Guest Post by @poedavid: “Dance Like Nobody’s Paying?” Spotify isn’t

by David Poe

Spotify’s disastrous “dance like nobody’s paying” ad campaign has now been demolished in the national press, garnering negative coverage in Newsweek, Billboard, NME, Hypebot, and more. Sometimes big corporations slip up and show us what they really think of us, and this was one of those times.

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But what’s Spotify’s plan?  Here, Variety’s Patrick McGuire suggests Spotify’s intent is to divide listeners and musicmakers:

Similar to the way many people bite into a cheeseburger with no consideration for the cow and farm of its origin, campaigns like Spotify’s widens the growing divide between listeners and creators. Audiences intellectually understand that music doesn’t magically materialize out of nothingness for the exclusive purpose of entertaining them, but as music continues its irreversible transition to all things digital, listeners are becoming less aware and interested in how artists create, record, produce, and share music. With a 2017 Nielsen Music report showing that, on average, Americans now spend over 32 hours a week listening to music, it’s clear that music is hugely important in the lives of listeners — just not in ways that provide meaningful visibility and support to musicians.

Ever heard that song “Put another nickel in / In the Nickelodeon”? It’s from 1950 (written by Stephen Weiss & Bernie Baum.)

Everyone loves streaming. But more than half a century later, most streaming services contend that a song isn’t worth a penny. I respectfully disagree.

Because a song isn’t really a song until someone listens to it, no  musicmaker should be faulted for utilizing all available platforms. But streaming in 2019 forces music makers and fans into the middle of a moral hazard. Music enthusiasts should be able to listen to streaming music without having to compromise their scruples, or that of their favorite bands.

Despite the lack of transparency in the music industry, The Trichordist has managed to cobble together an annual Streaming Price Bible.  It is the most credible summary I’ve found on what each streaming service pays, which may impact where Spotify listeners choose to put their dough-re-mi:

2018_streamingbible

How Bad Is it for Music Makers?

You can easily see from the chart what each service pays for recordings.  At about $0.003 per stream, Spotify pays little but has the greatest market share.  At about $0.0002 per stream, Google/YouTube is even worse.

Very different companies. Their commonality: free music, which has made them rich from ad revenue and data scraping, but mostly from their stock price increasing at the expense of musicmakers.

Let’s put this in context.  To earn a monthly US minimum wage, an artist on Spotify would need 380,000 streams by some estimates.

To make the same monthly salary as the average Spotify employee, a songwriter would need 288,000,000 streams.

Frozen Mechanicals

For reference, the statutory rate for a song on a CD or download is 9.1 cents — 4.1 cents more than ye olde Nickelodeon of the 1950s.

FROZEN MECHANICALS 1909-1977

You might say that’s better than the old days—but it isn’t as good as it looks, because the song rate was frozen for 68 years before it began gradually increasing … only to be frozen again in 2009, where it will stay until 2022.

FROZEN MECHANICALS 2009-2022

Clearly, streaming has all but replaced CDs and downloads, but without replacing revenue from songs to musicmakers.

Money is being made from streaming if you look at it on an industry-wide basis.  But—due to the hyper efficient market share distribution of the “big pool” revenue share accounting instead of a user-centric model (or the “ethical pool,”) individual music makers are far worse off.  More than ever, streaming revenue is not paid to music makers who don’t share in the big advances or Spotify stock.

You Can’t Compete With Free

The vast majority of Spotify users are in the “free tier”. By offering free access, Spotify artificially distorts the streaming market and disallows competition amongst streaming companies. As musicians have learned the hard way, you can’t compete with free.

Spotify likes to say it’s artist-friendly, a tool for music discovery.

Guilty of chronic copyright infringement, Spotify was founded by a former pirate.  It’s a corporate ethos built on theft.  The Music Modernization Act essentially gave Spotify a new safe harbor, but its tactics haven’t changed.

There’s additional shadiness here: allegations of gender discrimination and equal pay violation,expensive, state-subsidized offices, executive  bonuses,corporate lobbyists,a dicey DPO and of course, the “fake artist” scandal.

Spotify’s ongoing lobbying campaign against artist rights continues despite the unanimous passage of the Music Modernization Act in Congress last year (and the jury is out on the MMA and Spotify’s safe harbor).  Shocker—Spotify apparently reneged on agreements it made to accept the Copyright Royalty Board’s mandated increase in songwriter pay.  Another bonehead move that was publicly rebuked by songwriters from Spotify’s “secret geniuses” charm offensive, including Nile Rodgers and Babyface.

Spotify was joined by Amazon, Google, and Pandora in “suing songwriters” to appeal the Copyright Royalty Board’s ruling that increased the paltry streaming mechanical rate, which Spotify lawyer Christopher Sprigman argued against in court.

Apple Music does not have a free tier and yet was the only major streaming service that did not challenge the new royalty (44% more, which means 0.004 instead of 0.003, which is still bullshit.)  

This may be because Apple recognizes that music helped save its ass from financial ruin 20 years ago. Math is not my strong suit, but numbers indicate music (via the iPod, a now-obsolete door stop) generated nearly half of Apple’s accumulated wealth not to mention introducing a new audience to Apple’s other awesome products.

Or it could just be that Apple understands creators and may actually like us.  There’s a thought.  We were early adopters—Macs have been in every recording studio and creative department for decades.   

Apple Music’s intent to increase artist pay to a penny per side is its best yet, but now long overdue.   Which is a shame, because a trillion dollar market cap company could afford to redistribute some wealth.  If Apple offered a fair alternative, most would run screaming from the competition.

The Generational Problem

There are many who are more expert than me, some quoted in this post. I’d rather be staring into space strumming guitar and writing a song than here discussing music and money.

But I’m concerned for the next generation of artists, especially the musical innovators. Here’s why:

There used to exist a sort of musical middle class. Artists in all mediums expected financial struggle but there was the possibility of making a living and even growing as an independent artist.  That might include a record deal or selling CDs at a gig in order to make it to the next town.

Songwriters could get an album cut and get by or even do well if the album sold (Jody Gerson has a great explanation of this.)  Musicians of quality could see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Streaming has “disrupted” all of that.

Light’s out.

Bands’ streaming access may—may—help build an audience that may somehow convince talent buyers to book gigs that route your tour, which is awesome. But sustaining a career is still cost-prohibitive for many.

Thus the Top 40 is full of the children of the affluent.

Not children of millionaires: Stevie. Dylan. John & Paul. Aretha.

Those of us who have been making music for awhile will remember the optimistic, 1990s-era “monetize the back end” argument: bands on the road can make up income lost to streaming by selling merch.

I tour, too. I wish the best to every band who does so.

But not every musician can travel … or got into music to sell a fuckin hat.

Another common sense rebuttal to “shut up and tour:” INCOME FROM LIVE SHOWS WAS NEVER MEANT TO REPLACE THAT OF MUSIC SALES — plus both have investment costs and overhead to produce.

Gas costs what gas costs.

Mics cost what mics cost.

Streaming doesn’t pay what music costs.

Sorry to yell. Just sick of this lie that to make up for streaming losses all recording artists, especially senior citizens, should tour forever. Or the assumption they are all rolling in dough! Tell that to the punk rock drummer, alto player, the cellist, the songwriter.

Note: It’s almost impossible to buy a new car or laptop that plays a CD. Low income streaming has effectively replaced higher income physical sales.

So if streaming is to be the primary method of music distribution — if not the only one — then pay artists fairly.  Or it really will be lights out, if not for the huge artists who regularly celebrate stupidity then for the ones whose songs you want played at your funeral.

Without musicmakers, Spotify has nothing. When Spotify says “dance like nobody’s paying,” it’s because they don’t.

Given support from listeners and lawmakers, this era of economic injustice via streaming may one day be a footnote.  Fans should not be paying for music they don’t listen to which is what has been happening and is a hallmark of streaming gentrification.

Now, listeners must demand fair pay for musicians they claim to love, whether it is higher streaming royalties or a user-centric royalty allocation—or both.

#IRespectMusic

[This post first appeared on MusicTechPolicy]

Guest Post @musictechpolicy: Another Bad Artist Relations Week for Spotify

By Chris Castle

Spotify released one of their groovy ad campaigns last week.  This time celebrating their freebie subscription campaign.

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You really do have to wonder where they find the people who come up with these things.

Blake Morgan, David Lowery and David Poe all laid into Spotify with their own tweets.  Just like Lowery’s seminal “Letter to Emily” post, but much faster, social media began driving traditional media with the story.

Billboard, Newsweek, Variety and New Music Express all picked up the story in 24 hours, and many others are also picking up the story.  I did a short post that Hypebot connecting the dots from the giveaway campaigns to user-centric royalties.

But the capper was the Godwin’s Law moment when Spotify’s lawyer and NYU professor Christopher Sprigman went after both Blake and David Lowery on Twitter for reasons that are frankly lost on me.  Professor Sprigman had something of a bizarre moment when he compared Lowery to Alex Jones which culminated in this exchange (recall that Alex Jones was deplatformed):

Sprigman 1

It should not be lost on anyone that Professor Sprigman supported Professor Lessig’s losing argument in the Eldred v. Ashcroftcase and apparently was co-counsel with Lessig in another losing argument in the Kahle v. Gonzalescase.  It also must be said that David Lowery and Melissa Ferrick’s class action against Sprigman client Spotify and Lowery’s case against Rhapsody were probably among the most consequential copyright cases (along with BMG v. Cox)  in the last five years.  Some would say that the Lowery cases set the table for the Music Modernization Act (and it should come as no surprise that David was asked to serve on one of the committees).

So while Professor Sprigman may find that Lowery “isn’t important”, there is a crucial difference between Professor Sprigman’s big copyright cases and David’s.  Want to guess what it is?

Some are speculating that Sprigman is retaliating on Blake and David Lowery for their successful commentary on his client Spotify–but I’d want to see a lot more proof.  Until then, you’d have to say Charlie has a point when he says that Sprigman is kind of an academic Bob Lefsetz.

Sprigman 2

And Spotify stumbles across the finish line of another bad media week of dissing artists.  Whew. Thank God it’s Monday, right?

MLC Candidates Agree to Hold Black Box Until 2023, Copyright Office to review unmatched distribution practices — Artist Rights Watch

[Editor Charlie sez:  It appears that the pressure on the Copyright Office to supervise black box distribution practices by the conflict-ridden Mechanical Licensing Collective procedures has resulted in a commitment to hold the initial distribution until 2023.  It is unclear if this also means that the designated MLC cannot offset its startup costs against the black box.  As Ed Christman reported in Billboard on June 26, 2019 (“House Judiciary Hearing on Copyright Office Reviews Music Modernization Act, Black Box Royalty Concerns”) the Copyright Office intends to commence their best practices study after designating the MLC on July 8, which should give everyone an opportunity to weigh in on how the MLC should operate.  Commenters could include the digital services who could voluntarily disclose the efforts that they and their outside vendors had in place during the period that the black box accrued.]

 

[U.S. Register of Copyrights Karen A.] Temple repeatedly assured the committee that the MMA gives the Copyright Office responsibility to distribute the black box money appropriately, noting that in addition to the agreement not to distribute before 2023, the Copyright Office has the responsibility to review the processes that the MLC is engaging to reduce black box money.

Read the post on Billboard

 

[Here is the code section from MMA about the Copyright Office study that appears to be the basis for regulations on the MLC’s distribution of unmatched funds, a study that may be the only time in a generation that songwriters get to be heard about these unmatched payments.]

UNCLAIMED ROYALTIES STUDY AND RECOMMENDATIONS.— (1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 2 years after the date on which the Register of Copyrights initially designates the mechanical licensing collective under section 115(d)(3)(B)(i) of title 17, United States Code, as added by subsection (a)(4), the Register, in consultation with the Comptroller General of the United States, and after soliciting and reviewing comments and relevant information from music industry participants and other interested parties, shall submit to the Committee on the Judiciary of the Senate and the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives a report that recommends best practices that the collective may implement in order to— (A) identify and locate musical work copyright owners with unclaimed accrued royalties held by the collective; (B) encourage musical work copyright owners to claim the royalties of those owners; and (C) reduce the incidence of unclaimed royalties.

 

via MLC Candidates Agree to Hold Black Box Until 2023, Copyright Office to review unmatched distribution practices — Artist Rights Watch

Guest Post: @musictechsolve: Betting on the House: Issues that House Judiciary Should Investigate Against Google–End Supervoting Shares for Publicly Traded Companies

by Chris Castle

The House Judiciary Committee announced recently that it was opening an antitrust investigation into “tech giants” including Google.  Chairman Jerry Nadler said:

[T]here is growing evidence that a handful of gatekeepers have come to capture control over key arteries of online commerce, content, and communications…Given the growing tide of concentration and consolidation across our economy, it is vital that we investigate the current state of competition in digital markets and the health of the antitrust laws.

We’re going to do a series of posts about some issues Chairman Nadler should consider in the Judiciary Committee’s review of Big Tech business practices.  These posts will cover issues that relate both to Google as well as Facebook, Spotify and some others.  Let’s start with reforming corporate governance and bring eyesight to the willfully blind.

1.   One Share, One Vote, Not Ten Votes for the Special People:  Anyone in the music business has had just about enough of government oversight from the consent decrees to rate setting to the Music Modernization Act, so I don’t recommend it as a solution in general.  But–in the absence of marketplace transparency, the government is about the only place to go to bring reforms to well-heeled corporations.  So rather than ask the government to fix specific problems on an ad hoc basis, the government would do well to ask what causes the market to fail as it clearly has with Google.  Then rip out that problem root and branch.

The first question to ask when confronted with all of Google’s overreach is where was the board?  That’s an easy question to answer in Google’s case–they were in the pockets of the insiders as you will see.  But we ask that question because corporate boards of directors are supposed to be the first line of oversight to keep companies, especially publicly traded companies, from running off of the rails.

In Google’s case, the core problem is both easy to find and (I hope) easy to fix.  It lies in the voting structure of the shareholders.  Shareholder rights and corporate charters are state law matters and don’t relate to the federal government, but–the federal government does have a say about who gets to sell shares to the public. (For those reading along at home, I’m thinking of the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 under the jurisdiction of the Securities and Exchange Commission.)

The federal government also has an interest in protecting those who purchase the shares of publicly traded corporations.  It is this nexus that gives the House Judiciary Committee clear oversight authority over the corporate structure of at least publicly traded corporations.  Once a start up decides to feed from the trough of the public’s money, they should expect to answer to their public shareholders.

While anti-coup d’etat provisions might make sense for private companies whose investors are sophisticated financiers, or newspapers seeking to retain editorial independence, once that company is publicly traded a bald discrepancy that simply mandates voting power to the insiders forever seems like it has to go.  And as we have seen with Google, the lack of corporate oversight has resulted in unbelievable arrogance and a complete failure of corporate responsibility.  And worse yet, because Google got away with it, lots of other tech companies follow essentially the same model (including Facebook, Spotify and Linkedin).

Take stock buy backs for example, such as the $1 billion stock buy back announced by Spotify.  It must also be said that stock buybacks approved by a board where insiders who benefit from the buyback have supervoting shares and control the board is a practice that reeks to high heaven.  Buybacks and dual class supervoting shares have been widely criticized including by Securities and Exchange Commission Commissioner Robert Jackson who is also a critic of supervoting shares.

So how did Google come to give control to its insiders, essentially forever?  Google’s supervoting structure started when Google was a private company as a way for the founders to preserve control and avoid venture capital investors pushing them around.

OK, fine, I understand that. But once Google went public with their IPO that made those same insiders billionaires several times over, why should the insiders keep that level of control?

You may ask how that supervoting stock works?

Google (which is really its parent company, Alphabet) trades under two ticker symbols on the  NASDAQ: GOOGL Class A and GOOG Class C.

Oops.  What happened to Class B?  Ay, there’s the rub.

Class B shares are not publicly traded and are held by insiders only.  But as you will see, they control every aspect of the company.  So how do Google’s insiders get this share structure?  There’s actually a simple answer.  Class A shares (GOOGL) get one vote per share, Class B shares get 10 votes per share and Class C shares (GOOG) get no votes.

That’s right–Class B shares cannot be purchased and their holders get 10 times the voting power of the Class A holders, often called “supervoting” shares, because their super power is…well…voting.  (When sold, Class B shares convert to Class A shares.)

The Class C shares were created as part of a 1:1 stock split that doubled the number of shares, halfed the price per share, but resulted in no change of the voting power of the Class A and C shareholders.  Class A holders got double the shares but half the voting power post-split.

When the dust settled, the Google/Alphabet voting capitalization table looked something like this:

Class A: 298 million shares and 298 million votes, or roughly 40% of the voting power with votes counting 1:1.

Class B: 47 million shares and 470 million votes, or roughly 60% of the voting power with votes counting 10:1.

What this also means is that the holders of Class B shares voting as a bloc will never–and I mean never–be outvoted at a shareholder meeting, their board of directors will never be challenged much less replaced and shareholder meetings are a one way communication event where the insiders tell the stockholders how the insiders will spend their money.

Who controls the Class B shares?  I culled out some numbers for individual holders which may not be entirely accurate, but the individual holders are who you would expect.  These numbers shift around a bit depending on whose sold what (if you want to drill down, you can check the SEC’s Form 4 filings, such as this one for Sergey Brin).  These are the people that Commissioner Jackson might call the “corporate royalty“:

Larry Page: 20 million shares (as of 2017)

Sergey Brin: 35,300 Class B shares plus 35,300 Class A shares (as of 2018)

Eric Schmidt: 1.19 million Class B shares, 40,934 Class A shares, and 10,983 Class A Google shares, plus 2.91 million Class B shares through family trusts.

Sundar Pichai: 6,317 Class A shares and no Class B shares.

The House Judiciary Committee has a chance to correct the supervoting system as bad policy and implement a long-term fix across the board for all dual-class companies that want to trade on the public exchanges.

This means that the “corporate royalty” at Google, Facebook and Spotify would be much more accountable to shareholders which would help keep the company on the rails. I think that the Judiciary Committee might find that they are pushing on an open door at the SEC, especially with Commissioner Jackson.

The essential proposal is a simple tradeoff–if you want to keep supervoting stock, sell your shares privately to sophisticated investors under a registration exemption and don’t sell shares to the general public.  But if you want to sell shares to the public, keep your corporate governance at least arguably transparent and fair by sticking to one share one vote.

[A version of this post first appeared in Chris Castle’s MusicTech.Solutions blog]

 

Guest Post by Hattie Webb: The day I broke into the PledgeMusic office (@hrdwebb) — Artist Rights Watch

via Guest Post by Hattie Webb: The day I broke into the PledgeMusic office (@hrdwebb) — Artist Rights Watch

I did something relatively gutsy and not entirely unprovoked, I broke into the offices of PledgeMusic.

On the evening of Friday 1st February 2019 I saw artists posting online that PledgeMusic was in financial trouble. A shock of adrenaline surged through me. For 20 months PledgeMusic had been stalling paying me £5.4K, the final instalment of the money I had raised on the PledgeMusic site to pay for the making and release of my first solo album ‘To The Bone’. PledgeMusic received 3.1K in commission of the total 17.3K of income of pre-orders. (The campaign commenced in December 2015.)

On Monday 4th of February, with a fire in my belly and after no response from the phone lines at PledgeMusic, I looked up their office address, took the train to central London and went for the first time to the PledgeMusic offices in Soho (a very beautiful office I might add). When I was told by reception that the office would not receive anyone, I asked where the toilets were. I then walked past the toilets, hiked up the stairs, opened the office door and plonked myself down on the communal sofa.

A PledgeMusic associate approached me and I said I would not leave until I could speak with the director.

I waited. Malcolm Dunbar was on the phone in the main boardroom, I could see him through the glass wall. There were about ten people working at their computers across the office space. The environment looked buoyant. I had a moment thinking, “maybe this crisis is not as bad as we thought?”. My hopes were short lived. Malcolm signed off on his phone call and ushered me in.

I said because no one will reply to me, I have had to come to them. I demanded they transfer payment or I would not leave the premises.

After 20 months of having faith in their explanations, after my many phone calls and zillions of emails sent since my campaign completed in June 2017, I needed to see action.

One might ask why I had not seen the red flags sooner. I’m a little ashamed to admit, it was mainly because of the calibre of the other artists that chose to work with PledgeMusic, artists I admired immensely. These artists had chosen this new creative home, leaving their previous old music business model abodes, to great success. How current it is in todays climate, that credibility can be so blinding it shrouds the real truth. I was gullible as to what the real reasons were for these extensive delays.

These are some of the many explanations I had previously received:

“at the moment finance are going through some procedural changes and they’ve got a slight backlog in payments”…”we’ve been experiencing delays due to PayPal terminating us using them as our payment provider” …”a backlog exists, and the process is manual because it’s been forced that way by the hand we’ve been dealt” …“we now work with a far inferior back up payment provider” …”it’s where we’re at and we’re doing our very best to catch up” …”the knock on effect has been more impactful than we ever imagined it would be” …”I’m very very sorry to hear you’ve still not received this payment. I did request it back when we last spoke and am trying to find out why that wasn’t paid” … “I understand this is in no way helpful to you right now, but it’s where we’re at and we’re doing our very best to catch up.” …”I’m planning another payment this week against the balance owed and we’ll get the full balance up to date in early Jan 2019.”

The list goes on.

I said, I feel like an idiot for believing it all. Not once were the real reasons mentioned.

I spoke with Malcolm for over an hour and part way through, Paul Barton joined. They said that there was no way they can pay me until new potential partners come on board as New York has stopped all accounting.

I asked to speak with New York.

Malcolm called the new financial director Jim on his mobile phone in New York (who had apparently been with Pledge for a month) and passed on the phone to me. I asked for an explanation as to why we all haven’t been paid. Jim suggested that I get a lawyer to write to PledgeMusic to ‘stake my claim’. I said, I may have been previously naive, but spending another few hundred pounds to pay a lawyer to send a letter to sit at the bottom of an ever increasing pile was not something I intended to do.

I said I have actually been an ally and champion of PledgeMusic because of what they previously stood for. Their mission statement being that “PledgeMusic is dedicated to bringing innovative artists and passionate fans closer together than anywhere else…by giving artists a platform.” I know many extraordinary artists who haven’t had support from labels, who have taken the bull by the horns and with their bare hands, created, funded and released incredible albums with the support and platform of PledgeMusic.

I told them that eventually I had to get a loan for the amount of money owed to me by PledgeMusic to pay my team, print my cds, merch and to post them all out. I said that I only hope that this can be brought to a righteous place. That we all receive our rightful payments, raised with blood sweat and tears (truly) and to restore the belief that bands and fans had in them. That the level of transparency in their communications, particularly now in a challenging time, will shape how each of them individually and as a team are seen in this industry and in the world. How important is your word and code of honourability in life? To me, it is everything.

Paul said that the reason they have stopped answering my messages is that they had run out of things to say. I said there’s always something to say, even if it is to take responsibility for their current position and reiterate their intentions. I also said that when the public statement was sent out to press on Friday, how much it would have meant to all who had signed up with them, to have received an email illuminating us about the situation, versus us randomly reading about it online. I think we deserved that level of consideration. Surely there was one person in that office that could have been allocated that essential task? Or were the artists still a thing very low on the list of importance when it came to their music business model? This certainly didn’t fit their mission statement.

Malcolm and Paul said that it has been horrendous for them too, they looked deeply disheartened that so many artists are going through this and said that they personally have received a lot of abuse. I am sorry for this, no one should have to put up with abuse, but I truly believe that with more transparency, it could have been avoided.

They told me about their plans to have new investors and pay everyone by April. I asked directly…at this point, why would anyone have faith in their company name even if they do get bailed out? They said it would be the same platform with a complete rebrand. Plus that the artist’s money would never actually go to the PledgeMusic bank account, only the commission.

But it wasn’t enough for me without an explanation. I asked them how long the financial crisis has been going on at PledgeMusic? They said over a year. I asked them why they have prime real estate in the center of Covent Garden London as their offices (next to the very elegant private members club, ‘The Hospital Club’), particularly throughout the time they’ve been in financial trouble and whilst they are avoiding paying artists? I said this is not a good use of the money! I asked if there were some offices in Croydon or Staines, out in the suburbs they could have moved to? I didn’t mean to be condescending. We as artists had not been part of the conversation with how our money was spent. They both agreed and said those decisions came from New York.

They also said that the whole finance team had been fired due to disastrous and disorganised accounting.

Shockingly, they said that many of the PledgeMusic employees had been asked to max out their personal credit cards to help the cash flow.

They said that they had been financially sunk by the USA division of the company. Wrecked by the rebranding costs and an outrageous ambitiousness to compete with Spotify. Who really knows where the money went, but the money was gone.

I asked why someone hadn’t flagged this up sooner and reigned in spending money on fluff? Was this a trailblazing music industry model or just the same scenario swaddled up in community soaked language?

For someone like me who has also been through the sometimes deeply disheartening sausage factory of being signed to a major label, someone who has been financially and emotionally rogered by both major artist management and my own personal management, I’m sorry to say, I believed it. (I say all of this knowing I have been very lucky with the chances I have been given too, believe me.)

I laid it out that if they don’t reply to emails and now that their phone line is down, how can I trust their word that they will communicate with us moving forward? I have had the wool pulled for too long. What will happen if I walk out of this office, will I ever hear back from them again? They gave me both of their private mobile phone numbers.

When I left that day, I noticed their plastic ‘PledgeMusic heart-logo placard’ on the side table in their office. As I stepped outside onto the Soho street, there was a dark shadow where it had once been positioned on the outside main wall. It was an odd feeling, as if they didn’t want it to be known they were still there in residence.

(Side note: that night, I went to see Steve Ferrone play at the 606 with Hamish Stuart, it seriously kicked butt and was a welcome and joyful distraction.)

(Second side note: In December 2018 I did receive 1.5K of the amount owed, perhaps after my increasingly pressurising emails.)

Mostly, after the initial shock, at this point I feel sad to think of all the music, of the artists and their lives that have been detrimentally affected by PledgeMusic’s actions or lack there of. I know business is not a straight line, but for many, this situation is hugely more difficult than the shabby hand I have been served. Because my release was back in 2017, I was able to honour every one of the 524 orders of my album and merchandise that friends and followers had purchased, pre-investing in my album, before this shutdown.

Not everyone has had the chance for their work to see the light of day because PledgeMusic has a claim on it. There are also many people who have made purchases directly with PledgeMusic and haven’t received any merch. Most have had no response from PledgeMusic about the return of their money.

I am eternally gratefulfor those that invested and travelled with me on the journey of creating and releasing my record and for the extraordinary team of sound engineers, artists and collaborators I worked with. I had the time of my life making it.

I do feel heavy hearted that many artists with so much to contribute to this crazy world, have had a previously effective grass roots route destroyed. The connective tissue between creating and having the support to send that out into the world is an essential part of being an artist, there is a circular nature to it. The ability and freedom to fund and create has been savagely shredded by big business greed and a continuing lack of respect for the very artists that make it possible for the business side to exist. Not a new music business model as advertised.

Since all of this has happened, a community has been forming of artists affected in the fallout. For this I am also grateful.

At the heart of the matter, the passion at the core of creativity shall never be diminished! We are immensely blessed to have the freedom to express our truth in whatever form we feel, that is ever powerful.

As my friend Francesco Mastromatteo said “We work with something we can not see and we can never possess. Sound is simply always free and has an endless value”.

On Friday, I read that the sale had fallen through and that bankruptcy was inevitable for PledgeMusic. I read ‘the sale of which would be used to pay artists’. I immediately texted Paul and Malcolm to find out how these so called ‘remaining assets’ will be divided. Is it not the righteous decision at this final stage, to communicate directly with the artists with what will happen moving forward?

I have not heard back since.

[We’re honored that Hattie gave us permission to post her account of her personal experience with PledgeMusic.  You can find Hattie at HattieWebbMusic.com and her Twitter is @hrdwebb. Reading Hattie’s account is enough to make you stand up and salute as she banishes the ennui of learned helplessness to the dustbin of history.  I recall a Leonard Cohen lyric from “Everybody Knows” that could apply to the music business as a whole, more so with each passing day:

“Everybody knows that that boat is leaking, everybody knows that the captain lied….”]

Right On Cue, YouTube CEO Unveils Google’s Lobbying Plans Against Copyright Directive Implementation–the fight is just beginning

The European Copyright Directive was a great victory for artists, right?  The Silicon Valley multinationals were sent packing, yes?

True as far as it goes, but it does not go all the way.  Now each of the 28 member states of the European Union are to adopt implementing legislation at the national level to put the Directive into legal effect and they have two years to do it.  Google calls this an opportunity to continue the meddling and interference lobbying campaign.

How do we know?  Because YouTube’s CEO told us so in a fine specimen of oligarchical collectivism.

In a post on the oxymoronic YouTube “creators blog” (aka Pravda Chrome), YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki tells us about the only thing that she really could say after Google’s massive dezinformatsiya campaign, but yet clearly outlines Google’s next steps during that two year implementation period:

While the Directive has passed, there is still time to affect the final implementation to avoid some of the worst unintended consequences. Each E.U. member state now has two years to introduce national laws that are in line with the new rules, which means that the powerful collective voice of creators can still make a major impact.

Especially the ones Google pays.

Google really only has a limited number of messages when it comes to copyright.  Like George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, we have Google’s own variation on WAR IS PEACE–that being COPYRIGHT IS CENSORSHIP.  Given that Google doesn’t seem to have a Plan B when it comes to interference lobbying, we can bet that what Ms. Wojcicki means is that Google is going to commence the same kind of fake petitions, bot farming and paid messaging from YouTubers that were the embarrassing (and potentially illegal) hallmarks of Google’s strategy against the Copyright Directive.  The only difference is that this time it will be against the national legislatures (such as the House of Commons in the UK or the National Assembly in France) instead of the European Parliament.

It’s not really the only difference, though.  The other difference is that we are ready for them and we know what to watch for as do the members of the 28 national parliaments.

Americans should also realize that if you thought Google’s disinformation campaign against the Copyright Directive was bad, just wait and see what happens if the Congress should take up the DMCA safe harbor.  That party is just getting started.  And the party–so to speak–is all happening in Room 101–how many fingers, Winston?

 

 

Save the Date: The Pledge Music Crowdfunding Debacle, May 22 Austin Bar Association

Music attorney Chris Castle will moderate a panel on “The Pledge Music Crowdfunding Debacle” at noon on May 22 at the Austin Bar Association, 816 Congress Avenue, Suite 700, Austin, Texas 78701.  Details to follow.  Read about the Pledge Music crisis in Billboard by Colin Stutz.

 

 

SOUTH AFRICA PETITION AGAINST THE SIGNING INTO LAW, THE CURRENT AMENDMENTS TO THE COPYRIGHT ACT No. 98 of 1978 BY HONORABLE PRESIDENT RAMAPHOSA

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More skullduggery afoot from Google, this time in South Africa–and that’s the fact.  Minister Rob Davies and the Chair of the Portfolio Committee of the National Assembly’s Department of Trade & Industry both need to be called out on exactly how this legislation came to so closely resemble Google’s marching orders on safe harbors and pirate utopias.  As we’ve seen in Europe, Google has no respect for the nation state or local creators.

Sign the petition here and stand shoulder to shoulder with artists in South Africa against Big Tech’s lobbying onslaught.

Save the Date: @miramulholland Speaking at the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva April 5

Miranda Mulholland is a wonderfully articulate speaker and advocate for artist rights!  We’re pleased to let readers know that she’ll be on this panel at the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva and will be performing with Andrew Penner in their band Harrow Fair.  More info here.

Harrow Fair WIPO

An industry transformed: securing sustainable growth for today’s digital music industry

Friday, 5th April 2019

1pm – 3pm

Geneva, Switzerland

The global music industry has transformed itself through investment and innovation over the past two decades. The recording industry has licensed hundreds of digital music services around the world, driving innovation and providing consumers with access to some 50 million tracks. Meanwhile, artists have gained more choice than ever before in how to reach fans with their music. At the heart of this success are the partnerships between artists and record labels.

Delegates will be presented with key global and regional data from the IFPI Global Music Report (which will be published globally during the week of the SCCR), insights into the partnerships between record companies and artists, and some key challenges to ensuring the sustainable and balanced development of digital music markets around the world.

Next, Graham Henderson will share highlights from Music Canada’s upcoming report on the discrepancy between the value of music accessed by consumers and the revenues returned to the artists and businesses who create it. The report outlines how Canada’s music community has overcome initial skepticism regarding the existence of this discrepancy, known as the Value Gap, and its causes. It examines the key arguments and evidence that have led to widespread acknowledgement of the discrepancy in Canada, and presents a road map to help build a stronger music ecosystem for artists and labels around the world.

The final speaker, Miranda Mulholland, a Canadian musician who runs her own boutique record label, will explain how weak copyright legislation has impaired her career. She will also reflect on the value of record labels in the modern music marketplace, and will demonstrate how artists can help establish a sustainable and functioning marketplace, outlining her own journey as an artist advocate.

Following the discussion, Mulholland will take the stage with Andrew Penner, her musical partner in the band Harrow Fair, to perform their unique blend of folk, country and garage rock music.

Speakers:

Larry S. Miller – Clinical Associate Professor and Director, Music Business Program, NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development

Graham Henderson – President and CEO, Music Canada

Miranda Mulholland – Musician, President of Roaring Girl Records, and Music Festival Founder

Performance: Harrow Fair

EU and Article 13: The Dystopia That Never Was and Never Will Be

Authors: Stefan Herwig and Lukas Schneider. This  article originally appeared as Upload Filters: The Dystopia Has Been Canceled on the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung here.  German language version here. Translated from German to English by Sarah Swift.
© Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung GmbH 2001 – 2019 All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission. 

The “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace“ published in 1996 by John Perry Barlow begins with the words “Governments of the Industrial World I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone.” One reading of this text entirely rejects the possibility that processes of making and enforcing collectively binding decisions – political processes – apply on the Internet. Another possible reading sees the Internet as a public space governed by rules that must be established through democratic process while also holding that certain sub-spaces belong to the private rather than the public sphere. The distinction between public and private affairs, res publicae und res privata, is essential for the functioning of social spaces. The concept of the “res publicae” as “space concerning us all”  led – and not only etymologically – to the idea of the republic as a form of statehood and, later, as a legitimate space for democratic policymaking.

On the Internet, this essential separation of private and public space has been utterly undermined, and the dividing lines between public and private spaces are becoming ever more blurred. We now have public spaces lacking in enforcement mechanisms and transparency and private spaces inadequately protected from surveillance and the misuse of data. Data protection is one obvious field this conflict is playing out on, and copyright is another.

The new EU Directive on Copyright seeks to establish democratic rules governing the public dissemination of works. Its detractors have not only been vociferous – they have also resorted to misleading forms of framing. The concepts of upload filters, censorship machines and link taxes have been injected into the discussion. They are based on false premises.

Upload filters as cogs in a censorship machine

What campaigners against copyright reform term “upload filters” are not invariably filters with a blocking function; they can be simple identification systems. Content can be scanned at the time of uploading to compare it to patterns from other known content. Such a system could, for example, recognize Aloe Blacc’s retro-soul hit “I need a Dollar.” Such software systems can be compared to dictation software capable of identifying the spoken words in audio files. At this point in time, systems that can identify music tracks on the basis of moderately noisy audio signals can be programed as coursework projects by fourth-semester students drawing on open-source code libraries. Stylizing such systems as prohibitively expensive or as a kind of “alien technology” underestimates both the dystopian potential of advanced pattern recognition systems (in common parlance: artificial intelligence) in surveillance software and similar use cases while also underestimating the feasibility of programming legitimate and helpful systems. The music discovery app “Shazam,” to take a specific example, was created by a startup with only a handful of developers and a modest budget and is now available on millions of smartphones and tablets – for free. The myth that only tech giants can afford such systems is false, as the example of Shazam or of enterprises like Audible Magic shows. Identifying works is a basic prerequisite for a reformed copyright regime, and large platforms will not be able to avoid doing so. Without an identification process in place, the use of licensed works cannot be matched to license holders. Such systems are, however, not filters.

How do upload filters work?

The principal argument of critics intent on frustrating digital copyright reforms that had already appeared to be on the home stretch is their charge that the disproportionate blocking of uploads would represent a wholesale assault on freedom of speech or, indeed, a form of censorship. Here, too, it is necessary to look more closely at the feasibility and potential of available options for monitoring uploads – and especially to consider the degree of efficiency that can be achieved by linking human and automated monitoring. In a first step, identification systems could automatically block secure matches or allow them to pass by comparing them against data supplied by collecting societies. Licensed content could readily be uploaded and its use would be electronically registered. Collecting societies would distribute license revenue raised to originators and artists. Non-licensed uses could automatically be blocked. In a second step, errors could be caught through a complaints handling system making decisions on whether complaints are justified on the basis of human analysis – this would represent a clear improvement on the current procedures used by YouTube and Facebook. What automated pattern recognition systems cannot do is determine the meaning of content items at the semantic level. This means that they cannot identify legitimate uses of protected works – in the context of parodies or mash-ups, say, or when an image is reproduced online in a piece of art criticism. In such cases, the identification system would report a “fuzzy”  match, stating for example that 40% of a given upload corresponded to a copyrighted file known from the database. To achieve a legally watertight result here, human judgment would be required. Humans can recognize parodies or incidental uses such as purely decorative uses of works in ways that that do not constitute breaches of copyright.

The process of analysis could be simplified further by uploaders stating the context of use at the time works are uploaded. Notes such as “This video contains a parody and/or uses a copyrighted work for decorative purposes” could be helpful to analysts. The Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) in Germany provides a good example of how automatic recognition and human analysis can work in tandem to analyze vast volumes of information. A few hundred people in Germany are currently tasked with deciding whether statements made on Facebook constitute incitement to hatred and violence against certain groups or are otherwise in breach of community rules. These judgments are significantly more complex than detecting impermissible uses of copyrighted works.

Being obliged to implement human monitoring will, of course, impose certain demands on platforms. But those most affected will be the platforms with the largest number of uploads. These major platforms will have the highest personnel requirements because they can host content of almost every kind: music, texts, video etc. Protecting sites like a small photo forum will be much simpler. If only a modest number of uploads is involved, the forum operator can easily check them personally at the end of the working day. In that case, uploaders will simply have to wait for a brief period for their content to appear online. Or operators can opt to engage a service center like Acamar instead of adding these checks to their own workloads. Efficient monitoring is possible.

An additional misinterpretation propagated by campaigners against copyright reform is that platforms will have to take out licenses for all the content in the world from a near-infinite number of licensing partners. This, too, is inaccurate, since the transfer of liability to platforms only arises in cases in which rightsholders have specifically prohibited the unlicensed use of their works and had the works in question added to a database made available to platform operators through collecting societies. Visions of upload filters leading to dystopian censorship are, it follows, unfounded. This should be clear to anybody who has read the text of the directive and has even a basic working knowledge of informatics.

For a free Internet, we need copyright reform

The reform provides a basis for ensuring artists are fairly remunerated for their work and forces rightsholders to assist in the identification of works by registering their content in databases. Both effects are highly advantageous for users. Under the proposed regime, somebody who wants to use the Rage Against The Machines track “Killing In The Name Of”  on the soundtrack of a protest video will no longer have to worry about copyright and can simply upload the video to a platform. Works used will be identified, and the relevant collecting societies will distribute the licensing revenue they receive from the platform. If Rage Against The Machine has objections to the transformative use of their work, they can communicate them to the database. Once the directive has been transposed into national law, this procedure will become standard practice.

It will become possible to publish more content and easier to comply with the law. All of this will contribute to more freedom on the Internet – the kind of freedom that stems from having democratic rules rather than allowing tech giants with their community rules and automated decision-making processes to determine what content is permitted on their platforms and what they are prepared to pay for it.

Barlow overlooked what the author William Gibson had already recognized – that enterprises, when they make the rules, can become more powerful than states. The rejection of state-guaranteed democratic rules creates the power vacuum required for this to happen. This is the wider context that explains why copyright reform is but one battlefield in the struggle for political power on the Internet. YouTube should not be allowed to become the Internet for videos just as Google has practically already become the only filter for web searches. Amazon should not be allowed to evolve from a vendor in the market to the provider of the market and to dictate the earnings of parcel couriers. Rules in digital space must be created and weighed against each other by democratic means and not in an arbitrary fashion dependent solely on who wields the most market power. Artists and net activists should fight this battle together, because the Internet is not some abstract parallel dimension: its data flows determine our creditworthiness just as they supply us with holiday pictures and pervade every aspect of modern life. If we relinquish democratic control over this public space, we will become subject to the despotic rule of neoliberal tech giants, and not merely on the Internet.

Barlow’s manifesto ends with the words: “We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before.” Copyright reform will take our society one step closer to this aim. The quasi-governments that must now be opposed are called Google, facebook und Amazon. Those who take the side of these giants in this controversy are opposed to the free Internet in the true meaning of the word.

Translation from German by Sarah Swift.

Authors

Stefan Herwig and Lukas Schneider jointly run a think tank, Mindbase, that tackles questions of Internet policy with academic rigor. Stefan Herwig works in the music industry and advises politicians and enterprises on digital policy issues. Lukas Schneider is an information science expert and a musician and is active in Germany’s Green party (Alliance ’90/The Greens).