@sealeinthedeal: Why Did Spotify Reduce Its Black Box Royalty Transfer to the MLC by Nearly $2.3 million?

By Gwendolyn Seale

Remember the $424 million in historical unmatched royalties (also referred to as black box royalties) delivered to the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) by the streaming services last February that songwriters are waiting to receive?

As a refresher, the Music Modernization Act (MMA) required the streaming services to estimate these “historical” black box royalties going back years, and then pay whatever they came up with to the MLC by February 15, 2021.  Why did the services pay this “historical” black box?  Because songwriters gave them a safe harbor in the MMA to enjoy a limitation of liability from statutory damages for the services’ prior acts of copyright infringement—services like Spotify, which was being sued into oblivion.

Now here’s the jawdropper. What if I told you that Spotify inexplicably reduced its portion of these historical unmatched royalties by nearly $2.3 million?

According to the MLC, on December 20, 2021 Spotify decreased its transfer of historical unmatched royalties by $2,296,820.15. You can find this information by visiting the MLC’s website here: https://www.themlc.com/spotify-usa-inc-spotify. You may wonder why this occurred. Unfortunately, I cannot provide you with any concrete answers, but I do think it is a more than fair question to raise.

Following the February 2021 data dump and transfer of the historical unmatched royalties to the MLC, the streaming services were given until June (in accordance with the regs) to provide the MLC with their second sets of data. According to the MLC’s Interim Annual Report (https://themlc.com/sites/default/files/2021-12/The%20MLC%20Interim%20AR21%20Hi-res%20FINAL.pdf) “[t]his second set of data contained information regarding works for which DSPs had previously paid some, but not all, of the relevant rightsholders for a given work.” The streaming services then had the right over the summer to amend or adjust the royalties and data provided to the MLC.

It is interesting to compare the historical unmatched royalties transferred by each streaming service in February 2021 with the final transfer amounts reported in summer 2021 — and I invite all of you to do the same (https://www.themlc.com/historical-unmatched-royalties ). What you will quickly realize is that the final transfer amounts for every service—other than Spotify, the Harry Fox Agency’s client, either reflected the same totals from the February dump, or, resulted in a higher amount transferred (like in the cases of Amazon, Apple and Google). At least so far.

You may be thinking, how do we know if this nearly $2.3 million reduction is accurate? Frankly, we do not know, and we forced to trust that Spotify is telling the truth. Regrettably, the MMA negotiators did not get (and may not have asked for) an audit right for songwriters or for the MLC with respect to these historical unmatched royalties. (Although it must be said that publishers with direct deals very likely had the right to audit, and possibly those who licensed to Spotify through Spotify’s licensing agent, the Harry Fox Agency, which was simultaneously acting as a licensors’ publishing administrator may have had an audit right. Have a pretzel and the conflicts make more sense).

I recognize I have the benefit of hindsight here — notwithstanding, I find it unfathomable that the MMA dealmakers did not secure an audit right in connection with what was sure to be hundreds of millions of dollars in unmatched royalties.

It is theoretically possible that Spotify overpaid its amount in historical unmatched royalties back in February 2021. Notwithstanding, and feel free to call me a cynic —  how am I to believe that for once Spotify actually made an overpayment in royalties?

How can I trust a company which amassed its billions in wealth by stealing musicians’ works, and has continued to supplement its wealth by fighting for the lowest mechanical royalty rates for songwriters ever?

How can I trust a company that unveiled a payola-like feature offering further reduced nanopenny rates to artists in exchange for “promotion?” (see “Discovery Mode”: https://www.rollingstone.com/pro/music-biz-commentary/spotify-payola-artist-rights-alliance-1170544/ ).

How can I trust a company that when faced with reasonable requests about paying musicians fairly, responded with a straight up gaslighting campaign?  (see “Loud & Clear” campaign: https://loudandclear.byspotify.com/ )

Remember, this is the company whose executive literally told an independent artist the following in a public forum:

“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.”  (See here: https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2021/06/29/spotify-executive-entitled-pay-penny-per-stream/)

In sum, how can I trust a company that has proven time and time again from its inception that it has never cared about songwriters and artists? Ultimately, I cannot — which makes it utterly difficult for me to trust that Spotify incorrectly overpaid nearly $2.3 million in historical unmatched royalties to the MLC. Granted, if Spotify made misrepresentations here, it could lose its limitation of liability for those past infringements–after years of litigation. But, without the MLC having the right to audit the historical unmatched amounts, determining whether Spotify’s total transfer is correct is essentially futile.

Awesome.

So, if you happen to contact Spotify this week about removing your catalog or canceling your subscription, consider also asking them to provide evidence that they overpaid the MLC $2,296,820.15 in historical unmatched royalties last February. Maybe if we’re lucky, we’ll get another Loud & Clear gaslighting campaign to post about!

Frozen Mechanicals Crisis: Monica Corton Tells Copyright Royalty Board that Without Parity, the Music Ecosystem Will Fail

Honorable Judges:

My name is Monica Corton, and I am the CEO and Founder of Go to ElevenEntertainment, a newly formed independent music publishing company that is funded. I have been in the music publishing business for over thirty years, twenty- seven of which were spent as the Senior Executive Vice President of Creative Affairs & Licensing at Next Decade Entertainment. My experience is in all areas of music licensing, registrations, and royalty payments, and my former clients included the catalogs of the band Boston, Harry Belafonte, Vic Mizzy (the “Addams Family Theme” and “Green Acres Theme”), Sammy Hagar, and many more.

It is my understanding that the CRB judges are being asked to accept a Motion to Adopt a freeze or a non-rate increase for all mechanical licensing uses for physical phonorecords, i.e., CDs and vinyl, permanent digital downloads, ringtones and music bundles (whenmultiple songs are downloaded in groups) for the Rate Period of 2023 to 2027. The rates for these types of uses have been frozen and have not increased for any music publisher or songwriter since 2006. In the past, the National Music Publishers Association (“NMPA”) has explained these freezes as a necessary component to their negotiation for an increase in the digital streaming rates for mechanical licenses. For many years (2006-2021), I have gone along with this explanation, but after fifteen (“15”) years of having noincrease on any physical product or digital downloads, I now believe it is completely unfair and no longer justifiable for music publishers and songwriters, particularly the

independents and DIY creators (do-it-yourself), to have been denied an increase in these rates after fifteen (15) years of allowing record labels to get away without paying any increase whatsoever, and now face being blocked from a raise for another five (“5”) years.

I originally wrote comments to you on July 26, 2021, and I have included thosecomments below. As there was an extension provided, I felt I should augment my former submission to you with a practical reason for why I believe that physical and digital download mechanical royalty rates should increase, at least by a cost of living, forsongwriters and publishers for the Rate Period 2023-2027.

The one format in physical product that seems to be surging now is vinyl. If one visitsthe Amazon.com shop, new releases of vinyl are selling anywhere from

$24.98 to $49.99 at retail. Generally, the wholesale selling price for a label is half of the retail selling price. Therefore, in this scenario, the labels are making anywhere from $12.49 to $24.99 per unit. Under the current physical mechanical rate which would stay the same if you decide not to increase the royalty rate for physical copies and digital downloads, a publisher would be paid $.91 per record with a ten (10) song cap (standard practice) for the right to use all the songs on that release. However, most singer/songwriters have what is called a controlled composition clause in their recording agreement which requires that they agree to a reduced rate of 75% of the statutory rate with a cap of ten (10) songs. This means that the real rate for most singer/songwriters onan album is $.6825 for all the songs on any given album.

Therefore, the label is making anywhere from $11.8075 to $24.3075 of which a small portion will be paid to the artist for artist royalties and some portion will be paid for the expense of making the record and distributing it. The songwriter and the publisher will thereafter, divide the $.6825 in half so that the songwriter will eventually receive $.3412 for the ENTIRE ALBUM of songs, often recording and releasing more than ten songs because creatives tend to release 12-14 songs on any given album which further reducesthe mechanical rate per song.

I ask you, does it seem fare to you that the record label should make $11.875 to

$24.3075 per record and the singer/songwriter who wrote EVERY SONG ON THE ALBUM will make $.3412?

Songwriters rarely get a say in any of these hearings. Digital rates have devastated whole swaths of our creative songwriter community. Please consider that after fifteen (15) years,it’s time to increase the physical mechanical rate and the digital

download rate for songwriters and publishers. We must create some kind of parity for songwriters in the sale of physical product and digital downloads, or our musicecosystem will begin to fail.

Best wishes, 

Monica Corton CEO & Founder

Go to Eleven Entertainment

[Read the original comment here]

All Economic Indicators Are Flashing Red at the Copyright Royalty Board on Frozen Mechanicals–MusicTech.Solutions

by Chris Castle

All of the economic indicators are telling us that inflation is going to be around for a while–so songwriters should expect some cost of living adjustment based on the Consumer Price Index when the Copyright Royalty Board sets mechanical royalty rates, especially for the frozen mechanical rate on physical phonorecords. Why do I say that?

The U.S. Consumer Price Index closed 2021 at 7%. That is the highest inflation level since 1982–and remember in 1982 the U.S. had already had a solid two to three years of Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker’s anti-inflationary surge after the malaise of the 1970s.

The Producer Price Index for 2021 was measured at 9.7% by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the largest calendar year increase since 2010. The PPI is a leading indicator of inflation as measured by the CPI because it measures a large basket of raw inputs and future price increases that will affect the CPI in weeks or months.

The University of Michigan survey of consumer sentiment fell to 68.8%, its second lowest level in a decade (the lowest being in November 2021). The survey also measured “confidence in government economic policies is at its lowest level since 2014.” The consumer sentiment survey indicates that consumers expect bad times ahead, or at least expensive times. This can have a pronounced effect on consumer inflation expectations.

Consumer inflation expectations remained unchanged after rising strongly over the last year, particularly the one-year outlook. Inflation expectations can be a self-fulfilling driver of inflation for a number of reasons such as FOMO pricing on homes and cars as well as wages–if you expect inflation to rise x% in the next 12 months, today you will seek wage increases of at least x% (if not more).

All of this tells us that the entire idea of extending the freeze on statutory mechanical royalties gets more absurd by the day. It’s entirely reasonable to “index” statutory mechanical royalties during the current rate setting period of 2023-2027 as we’ll all be very lucky to get through that period without suffering crippling inflation that will further erode the 2006 rates the CRB has used for the past 15 years.

[Why this wasn’t fixed in Music Modernization Act is anyone’s guess. This post first appeared on MusicTech.Solutions]

Justice, Thy Name is Kathy: NY @GovKathyHochul Vetoes the Metashills’ Illegal Library Compulsory License

By Chris Castle

[This post originally appeared on MusicTechPolicy.]

Yesterday (Dec. 29), the Big Tech tetrarchy got dealt some bad cards: New York Governor Kathy Hochul vetoed their unconstitutional land grab for a compulsory license for books that would have had a crippling effect on New York authors. Authors everywhere should appreciate Governor Hochul’s clear-eyed rejection of the Big Tech metashills at “Library Futures” and their mean-spirited end run around centuries of US copyright law. The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they do turn.

How did this veto happen? First, I want to thank all of the Trichordist readers who signed the petition calling on Governor Hochul to veto NY Assembly bill 5827B. (Read the backgrounder here.) There is no substitute for direct grass roots action on these efforts, particularly when you are on the side of righteousness in the season of hope. But it must also be said that authors should thank the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers and the Copyright Alliance for standing in the breach against the horrendous injustice of the vile legislation. I know our readers are not always joiners and are often skeptical of these groups, but it’s a round world and they did a fabulous job in marshaling resources and focus.

But most of all, we have to be grateful to Governor Hochul who realized that she was being jammed by a bunch of low down grifters pushing hateful legislation and gave them what they deserved.  In the words of Maria Pallante, head of the American Association of Publishers, a long-time defender of copyright:

We thank Governor Hochul for taking decisive action to protect the legal framework that has long incentivized the American private sector to invest in, publish, and distribute original works of authorship to the public, in service to society. The bill that she vetoed was rushed through the state legislature in response to a coordinated, misinformation campaign supported by Big Tech interests and lobbying groups that are notorious for wanting to weaken copyright protections for their own gain.

What she said.

So let’s give a cheer for the team and then get back up on the wall. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance. The metashills are not going away and the fight goes on.

The Revenge of the Internet Archive: Google and the Metashills Lead the Long March Through State Houses to Weaken Copyright for the Metaverse

By Chris Castle [This post first appeared on MusicTechPolicy]

[Trichordist readers will not be surprised to know that Artist Enemy No. 1 Senator Ron Wyden (aka Senator Data Center) is leading the charge of the insane bagmen to impose a compulsory license on any content that gets in the way of Facebook, Google and the metaverse.]

Google has led a long march through the institutions to weaken copyright by propping up proxy warriors who mean to take us in a rush. That effort has now come to a head in Maryland with a bizarre statute that got through the Maryland legislature Tommy Carcetti-style–a state law compulsory license for ebooks. (Maryland Education Code §§ 23-701, 23-702).

The Maryland law is wrong for so many reasons, but is also an unconstitutional usurpation of the federal government’s exclusive domain over copyright. This is a solution in search of a problem–ebooks are already routinely licensed to libraries under voluntary agreements at a market rate. The legislation would allow the State of Maryland to force the authors to license but the state would set the rates. Songwriters can tell you this is a nightmarish process at the federal level–and by the way songwriters, you’re next, just see the fever dream of compulsory licenses for sync (see Here Comes the New Dark Age: Blanket Licenses for Everything Based on the MMA). Just because a library is a non-profit doesn’t mean they get everything free or get to dictate the price. The librarians certainly don’t work for free so how can they expect the authors to do so?

There has never been a compulsory license for books and you have to believe that the Maryland law is a probing operation by Big Tech to see whether their land grab works at the state level. Do you think the oligarchs could jam a compulsory license for books through Congress if their true invisible hand was seen? Unlikely. If they couldn’t do it with wind in their sales from a noxious disease that devastated those pesky small businesses but enriched Big Tech beyond comprehension, it seems unlikely that they could get it through Congress during the nadir of Big Tech popularity.

This machine-state strategy is also an in-your-face rebuke to Senator Thom Tillis’ opposition to the Internet Archive’s pandemic rights-gouging practices, a rebuke that is supported by the “Library Futures” front group (which bears a striking strategic similarity to Engine Advocacy). Needless to say these “metashills” include all the usual suspects among their members including the Internet Archive next to the panoply of anti-artist groups.

The way shills become metashills is that they get grouped togther–economical for the donors and makes them look bigger than they are like a self-inflating animal.

Why does an obviously unconstitutional bill become law? Unhinged, you say? Blatantly unconstitutional from another looneyverse? True, and yet there it is, a monument to bagmen and shills. There is no other explanation for how this legislation got through that paragon of high-minded public policy, that epitoma suprema of the virtuous life and good government where corruption fears to tread also known as the Maryland General Assembly. (Followed closely in Annapolis’s sister city Albany, another hotbed of honesty.)

What about Google’s long march through the institutions? You may have neutral to fond memories of librarians from school days but I encourage you to look deeper. Is that librarian a helpful smart person? Or someone else. Is that librarian someone who grew up feeling ignored and overlooked like the one who never got asked to do the fun things? Is that librarian the one who really wrote the Great American Novel but had that Creative Writing Masters Thesis go–gasp–unpublished? Is that librarian someone who is ripe for manipulation and grooming by unfathomably rich people in the addiction business who claim to understand their problems and want to be their allies to Alinsky those who dared to commercialize their beloved books, those helpful tech moguls who want to build the Digital Library of Alexandria for the greater good and promise to not be evil? You know, for all mankind?

Whatever actually happened, Google has weaponized libraries starting at least with their mass digitization project that ultimately became the kloogy Google Books that one academic described as a “disaster for scholars” and that was the subject of criticism as culturally biased by no less than Jean-Noël Jeanneney, a former president of France’s Bibliothèque nationale in a scathing critique.

So not all librarians sip the Kool-Aid imported from the Googleplex or aspire to heated bidets. And not all state houses are as welcoming to Google and the other Tech Oligarchs as they were even a year ago or so when Senator Tillis recognized that the Internet Archive was being weaponized by its honcho Brewster Kahle (pronounced “kale”) against the world’s authors. Why do I think this? Because an anonymous whistleblower librarian gave us some insight into what is really going on in the faculty dining room in an open letter to Brewster Kahle during his pandemic-induced land grab he called the “National Emergency Library”:

You claim [the Archive is a] charitable organization. Charitable organizations provide money from their own funds to those in need or they collect donations of money or property, voluntarily offered by the original owners, to distribute to those in need. Taking from others despite their objections and offering the stolen material to those in need does not fall into the description of a charitable organization. It is, as has been pointed out, looting.

Your activity undermines the copyright system for your own benefit and in the financial interests of some of the wealthiest corporations in history. As has been said, the Internet Archive is not a public service but a pirate website. You are not here to help others- you are helping yourself to others’ property. It’s unfortunate that your supporters can’t admit this, or don’t realize it.

Well said. And let’s understand that what the Silicon Valley oligarchs really want is a true compulsory license for all works of copyright–which I think is exactly what the eponymous Mr. Kahle was actually after with his National Emergency Library, what Google wanted with Google Books, what YouTube wanted with the DMCA, and what Grokster and Morpheus wanted with file sharing. (Note that Napster was always trying to get a license, however hamhandedly, and shut down when they couldn’t get one.)

The Anonymous Librarian goes on to offer a lifeboat, which, unfortunately, will be summarily ignored by the metashills. While she was speaking of the pandemic effort at a compulsory license, these are words that will ring through the history of all these misguided efforts at undermining copyright:

It is a tragedy within a tragedy that anyone supports you in this effort to steal livelihoods away from authors who struggle to create the works that we love to read, as is evidenced by the glowing praise for the books you have taken and given away.

Brewster, you claim that the Internet Archive is a library- but do you want to know what real libraries do? They pay license fees for e-books and then allow their users to access the books. To be decent and truly human, you will apologize to the world and discontinue your grotesquely unfair challenge to authors. You will transform into something resembling a real library and provide funds to license access to these books for the benefit of the public. You have enough financial assets to pay for licenses to use these works. It has been pointed out that you have more than 100 million dollars in your Kahle-Austin Foundation [Now where might that $100 million have come from?]. You could provide the books to the public by paying license fees to authors and publishers- that is what real libraries do.

You could do this, Brewster, and then you would get real praise, and you would be worthy of it.

Pitch perfect summary of what is going on in Maryland and what may be going on in New York. In order to stop the Maryland bill from going into effect in 2022, authors are going to have to dip into their pockets to litigate against states with unlimited litigation budgets backstopped by the biggest corporations in commercial history. This is a familiar role to anyone trying to protect artist rights which is a group that clearly doesn’t include the Maryland General Assembly or Maryland Governor Larry Hogan who should all be ashamed of themselves. If you want to tell the Governor what you think of his unconstitutional travesty, you can contact him here.

Worse yet, it appears that New York has passed similar legislation that may be sitting on the Governor’s desk. I guess the real question is whether New York Attorney General Leticia James would like to come by the Algonquin Hotel to explain why New York has a compelling interest in crushing New York authors.

Please take our Songwriter MLC Awareness Survey–Artist Rights Watch

Please take a few minutes (4 or so) to help us understand how the Mechanical Licensing Collective and the Copyright Office is doing getting the word out about signing up with the MLC and getting paid royalties (including your share of the $424 million black box/unmatched payment that has been sitting at MLC for months).

Your response are anonymous and we’ll post the results when we get a threshold number of responses. We’d really appreciate your help!

To take the survey on Survey Monkey, click here.

YouTube Using Market Power to Rip Off Artists–Again

Not You, ARPU: Another Way to Value Streams on Spotify

[This post first appeared on MusicTechPolicy.]

By Chris Castle

I recently co-wrote with the noted international economist Professor Claudio Feijoo a paper for the World Intellectual Property Organization on a new “streaming remuneration” royalty to be paid to all musicians and vocalists by streaming services. Part of our justification for the new royalty is that these creators, especially “non-featured” musicians and vocalists are not paid at all for streaming which is rapidly replacing radio (for which they are paid through SoundExchange). The value that the streaming remuneration would try to capture is not just revenue based (which is how all streaming royalties are derived currently) but also derived from the market valuation conferred on companies like Spotify. Spotify remember is more like YouTube would be than say Google because it is essentially a “pure play” music stock, kind of like Pandora was.

Claudio has done considerable work on trying to capture and express this value, so for today let’s do some rough justice using one of the approaches from the paper. There are more bells and whistles to the calculation than I’m going to give you here, but you’ll get the idea that a stream is assigned a much, much lower value when calculated on the revenue side of loss-making organizations than when calculated on the extraordinary wealth-making side of the public markets valuation of Spotify. And if you want to make a causal connection between low royalties and high market value, who am I to stop you?

The formula is simple: Divide Spotify’s market capitalization by the number of royalty bearing streams in a month and you have a rough idea of how much value each stream confers on the monopoly streamer.

Spotify’s recent market capitalization is $41,056,000,000 give or take an Arsenal in the rounding. A recent number of monthly plays as reported by the MLC is 24,815,407,149.

Divide market capitalization by number of streams. The result is $1.65 per stream in market valuation. According to the last Trichordist streaming price bible, Spotify’s per-stream rate was $0.00348 and for songwriters, even less.

$1.65 versus $0.00348. Where oh where might that delta go? It goes somewhere and it’s not to the people who made them rich. Not a perfect metric, but you get the idea.

You might say how do they sleep at night? The answer? Sleeping very well on much nicer sheets than you, thank you, and for one reason–they do not give a flying hoot about your problems because Daniel Ek doesn’t think you’re working hard enough to make him and all his employees richer.