanical royalties for songwriters and publishers, also has an obligation to identify the owners of musical works that have accrued royalties when the owners are not known. The major publishers who largely control the MLC keep the royalties from unidentified works if the owners cannot be found. Over the past year, the MLC has identified only a tiny fraction of the rightful owners. [You were warned.] The major publishers stand to gain hundreds of millions of dollars from that failure to find rightful owners. We did not intend to create a disincentive for the MLC and major publishers to find the rightful owners of music works.

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?

Response: The Mechanical Licensing Collective (“MLC”) should make every reasonable effort to ensure that royalties are paid to the rightful owners of musical works. According to the MLC’s first annual report, it has distributed over $420 million under the new blanket license for uses reported in 2021, with a steadily improving match rate reported to be approximately 88% of all royalties. 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. Notably, the MLC plans to wait to process historical unmatched royalties from the Phonorecords III rate period 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. [More on this PR III issue below]

The Copyright Office has been active on the issue of matching musical works to accurately pay copyright owners. Last year, we issued a report recommending best practices for the MLC to consider to reduce the incidence of unclaimed royalties. The report’s comprehensive recommendations ranged from high-level concepts to detailed suggestions across seven areas: (1) education and outreach; (2) usability of the MLC’s systems, including the public musical works database and claiming portal; (3) data quality; (4) matching practices; (5) holding and distributing unclaimed accrued royalties; (6) measuring success; and (7) transparency. One of the report’s most significant recommendations was that the MLC should hold unclaimed royalties for longer than the statutory minimum period, to maximize its matching efforts and the ability of copyright owners to make claims before any market-share-based distributions are made. We recommended that the MLC should wait to make such distributions of unclaimed royalties based on the evaluation of various objective criteria, like match rates and engagement metrics.

Additionally, the Office and the MLC are each involved in substantial education and outreach efforts to help ensure that publishers and songwriters, especially self-published songwriters, are aware of the Music Modernization Act (“MMA”), understand their rights under the new system, know that they can register their works with the MLC and claim royalties, and know that royalties for unclaimed works will be equitably distributed to known copyright owners.

[Here comes the bus.]. The Office is continuing to engage with the MLC and other industry stakeholders, including digital services and songwriters, to monitor the MLC’s progress as it continues to ramp up operations. While the MLC has not indicated that it plans to make a distribution of unclaimed royalties anytime soon, the Office possesses broad regulatory authority to act if necessary to prevent a premature distribution. The statute requires the MLC to give ninety days’ notice before any distribution. We have previously cautioned that making a premature distribution of unclaimed royalties could jeopardize the continuation of the MLC’s designation. 84 Fed. Reg. 32,274, 32,283 (July 8, 2019) (“[I]f the designated entity were to make unreasonable distributions of unclaimed royalties, that could be grounds for concern and may call into question whether the entity has the ‘administrative and technological capabilities to perform the required functions of the [MLC].’”) (quoting 17 U.S.C. § 115(d)(3)(A)(iii)).

One issue that is not discussed in the QFR or anywhere else for that matter is what is happening to the hundreds of millions that the MLC is sitting on. Remember that the MLC is required to pay a government interest rate on black box, and that interest rate has been steadily increasing this year thanks to the Federal Reserve. That interest payment is presumably covered under the MLC’s administrative assessment and government fees charged to music users for the privilege of using the compulsory blanket license.

But wait–there’s more. According to the MLC’s annual report (at p. 4), the MLC invests the black box according to its internal “Investment Policy” established by its board of directors.

Investment Policy: This policy covers the investment of royalty and assessmentfunds, 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’s Investment Policy. The Investment Policy was approved by the Board in January 2021.

This raises some interesting points. First and foremost, it is unclear where any trading profits reside. 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’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. 

Whether the ROI is returned to songwriters or to the users or retained by the MLC is unclear to me from the MLC’s annual report. It is also unclear as to the authority that the MLC’s board (or the Copyright Office for that matter) would have to put the songwriters’ money at risk in the market, what record keeping is made or required of the investments and ROI, or really much of anything at all, aside from the quoted statement above. 

It is also unclear how, if at all, the MLC distinguishes between ROI on royalty or the administrative assessment. It would make sense for trading profits on received but unspent administrative assessment funds to offset current or future assessments, but it’s not clear if that is done.

Assuming there are any. Profits, that is.

I was hoping that this topic would be addressed in the oversight hearing, but maybe next time.

Streaming Remuneration:  An answer to global cultural dominance by European/US Streaming Services

By Chris Castle

[from MusicTech.Solutions]

Streamers Lack of Local Cultural Contribution

Look at Spotify’s “Global Top 50” playlist on any day and the world’s biggest music service will show all or nearly all English language songs. With few exceptions these songs are performed by Anglo-American artists released by major record companies.  

These “enterprise” playlists largely take the place of broadcast radio for many users where Spotify operates and Spotify competes with local radio for advertising revenue on the free version of Spotify. 

Spotify’s now former general counsel told the recent inquiry into the music streaming economy conducted by the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, “Our job is sucking users away from radio[2] and Spotify uses its market power to do just that.  

However, Spotify has not been subject to any local content protections that would be in place for local radio broadcasters.  Enterprise playlists that exclude local music contributes to the destruction of music economies, including performers.  Local performers struggle even more to compete with Anglo-American repertoire, even in their own countries.  

Due to this phenomenon, local artists are forced to compete for “shelf space” with everyone in their local language and then the Anglo-American artists and their record companies.  This also means that local artists compete for a diminishing share of the payable royalties.  The “big pool” revenue share method of royalty compensation is designed to overcompensate the English-language big names and reduce payments to artists performing in other languages in their own country.

Local Content Rules 

Many countries implement local content broadcast rules that require broadcasters to play a certain number of recordings performed by local artists or indigenous people, songs written by local songwriters in local languages, or recordings that are released by locally-owned record companies.

Because streaming playlists, especially Spotify enterprise playlists or algorithmically selected recordings, are an equivalent to broadcast radio, there is a question as to whether national governments should regulate streaming services operating in their countries to require local content rules.  Implementing such rules could benefit local performers and songwriters in an otherwise unsustainable enviornment.

The Fallacy of Infinite Shelf Space

Because Spotify adds recordings at a rate of 60,000 tracks daily (now reports of 100,000 tracks daily) and never deletes recordings, there is a marked competitive difference between a record store and Spotify.  In the record store model, artists had to compete with recordings that were in current release; in the Spotify model, artists have to compete will all recordings ever released.  

Adding the dominant influence of Anglo-American recordings on Spotify, the “infinite shelf space” simply compounds the competitive problems for non-English recordings.

Streaming Remuneration Helps Solve the Sustainability Crisis

The streaming remuneration model requires streaming services—not record companies—to pay additional compensation to nonfeatured and featured performers.  Streaming remuneration would be created under national law and is compensatory in nature, not monies in exchange for a license.  Existing licenses (statutory or contractual) would not be affected and remuneration payments could not be offset by streamers against label payments or by labels against artist payments.

Each country would determine the amount to be paid to performers by streaming services and the payment periods.  Payments would be made to local CMOs or the equivalent depending on the infrastructure in the particular country.

European Corporate Dominance 

It must also be said that the two founders of Spotify hold a 10:1 voting control over the company through special stock issued only to them.  This means that these two Caucasian Europeans control 100% of the dominant music streaming company in the world.  For comparison, Google and Facebook have a similar model, while Apple has a 1 share 1 vote structure as does Amazon (although Jeff Bezos owns a controlling interest in Amazon).  

The net effect is that the entire global streaming music industry is controlled by six Caucasian males of European descent.  This demography also argues for local content rules to protect local performers from these influences that have produced an English-only Global Top 50 playlist.

Local governments could consider whether companies with the 10:1 voting stock (so-called “dual class” or “supervoting” shares) should be allowed to operate locally.

Countries Can Respond to Streaming’s Homogenized Algorithmic Playlist Culture

Many national cultural protection laws have a history of sustaining local culture and musicians in the face of the Anglo-American Top 40 juggernaut. There is no reason to think that these agencies are not up for the task of protecting their citizens in the face of algorithms and neuromarketing.

A Response to A2IM’s Objection to the New Statutory Mechanical Rates: Part 2

By Chris Castle

This post first appeared on MusicTechPolicy, continued from Part 1

The American Association of Independent Music, 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 chose not to 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. This is important because unlike independent songwriters who cannot afford the cost of participating at the CRB hearings, A2IM could have participated but chose not to.

As I told the Judges in my comment, I will focus on a few issues raised by A2IM 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 Longer Table

I actually was pleased to join A2IM at their annual Indie Week conference recently in New York on a panel devoted to this very topic.  I am well aware that they believe their members will be disproportionately affected by the increase in cost although I have not seen the data.  After many years in the music business, I will take on faith for purposes of this letter that they are correct.

I completely concur that the negotiation process for CRB needs a relook if not an overhaul.  I made the point on the A2IM panel that David Lowery and I intend to host a conference devoted largely to this subject [on November 15] at the University of Georgia at Athens.  Dr. Lowery and I are both of a mind that this issue needs to be vetted by the Copyright Office in their roundtable format.

However, I do not concur that the Subpart B resolution should be derailed at the 11th hour because of these structural issues that lawmakers no doubt will need to resolve.  The time for A2IM to have made their views known in Phonorecords IV has long passed.  They had the opportunity to participate in the proceeding, which individual songwriters could not afford to do, and they did not.  They had the opportunity to comment on the first and second comment periods for what became the rejected settlement and they did not.  They had the opportunity to insert themselves in the second settlement and appear not to have done so until filing a comment on the last day at the 11thhour.

Derailing the settlement for this purpose at the 11th hour is inappropriate.  Whether the Judges can even accomplish what is asked of them, I respectfully leave to Your Honors to decide, but I do think there’s a question of authority here.  I do support including all these topics being on the table for Phonorecords V as do many other commenters.

What is the Actual Cost to Labels of the New Rates?

While I am prepared to take disproportionate impact on faith, I am less prepared to take disproportionate financial impact without more data.  There is an assumption that A2IM labels all will have a one-to-one increase in costs because of the new rates, whatever they end up being.  I’m not so sure about that and would want to know a few things including the following.

Many indie labels operate on a revenue share basis with their artists (or licensors).  In those revenue share deals, the artist or licensor is paid a percentage of revenue that includes all mechanical royalties.  In that structure, the new rates have arguably zero impact on the [independent] label.

Because of rate fixing dates in deals [with controlled compositions clauses] where the label does pay the mechanicals, the new rates would only apply to records delivered during the rate period, i.e., after January 1, 2023.  Term recording artist agreements would typically include a controlled compositions clause as the Judges have noted in the Withdrawal Notice.  In such an arrangement, the label would be paying a modest increase and could easily tell the artist that unless the artist-songwriter agreed to take still lower rates based on the previously frozen rates, the label would be unable to release their records.

A2IM does make a good point about the bull-headedness of the DSPs on permanent download rates.  Perhaps the Judges could refer this issue to the Register for subsequent referral to the Department of Justice Antitrust Division to investigate these pricing practices.  Congress seems focused on these kinds of issues at the moment.

[It is unfair for A2IM to complain of being excluded from settlement negotiations by the labels who did participate in the proceedings and who did negotiate a settlement with the NMPA publishers who also participated in the proceedings. Participating in the proceedings is a threshold condition for participating in a settlement of the proceedings. It’s hardly the case that the major labels conspired against the indies this time. If A2IM labels were concerned about being included in these negotiations there are a number of steps they could have taken, starting with participating in the bifurcated Subpart B proceeding–a much less expensive proposition than the streaming side.

There is also a threshold question–that A2IM does not really address–as to whether the CRB has the authority to unilaterally change U.S. mechanical licensing structure that Congress initiated in 1909 and has been based on a penny rate ever since, not to mention hundreds of thousands of term recording artist agreements and licenses incorporating those statutory rates. The entire US recording industry is built on statutory rates and controlled compositions clauses, not to mention the valuations of music publishing catalogs. 

That change requested by A2IM is a question of such “magnitude and consequence” that it should require Congress to act based on both the CRB’s statutory authority, the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent holding in West Virginia vs. EPA as well as common sense. Not to mention there are other reasons why getting a CRB case before the Supreme Court could backfire and disrupt a process that in other important ways is working quite well.]

A Response to A2IM’s Objection to the New Statutory Mechanical Rates: Part 1

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.]

Where Was the Board? AdRev and YouTube Play Essential Supporting Roles in one of the Biggest YouTube Scams According to Billboard’s Reporting by @wordsbykristin

By Chris Castle

And that’s saying a lot. Thanks to first-class investigative reporting by Kristin Robinson at Billboard, the story of what looks to be one of the biggest advertising fraud cases can be told. It involves a whole lot of people looking the other way starting with the boards of directors of Downtown Music (which owns AdRev) and YouTube (which doles out access to Content ID).

This isn’t the first time Google and YouTube have been caught up with shady dealings due to Google being the paymaster of piracy and handing out advertising money which is the mothers milk of online crime. Trichordist readers will recall Maria Schneider’s 2016 post (“YouTube, Pushers of Piracy“) that foreshadowed her 2020 lawsuit against YouTube over the effects of YouTube’s restrictive access to Content ID that is now poised to go to trial

Trichordist readers will also recall the bad old days of brand sponsored piracy led by Google and Google’s ad serving deal with Megavideo according to the Megavideo indictment in an extradition proceeding that somehow…ahem…has been stalled offshore for ten years by a bottom less pit of legal fees paid for by someone in.a scene worthy of Hieronymus Bosch. 

And who can forget Google’s $500,000,000 non prosecution agreement with the DOJ when the Obama Justice Department refused to actually indict Larry Page, Sergei Brin and Eric Schmidt for violating the Controlled Substances Act and even apologized to Google–despite the 4,000,000 documents and who knows how much in person testimony before a Rhode Island grand jury that directly implicated Larry Page and the massive shareholder lawsuit and settlement against Google for squandering the shareholders money keeping the C-suite’s butts out of prison. When questioned about the nonprosecution agreement by Senator John Cornyn before the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, Eric “Uncle Sugar” Schmidt refused to answer on the advice of counsel, often referred to as “taking the Fifth.”

L-R Google Brain Trust Chief Shill Pablo Chavez, Uncle Sugar, Head Lawyer David Drummond

But it is the first time that Downtown has been involved. I have the same question of both companies: Where was the board? The reason we have boards of directors is to protect the shareholders from exactly this kind of thing. In YouTube’s case, they have another layer of fiduciary duty–protecting the advertisers–both large and small–who trust them with billions of the advertisers’ money. Not to mention the children that the platform caters to.

Take the time to read Kristin Robinson’s outstanding journalism and then see if you can answer the question–where were the boards? I think the entire story hasn’t been told.

San Antonio Musicians: Texas Public Radio Presents the Music Artist Forum TODAY

Get more info and materials here

TPR Music Artist Forum | In Partnership with SLATT Management

Musicians of all ages are invited to a networking workshop and panelist discussion dedicated to understanding the future of music technology, copyright law, entertainment law, obtaining royalties, and navigation of music streaming services.

Address:

321 W. Commerce St, San Antonio, TX 78205

Doors open at 6:30pm. 

Panelist discussion will take place at 7:00pm.

Guest Panelists:

Ondrejia Scott | 7:00pm – 7:10pm

Chris Castle | 7:10pm – 7:20pm

Krystal Jones | 7:20pm – 7:30pm

Dr. Steven Parker | 7:30pm – 7:40pm

Linda Bloss-Baum | 7:40pm – 7:50pm

Food and drinks will be provided.

Musicians are welcome to submit an original track to be featured on our TPR Music Artist Forum playlist:

Professional headshots will be offered free of charge by Oscar Moreno.

We will be ending out the night with a special live performance by J. Darius live in the Malú and Carlos Alvarez Theater.

RSVP here to reserve your spot for this free event!

No More Poormouthing: Daniel Ek’s $310,000,000 Edifice Complex is Real, and Spotify’s PR Effluvia is Overflowing — Artist Rights Watch

By Chris Castle

As we reported February 9, Spotify is using hundreds of millions of its supernormal stock market riches to acquire naming rights to the Barcelona soccer team. The latest manifestation of Daniel Ek’s monopolist edifice complex was confirmed by Music Business World Wide and Variety among others, as well as Spotify itself. Barcelona’s iconic Camp Nou stadium (largest football stadium in Europe) will now be known as Spotify Camp Nou.

I assume that when Netflix finds out about this, there will be an epilogue to their Edward Bernays-style epic corporate biopic that will ignore the Rogan catastrophe but will include the Barcelona deal with a tight shot on the Spotify Camp Nou and probably a t-shirt vendor.

Let us take one clear message from this navel-gazing naming-rights deal to assuage Daniel Ek’s psyche after a losing bid to acquire the Arsenal football club and join the International League of Oligarchs. That message is that we don’t ever want to hear again about how Spotify “can’t make a profit” or “pays out too much money for music.” Daniel Ek–who controls the company through his super voting stock–has been running that diversion play for way too long and it’s just as much BS spewing from his mouth as it is any of the Silicon Valley oligarchs who whinge about how poor they are when they appear in court. 

Let us also agree that anyone who takes a royalty deal from any DSP that does not include an allocation for stock valuation is quite simply a rube who must be laughed at and mocked in the Spotify board room. This stock value allocation doesn’t require a grant of shares, but can include a dollar contribution that tracks share value and should be paid directly to both featured artists, session musicians and vocalists through their collective rights organizations on a nonrecoupment basis.

But don’t let me describe the bullshit, read it yourself directly from Spotify’s “Chief Freemium Business Officer” whatever the hell that means:

Statement of Alex Norström, Chief Freemium Business Officer, Spotify

“We could not be more thrilled to be partnering with FC Barcelona to bring the worlds of Music and Football together. From July, our collaboration will offer a global stage to Artists, Players and Fans at the newly-branded Spotify Camp Nou. We have always used our marketing investment to amplify Artists and this partnership will take this approach to a new scale. We’re excited to create new opportunities to connect with FC Barcelona’s worldwide fanbase.

Spotify’s mission is to unlock the potential of human creativity, supporting artists to make a living off their art and connecting with fans. We believe this partnership creates many opportunities to deliver on this mission in unique, imaginative, and impactful ways.”

Yes, that’s right. Daniel Ek’s edifice complex is all about unlocking the potential of human creativity because it’s all for the artists, don’t you know.

These people continue to embarrass themselves with their insufferable 1999er BS without realizing that any artist whose name shows up on a single Barcelona jersey will extract a considerable additional payment that the artist will keep and the labels won’t save Spotify on that one. Even if they do, there are only certain artists who don’t mind their names appearing on Barcelona jerseys–for a price. The overwhelming majority will not only not want it but are insulted that the “Chief Freemium Business Officer” is so ignorant of their name and likeness rights that he would even remotely float the idea that Spotify had the right to do anything like that level of grift.

If Mr. Freemium is really serious about “supporting artists to make a living off their art”, forego the edifice stroke and just pay that money directly to featured artists, session folk, and songwriters that have made him rich. Until then, he should just say you’re damn right we used the stockholders money to soothe Daniel Ek’s wounded ego because he desperately wants to be accepted by the Party of Davos and the League of Extraordinary Dweebs. Because we’ve already established what kind of people they are, it’s just a question of negotiating the price.

But let’s face it–what the monopolist really wants is a branded Monopoly game.

Songwriter Needs Help: GoFundMe Fundraiser for Hugh Prestwood and Judy Ahrens–ArtistRightsWatch

By Chris Castle

[This post first appeared on ArtistRightsWatch.]

If you ever thought we were too aggressive in our campaign to end the 15 year freeze on statutory royalties for physical, consider the situation of songwriter Hugh Prestwood and his wife, photojournalist Judy Ahrens. Songwriters and photographers are two occupations that are devastated by the digital blight that has visited apocalyptic devastation on creators.

As Hugh says in their GoFundMe page, his songwriting income was destroyed by the massive change in the economics of songwriting that split apart the album format with no commensurate increase in songwriter royalties. Songs became a major driver of wealth for hardware manufacturers and Internet providers (remember dancing cows chanting rip, mix, burn?) in the 2000s, and streaming drives wealth for catalogs and platforms. The doubling effect of Moore’s Law imposes a halving effect on creator royalties. Hugh and Judy are living proof of what happens to an aging population of creators who could not have possibly planned around the digital blight–other than learning to code, I guess.

Of course we want to encourage readers to contribute what you can to Hugh and Judy’s GoFundMe, but we also want to make a larger point. 

The Copyright Royalty Judges need to understand that there are real consequences to real people when they freeze mechanical royalties. While the Judges are not responsible for all the harms that accrue to songwriters in the rigged statutory licensing and royalty scheme, they do play a part and they can make a difference. Songwriters may not expect the Judges to fix their problems, but they do expect them not to make it worse. Freezing rates for 15 years makes it worse.

The Judges should also understand that they have an opportunity to do something to add fairness back into the system that the Judges effectively control. Creators like Hugh and Judy will never appear in their courtroom alongside the well-heeled lobbyists and lawyers who make millions off of the rate proceedings and the black box in what has become a laughingstock. 

Congress, too, needs to listen up. It is well past time for a songwriter advocate to be a permanent part of the Copyright Royalty Board proceedings for mechanical royalty rate settings. A songwriter advocate would speak for people like Hugh and Judy. As Linda said of Willie Lohman in Death of a Salesman, “Attention must be paid.” I’m not asking that songwriters should be able to overrule the lobbyists, although that’s not a bad idea.

But at least hear them out before they’re all gone.

@ashleyjanamusic’s Video Tells You All You Need to Know About Spotify’s Attitude Toward Artists

By Chris Castle

[This post first appeared on Artist Rights Watch]

Mansplaining, anyone? If you remember Spotify’s 2014 messaging debacle with Taylor Swift, we always suspected that the Spotify culture actually believed that artists should be grateful for whatever table scraps that Spotify’s ad-supported big pool model threw out to artists. They were only begrudgingly interested in converting free users to paid subscribers, which still pays artists nothing due to the big pool’s hyper-efficient market share revenue distribution model. 

And then there was another one of Spotify’s artist and label relations debacles with Epidemic Sound–Spotify’s answer to George Orwell’s “versificator” in the Music Department that produced “countless similar songs published for the benefit of the proles by a sub-section of the Music Department.”

The common threads of most of Spotify’s crazy wrong turns–and they are legion–is what they indicate: An incredible heartless arrogance and an utter failure to understand the business they are in. A business that ultimately turns on the artists and the songwriters. As long as there is an Apple Music and the other music streaming platforms, artists can simply walk across the street–which is why Taylor Swift could make Daniel Ek grovel like a little…well, let’s just leave it at grovel.

But–this long history of treating artists and especially songwriters poorly is what makes it so important to preserve Apple Music as a healthy competitor to Spotify and the only thing that stops Spotify from becoming a monopolist. A fact that seems entirely lost on their boy Rep. David Cicilline’s anti-Apple bill that “seems aimed directly at Apple and has Spotify’s litigation against Apple written all over it.” (Mr. Cicilline runs virtually unopposed in his Rhode Island elections, which if you know anything about Rhode Island politics is just the way the “Crimetown” machine likes it.)

Why are ostensibly smart people given to such arrogance? Mostly because they are rich and believe their own hype. But never has that reality been on such public display in all its putridness than in a truly unbelievable exchange at the Sync Summit in 2019 in New York between home town independent artist Ashley Jana and former Spotify engineer Jim Anderson who was being interviewed by Mark Freiser who runs that conference (and who doesn’t exactly come off like a prize puppy either). 

Ashley recorded the entire exchange in (what else) a YouTube video and Digital Music News reported on it recently. Here’s part of the exchange between Ashley and Mr. Anderson after Ashley had the temerity to bring up…money!

Jana: We’re not making any money off of the streams. And I know that you know this, and I’m not trying to put you on the spot. I’m just saying, one cent is really not even that much money if you add 2 million times .01, it’s still not that much. And if you would just consider —

Anderson: Oh, I’m going to go down this road, you know that.

Interviewer (Mark Frieser): This is really not a road we’ve talked about before, but I’m gonna let him do this —

Jana: Thank you again.

Anderson: Do you want me to go down this road? I’m gonna go down this road.

Frieser: Well, if you need to.

Anderson: Wait, do I go down the entitlement road now, or do I wait a minute?

Frieser: Well, you know what, I think you should do what you need to do.

Anderson: Should we do it now?

Frieser: Yeah, whatever you feel you need to do.

Anderson: So maybe I should go down the entitlement road now?  Or should I wait a few minutes?

Frieser: Do you want to wait a few minutes? Maybe take another question or two?

Anderson: [to the audience] Do you guys want to talk about entitlement now? Or do we talk about —

[Crowd voices interest in hearing the answer from Anderson]

Jana: I don’t think it’s entitlement to ask for normal rates, like before.

Anderson: Normal rates?

Jana: No, the idea is to make it a win-win situation for all parties.

Anderson: Okay, okay. So we should talk about entitlement. I mean, I have an issue with Taylor Swift’s comments. I have this issue with it, and we’ll call it entitlement. I mean, I consider myself an artist because I’m an inventor, okay? Now, I freely give away my patents for nothing. I never collect royalties on anything.

I think Taylor Swift doesn’t need .00001 more a stream. The problem is this: Spotify was created to solve a problem. The problem was this: piracy and music distribution. The problem was to get artists’ music out there. The problem was not to pay people money.

You really should listen to the entire video to really comprehend the arrogance dripping off of Mr. Anderson’s condescension.

@theBlakeMorgan Joins the List Opposing Frozen Mechanicals at the Copyright Royalty Board #irespectmusic

Blake Morgan songwriter, publisher, producer and label owner, two-time U.S. Supreme Court amicus, founder of the #irespectmusic campaign and relentless artist rights advocate joins the list opposing frozen mechanicals on vinyl and physical. “This is about so many things, but we simply must fight to keep digging out from a 68 year injustice. Big thanks to the inspirational Abby North for standing up for fairness and transparency!”

BlakeIRespectMusic

Against Frozen MechanicalsSupporting 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 
North Music Group 
Blake Morgan