Getting discovered in the music business has never been easy. Before the pandemic, artists could at least rely on the industry’s historic mainstay to break through — playing as many gigs as possible and hoping to build a following. But with that path closed for now, artists and their label partners are increasingly dependent on Spotify, the undisputed king of music streaming, and its black box algorithms.
That’s why Spotify’s cynical decision to use this moment to launch a new pay-for-play scheme pressuring vulnerable artists and smaller labels to accept lower royalties in exchange for a boost on the company’s algorithms is so exploitative and unfair. Artists must unite to condemn this thinly disguised royalty cut, which apparently has just been released in “beta” mode and is soon expected to enter the market in full force.
By Chris Castle
If screwups were Easter eggs, Daniel Ek would be the Easter bunny. Right in the middle of Spotify’s crashing stock price, billion-dollar stock buy backs, shenanigans at the Copyright Royalty Board (which grows more chaotic by the day), the Joe Rogan controversy, and an investigation by the UK competition authorities after an investigation by the Digital Culture Media and Sport Committee of the UK House of Commons, here’s another Easter egg that Little Danny missed.
According to Marca, the sport site based in Spain, Ek is soothing his (so far) failed bid to buy the UK football club Arsenal by acquiring the naming rights to Barcelona FC’s super-stadium, Camp Nou, the largest football stadium in Europe. According to Marca:
Sponsorship seems to be the way in which Laporta hopes to get the Blaugrana out of the red and into the black.
An agreement with music streaming platform Spotify, which is expected to be confirmed imminently, will see the club receive 225 million euros.
In turn, Spotify will sponsor the men and women’s shirts as well as their training wear. Furthermore, Spotify will have the rights to the stadium for the next three seasons- which has received mixed reviews from fans of the club.
Barcelona expect annual income of 20 million euros from Spotify to sponsor the Camp Nou, which is estimated to be more than Manchester City‘s deal with Etihad – who sponsor their stadium for 15 million euros per season.
That’s right–not one red cent for artists (or songwriters) but millions for tribute. And how did this deal come about do you think? Well, realize that Barcelona is also shopping for a rather large loan to renovate the Camp Nou stadium and they turned to…Goldman Sachs, which happens to be one of Spotify’s investment bankers. So which came first?
Does Goldman think there’s anything unethical about a company that screws creators all the livelong day but spends hundreds of millions on naming a soccer stadium after itself? (OK, I got that out with a straight face, but you can laugh now.) Evidently not, because in the catechism of Goldman, you stop at the fees novena.
And speaking of fees, what is the source of funds for Daniel Ek’s latest self-aggrandizement or whatever you call it? Perhaps a loan from Goldman before interest rates spike this year if the Federal Reserve really does say goodbye to the easy money era that has bubbled up assets around the world?
[This post first appeared on MusicTechPolicy]
You may have received an email from something called “Sessions” like this one above received by our friend Blake Morgan, and Blake wanted us to alert MTP readers. Here’s Blake’s reply:
Who can forget the epic confrontation between Blake and “Million a Month” Tim Westergren during what Billboard called “World War P”, which shows what can happen when artist relations are grossly mismanaged.
Why do we say “Million a Month” Tim? Because that’s what he made from selling Pandora stock while poor mouthing about paying royalties from Pandora’s loss-making revenues. It may not seem logical, but in Silicon Valley, they care far less about profit than they do about valuation because valuation is, as bank robber Willie Sutton said, where the money is. So “Million a Month” Tim was engaged in the gaslighting of all time.
I guess Blake hasn’t forgotten.
Of course in fairness, Daniel Ek and Spotify are running the same play on a much grander scale of international gaslighting as demonstrated by the COVID Misery Index. Big thanks to Blake for calling out another one and speaking truth to power.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with music streaming, except the economics. In the chart above from the RIAA it’s painfully clear the record industry is still down by over 50% of the revenues achieved at the peak of the business in 1999. So despite what people might like to say about the value of streaming, the actual facts beg to differ.
We recognize that at it’s worse the industry was down by almost two thirds of the peak, and gains are being made. However, it’s important to have clear perspective in these conversations if we are to address some of the challenges with the current economic model.
The fundamental problem with streaming is that revenue does not grow with consumption. Revenue only grows with subscriptions or advertising revenue. Once that revenue is capped, everyone from Taylor Swift to indie garage bands are splitting that same revenue which is divided by the total number of plays for that specific revenue period. This also means hit records don’t add overall revenue for anyone, they just get a larger piece of the revenue that is available.
When a major artist has a release (like Taylor Swift for example) everyone’s streams are worth less. This is because Taylor generates so many plays/streams that the pie is now cut into much smaller slices. Of course, Taylor gets the majority of those slices so she gets the most money from the pool of revenue that is available.
In other words, the pie doesn’t grow with consumption, it can only be cut into smaller pieces. The more overall plays there are, the smaller the slices get for everyone. This isn’t the fault of the superstar artist, but rather it’s a fundamental flaw in the design of the business model.
The only way for streams to generate more revenue for all artists is to create solutions that generate more revenue for the streamers as well. The easiest and most common sense solution is an actual per stream rate which would allow consumption to drive revenue. It’s hard to believe such a win/win would be controversial, but here we are.
By Chris Castle
The walls appear to be closing in on TikTok (or as it’s becoming known, TikSoft). This is probably particularly galling to the founder of Bytedance (TikTok’s parent company). Zhang Yiming worked at Microsoft but left in 2008.
Mr. Zhang is launching a Google-style reaction and deflection campaign against the U.S. Government’s standard Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (“CFIUS”) review of Bytedance’s 2017 acquisition of Musical.ly that started on November 1, 2019. Bear in mind–Zhang must be well aware that pre-acquisition review by CFIUS is a standard procedure which Bytedance chose not to pursue. Had Bytedance submitted the Musical.ly transaction to a pre-acquisition review, TikTok might still have the current problem, but it would have to come from a less legally solid ground.
The key issue in the CFIUS review is the one that Mr. Zhang is not discussing–China’s National Intelligence Law. The reason for the U.S. concern about TikTok is that the National Intelligence Law has broadly drafted and poorly defined provisions that create gaping exposure for U.S. and other foreigners doing business or even studying in China, as well as their Chinese business partners, employees and colleagues.
Two parts of the Intelligence Law are particularly concerning, Article 7 and Article 14. Article 7 mandates that “any organization or citizen shall support, assist, and cooperate with state intelligence work according to law” and Article 14 empowers State Security officials to demand this cooperation, stating that “state intelligence work organs, when legally carrying forth intelligence work, may demand that concerned organs, organizations, or citizens provide needed support, assistance, and cooperation.”
Other clauses are equally alarming. Article 16 authorizes State Security to interrogate any individual and to search their reference materials and files. Article 17 authorizes police to seize and take over the operation of communications equipment [aka TikTok], transportation, buildings, and other facilities of both individuals and organizations.
It is this law that is at the bottom of U.S. concerns about TikTok’s data scraping–it is, after all, spyware with a soundtrack. There’s a strong case to be made that U.S. artists, songwriters, creators and fans are all dupes of TikTok as a data collection tool in a country that requires its companies to hand over to the Ministry of State Security all it needs to support the intelligence mission (MSS is like the FBI and CIA in one agency with a heavy ration of FSB).
Mr. Zhang does not discuss this part. It should come as no surprise–according to his Wikipedia page, Mr. Zhang understands what happens when you don’t toe the Party line:
ByteDance’s first app, Neihan Duanzi, was shut down in 2018 by the National Radio and Television Administration. In response, Zhang issued an apology stating that the app was “incommensurate with socialist core values“, that it had a “weak” implementation of Xi Jinping Thought, and promised that ByteDance would “further deepen cooperation” with the ruling Chinese Communist Party to better promote its policies.
I would find it very, very hard to believe that Mr. Zhang is not a member of the Chinese Communist Party, but in any event he understands very clearly what his role is under the National Intelligence Law. Do you think that standing up to the MSS to protect the data privacy of American teenagers is consistent with “Xi Jinping Thought”? (Xi Jinping is the Chairman for Life of the Chinese Communist Party.)
Kind of like this recent police banner from Hong Kong:
It’s not that I don’t believe a word he says, it’s just that I’m still waiting to hear how operating the company in the U.S. in line with the public protestations of TikTok executives is consistent with “Xi Jinping Thought” and being “commensurate with socialist core values.”
But hope springs eternal.
We’ve been waiting for The MLC to show us how the best of breed solves the global rights database problem. Hopefully the smart people will solve that problem before the January 1 deadline when the MMA’s blanket license comes into effect. We’ve been told many times that HFA and ConsenSys were the elites and the smart people who would lead songwriters to the promised land. So we have all been waiting. And waiting. And waiting…. The deadline is less than six months away and we have seen no tech demonstrated at all despite all the hoopla and promises.
But this week we got a look at what the elites have come up with in the form of the “Music Data Organization Form” that The MLC wants songwriters to use to “Play Your Part”. Remember–The MLC got the tens of millions of dollars from the services and they want you to “Play Your Part” and “Eat Your Costs” to play your part for free. Remember–they are the ones with a paycheck and fringe benefits paid for by the services that rip off songwriters every day.
Whenever we want to read a press release from The MLC we always turn to Music Row Magazine where we can usually read it word for word. This is what Music Row “reports” about The MLC’s “Music Data Organization Form”:
The MLC created the Music Data Organization Form to help self-administered songwriters, composers and lyricists begin to organize their musical works’ data ahead of The MLC’s roll-out of The MLC Portal.
“The Music Data Organization Form is designed as a worksheet to help guide self-administered writers through the process of collecting the data they’ll need to register with The MLC,” said Kris Ahrend, CEO of The MLC. “The form essentially outlines the information self-administered writers will need to compile in order to register their musical works in The MLC Portal.”
The MLC intends to begin rolling out the first version of its user portal later this quarter. This version [of the portal, not the Music Data Organization Form] will enable users to set-up their accounts and then search, view and edit The MLC’s data for existing musical works and register new musical works.
So now it’s “later this quarter” which is a shift from what The MLC’s Richard Thompson said at the Copyright Office unmatched roundtable only last December when he said on the record: “So our current timeline has the first version of the portal going live late Q2, early Q3, of next year” meaning this year. We are in early Q3 now, but now it’s “later this quarter.” You know, Jesus is coming, look busy.
We can save you a trip–you don’t have a choice in participating in the blanket license because it’s even more compulsory than the old compulsory thanks to the Music “Modernization” Act. On the other hand, you may not have to use this form because this form has no use to you as we will see, particularly if you already have all your song data organized in a format that works for you.
If you use The MLC’s “Music Data Organization Form” it appears that you’ll just have to do the same work all over again which the last paragraph of the Music Row press release tells you if you read closely. (That’s the kind of daylight in the facts we expect journalists to catch.)
More importantly, entering your data in the Music Data Organization Form must be done manually. At this rate, it may be that entering your data in whatever “portal” The MLC cooks up certainly looks like it, too, will require manual entry from independents. Each of those manual steps will then be mistake-prone which could easily lead to…a bigger black box.
The MLC’s “Music Data Organization Form” does not seem to serve much of a purpose and it surely can’t be a list of all the data fields that The MLC will require. Those fields are still being argued over at the Copyright Office. It seems to us that The MLC’s “Music Data Organization Form” is a make work step to mollify songwriters who are getting restless. Because looking busy.
Here’s some problems with The MLC’s “Music Data Organization Form” that we’ve identified. You may find others. If you do, leave a comment privately.
Problem #1: Once it is filled out, this form cannot be ingested by anyone for anything as far as we can tell. We think we’re safe in saying that you shouldn’t use this form if you think that you can just hand it over to The MLC and have them then use it to automatically upload your song data into the global rights database by ingesting the metadata you laboriously inputted in the form.
Problem #2: Even though the “Music Data Organization Form” is in Excel, it may as well be in WordStar–there are no formulas in any cell. We know this because we checked each cell, but here’s another way to find out:
Note that the Lennon and McCartney shares sum to 110%, but you wouldn’t know you had incorrect splits from the “Music Data Organization Form” because there is no formula in the cells that totals the splits for you. Which is, by the way, the most basic arithmetic in Excel. You can eyeball the splits in the easy case of 50/50 but if you had 9 writers, you might overlook if all the splits don’t sum to 100%. Which is why you have the machine do it for you!
Problem #3: You have to do a separate Excel file for each song in your catalog. So you’ll get lots of practice at filling out this form manually. That could lead to getting it right more often or getting tired and making more mistakes.
Problem #4: The MLC thinks you can use this to handwrite your metadata. Yes, you read that right. It’s already set up with print fields, so they got that printing thing right at least.
Problem #5: The writers are not tied to publishers in any permanent way. One wrong sort of the cells in the “Music Data Organization Form” at The MLC and there’s no telling how many mistakes there will be.
Problem #5A: There’s only an implication that The MLC will want you to send them these worksheets. They don’t actually say they want you to send them. Frankly, if you have to do a separate work sheet for each song, they probably don’t even want them. But–because The MLC’s “Music Data Organization Form” is not automatically inputted into The MLC’s systems, if The MLC did get their hands on the individual forms, there is nothing stopping The MLC from sending a copy to others, like, oh say HFA or another vendor. Nobody would ever know. And it would keep those interns busy with data entry.
We could go on, but let’s stop there.
Hey, DLC! This is what you get for $30 million? We think ya been robbed.
But seriously folks, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. What we expected was something just a tad more comprehensive and useful. Something befitting the best and brightest, the global elites in our business. Something that was smarter than what the average ConsenSys asteroid miner would come up with. We don’t rule out the possibility that this is some magical blockchain solution hiding in plain sight but we’re not smart enough to see how that works if that’s the secret.
But even so it still leads us back to the same conclusion.
If The MLC is getting paid to process our data then they should take our data in the format that’s convenient for us. If they don’t like that, then they should pay us to change the data into a format that’s convenient for them to build the core asset they are being paid millions to create. They already got the money to do this job.
It’s that simple. But please don’t pawn off this kind of manual solution on us and tell us that we just need to make copies of their lo-fi worksheet for each song in our catalogs. It can’t even add up the splits.
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is still sneaking around in the shadows abusing the anti-democratic secret hold to stop the CASE Act from passing the U.S. Senate, the copyright small claims bill. And get this–the CASE Act is bipartisan legislation that has been in the works for years and years and has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives and his own Senate Judiciary Committee!
But Senator Wyden is abusing a little known procedural trick to stop the bill from coming to a vote in the Senate so it can bring relief to independent creators in a vast number of copyright fields like photographers, authors, illustrators, songwriters and recording artists. And it’s not like his constituents want him to oppose it, they want him to pass it!
Little Ronnie doesn’t like the nasty billboards. Do you think he thinks he can stomp his little foot and tell Senator Kennedy, Senator Durban and all his other colleagues to bark at the moon? Who does this guy think he is? Do you think he thinks he can get the billboards down if he holds his breath long enough? Did he ever consider that maybe we’re just getting started bringing heat to his butt?
He’s clearly in the pocket of Big Tech and has been for a very long time. This is a man who holds up every copyright bill that comes through the Congress and he does it the same way every time.
But this time he’s beginning to think he might actually get unelected because he underestimated the number of independent creators who are going after his job.
Say it like a mantra and share it with your friends–Oregon Man Bad!
Just when you think you understand Title I of the Music Modernization Act, another toad runs out from under a rock. My nickname for the toad we’re going to talk about today is the “Hoffa Clause,” in honor of the Teamster leader and well-known pension fund raider (played by Al Pacino in The Irishman).
Here it is:
INTERIM APPLICATION OF ACCRUED ROYALTIES.—In the event that the administrative assessment, together with any funding from voluntary contributions as provided in subparagraphs (A) and (B), is inadequate to cover current collective total costs, the collective, with approval of its board of directors, may apply unclaimed accrued royalties on an interim basis to defray such costs, subject to future reimbursement of such royalties from future collections of the assessment.
The Office has a serious public education issue about the hygienically titled “Interim Application” clause. I have yet to meet a songwriter who is aware of this clause in Title I and it was never publicized in the run up to passing MMA. Many publishers have been so taken aback that they deny the clause is there. Despite the provision’s rather metaphysical properties, it is there and it says what it says. How it came to be there is only known to the insiders. But it’s very specific, so must have been placed there for a reason.
Title I gives The MLC tremendous power over affording itself the benefit of administering other people’s money. The plain language of this clause essentially says that The MLC can invade the black box and make interest free, nonrecourse loans to itself to apply against certain shortfalls in “collective total costs” when the administrative assessment approved by the Copyright Royalty Judges is “inadequate to cover total collective costs.” Under Title I as drafted, The MLC is solely in a position to control that shortfall and to invade the black box.
Anytime anointed people handle other people’s money, stringent rules apply to that duty. Or ought to. Strangely enough, this “Interim Application” provision is not addressed at all in the legislative history or the Conference Report. So we can only look at the words and try to divine the intention of the lobbyists who wrote the bill.
The new rule announces itself as relating to the “application” of “accrued royalties” on an “interim” basis. The Cambridge Dictionary tells us that “interim” means temporary, such as a temporary solution: “temporary and intended to be used or accepted until something permanent exists”. That “something permanent” is the “administrative assessment”–which of course will already exist at the moment of “application”. So there is a chicken and egg issue with this entire concept from the beginning.
(Remember that the “administrative assessment” is the operating budget and startup costs paid for by the users of the Title I blanket license who may also be the beneficiaries of the Title I safe harbor. The administrative assessment always exists once it has been set in motion by the Copyright Royalty Judges, which is now in place for the foreseeable future. The CRJs essentially recently rubber stamped the agreement between The MLC (the biggest publishers, having single-mindedly gotten rid of the independents through legal maneuvering) and the DLC (i.e., the biggest services).)
So what money is available to be tapped through this “interim application”? “Unclaimed accrued royalties”, which sounds like the black box. Which is why I call it a “black box invasion.”
It is worth noting that Title I uses the terms “unmatched” and “unclaimed” somewhat interchangeably. I would point out that it is possible for royalties to be both matched and unclaimed, matched and disputed and unilaterally held by The MLC, as well as unmatched and therefore unclaimed. And remember that just because money is unclaimed does not mean that there was any method in place for it to be claimed.
Realize that the entire Hoffa clause is based on an assumption–that there was a meaningful process in place for songwriters (1) to know that The MLC had decided that their money should be held as accrued but unclaimed and (2) to claim their money. There is neither present today and there is unlikely to be either available any time soon based on public statements of executives of The MLC. Without both these processes in place, it seems that it should be important, if not crucial, to preserve the status quo until they are and that the public interest would be served by doing so.
Holding Periods Maketh the Black Box
I suggest that the common interpretation of black box is that it includes a series of royalty payments that may be disputed, matched, unmatched and unclaimed and has been so for a holding period of at least a few years, in this case three years. That suggests that no invasion may occur under this clause before the passing of three years, and the holding period should run on an item-by-item contributory share basis for each rolling accrual.
But that isn’t really the whole story on the holding periods in the first black box distribution from the DLC to The MLC. The first distribution is going to be all the black box money ever held by all the DLC members (and any other users of the blanket). Because the security surrounding this amount is tighter than the nuclear football, it is impossible to say how much will be in the black box. The Songwriters Guild and Society of Composers and Lyricists (the ones who were maneuvered out of the assessment hearing) have been asking this question for months and no one has responded.
The relevant holding period for the black box is not only the three years that The MLC can hold the money, but the entire holding period from when the black box first “accrued”. That could be many years longer than the Title I holding period. There’s a question as to the three-year rule should apply or whether the DLC should be allowed to ignore all those holding periods on top of the three years. You can see this is a story for another post, but keep that in mind for this post. I don’t think that sentient beings with the ability to think sequentially can just accept that the relevant holding period is three years–after the black box is transferred to The MLC as though the money had been there all the time. I don’t think songwriters need a court to tell them that’s just wrong.
What Does Accrued but Unclaimed Even Mean?
The fact that royalties are “accrued but unclaimed” for all or part of a song does not tell the whole story, because “unclaimed” standing alone doesn’t tell the whole story. The “Interim Application” clause applies to “unclaimed accrued royalties” which could be royalties payable for unmatched contributory shares of songs that The MLC doesn’t know who to pay (therefore unclaimed) as well as matched royalties that have yet to be claimed but for which a payee might be identified with subsequent research.
Which contributory shares of a song that are or are not claimed is a fact determined by a snapshot in a moment of time that could easily change in the next moment. In fact, accrued royalties being held on disputed songs may also find their way into the black box. Unfortunately, Title I has yet another drafting glitch because it does not identify that moment in time for purposes of the black box invasion.
Borrowing from Frankie to Pay Big Paulie
There could easily be a situation where the black box is invaded but the future assessment is not made for a year or more, or the future assessment is insufficient to repay Peter for the loan to Paul. Because an expenditure may be an item of “collective total cost” but may not be reimbursed by “future collections of the assessment” rather than the next collection of the assessment occurring after the interest-free nonrecourse black box invasion, the statutory drafting is glitchy.
Plus, while the CRJs approve the administrative assessments, they have no direct approval right over a black box invasion—although approval over one does imply approval over both to the extent the invasion takes money from an assessment in a proceeding before the CRJs (which would be all assessments). I’ve almost talked myself into believing that the CRJs actually were intended to approve any black box invasions, at least to the extent the sums are to be included in future assessments or offset prior assessments. I think we all would be grateful if the Copyright Office could clarify this point.
In any event, it is clear that The MLC is allowed to write itself what amount to limitless interest-free nonrecourse loans against the black box that can only be repaid from the assessment if the DLC approves (or perhaps the CRJs could be persuaded to approve).
The DLC would then be put in a position of declining to approve an increase to cover a black box invasion in the assessment that the DLC had nothing to do with incurring and will not have been informed of based on the plain language of Title I. Since the current assessment seems to be on a fixed trajectory based on the last assessment settlement, it is likely that any invasion amount might exceed the stipulated assessment. What happens if the assessment is not available to repay the invasion amount is unclear, even though The MLC is allowed to make the decision before knowing how the loan will be treated?
The first issue in this cluster must be transparency on the board vote at a minimum. Because the statute refers to approval by The MLC’s “board of directors” and because the nonvoting members are part of the board, I have always assumed that such a board vote requires both voting board members and at least the assent of nonvoting members. Neither does the glitchy language require any particular majority, so the new regulations may be an opportunity for the Copyright Office to require a majority, supermajority or unanimous board vote in regulations.
My preference would be for unanimous because I think taking other people’s money is a controversial act and they should lock arms and all go together. Unanimity would also require both publishers and songwriters to vote for the loan (as publishers already have a supermajority representation written into the law). As far as I can tell, we can only go by the plain language of the statute as I have found no legislative history on this provision.
Notice to Songwriters
I also think that regulations should provide that there be some written public statement by The MLC’s chief financial officer to the Copyright Office (or the CRJs) that these funds are being approved by the board for disbursement before the taking. The CFO should also provide a justification statement. The MLC board should have to sign up to that statement with full transparency of (1) why there is this compelling need and (2) why that need can only be met this way. Frankly, it would be best if the funds could not be disbursed until the Register or the Librarian approved the disbursement in all respects. One would think that the board members would want this sharing of responsibility.
Another option, if possible, would be to require The MLC and the DLC to return to the CRJs and request an increase in the applicable assessment or amendment to The MLC’s budget to cover the black box invasion.
What’s in Your Wallet? Explain Why There is a Shortfall
There yet another drafting glitch in this section. The statute fails to ask why a quango like The MLC is in a position that the millions in the Administrative Assessment doesn’t cover the relevant costs in the first place. The assumption seems to be that there was a spike in the defined “collective total costs”. As The MLC is in control of how the Administrative Assessment is spent, there may need to be some true up between the authorized budget approved by the CRJs and what was actual spent on a line item basis.
This raises, of course, the question of what kind of items should never be covered by the Administrative Assessment (which, if violated, could cause a shortfall requiring the black box invasion). Such items might include loans to executives, performance bonuses, excessive travel reimbursements (such as first-class travel or reimbursement for tips in transit), expensive restaurant tabs and alcohol bills, but also items like settlements of harassment claims or related court costs. Since harassment claims often are subject to nondisclosure agreements, it does not seem appropriate for The MLC to be able to recover such payments from black box invasion. None of those items should be deductible from the Administrative Assessment and should never be the cause of a black box invasion.
It must also be said that “collective total costs” includes “bad debt.” This caught my eye. “Bad debt” is generally defined as a contingency or credit extended (such as to a customer) that is determined to be uncollectable. Why would a pass-through quango like The MLC which has all of its costs covered by a third party need to be extending credit or loaning money to anyone, certainly not to any employee, board member, or vendor? Under these circumstances, how would the bad debt be matched according to GAAP? What controls are there within The MLC to disclose bad debt? And why should bad debt be able to cause a black box invasion?
A corollary to bad debt is the indebtedness of The MLC itself as a borrower. Again, given that the collective total costs are underwritten by a third party, why would The MLC need to borrow any money at all? One could imagine that The MLC might properly have a modest bank credit line for cash flow purposes, but servicing any credit line should not result in a black box invasion, nor should the black box be used as collateral for any loan.
Paying Songwriters Who Claim or Are Matched After the Loan
The other drafting glitch I spotted that I would recommend needs closing up has to do with subsequent matching and paymenting. What happens if there is a call on the black box invasion funds loaned to The MLC after the loan is made but before it is repaid. These black box invasion loans should not delay matching and should also not delay payment of royalties matched after the loan is disbursed.
The easiest solution for a call on these loaned funds is to require the board members (or their companies) to cover the required funds, but I really think the Copyright Office needs to address the potential to abuse this tempting power. Abuse of this power is exactly the kind of thing that could give rise to the very “waste, fraud and abuse” Congress wants the Copyright Office to take into account in the quinquennial review and potential redesignation (discussed above).
Yield Not Unto Temptation: Detection Leads to Correction
This comment is not intended to be a knock on The MLC. I am simply noting that any MLC may face the temptations that have certainly been irresistible for many smart people similarly situated in other contexts. This kind of loan might well be a breach of a fiduciary duty by board members, and certainly would be in other similar situations.
It also must be said anecdotally that there are many songwriters who, perhaps unfairly, think that publishers use black box payments as a slush fund to run their operations with interest-free loans as the hygienically named “interim applications” would be.
The problem is that without the disinfectant of sunlight, there may be no detection to lead to correction. Who would not prefer to avoid that problem who was able to avoid it?
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
 17 U.S.C. § 115 (d)(7)(C).
 I have also discussed this clause off the record in the context of the Dispute Resolution Committee and Unmatched liability safe harbor for The MLC with friends at CMOs outside of the U.S. When the laughter subsided, they all said that if they did anything like this they’d be fired long before they hit the gross negligence threshold. “Heads on pikes” was the description. We must then wonder what the CMOs think of this clause and what in the world they think the Americans are up to. The Office might want to ask them.
 17 U.S.C. §115 (d)(3)(H)(i).
 It appears that royalties held by the Dispute Resolution Committee for disputed works will also be kept in the black box account and presumably would be subject to invasion. “The dispute resolution committee established under subparagraph (D)(vi) shall establish policies and procedures…that shall include a mechanism to hold disputed funds in accordance with the requirements described in subparagraph (H)(ii) pending resolution of the dispute.” 17 U.S.C. § 115 (d)(3)(K)(ii). Subparagraph (H)(ii) provides for an “Interest-bearing account.—Accrued royalties for unmatched works (and shares thereof) shall be maintained by the mechanical licensing collective in an interest-bearing account that earns monthly interest….”
 Presumably this issue will be addressed in the Copyright Office Unclaimed Royalties Study of best practices on both matched but unclaimed and unmatched royalties. Even so, this may be a good place to insert a true escrow account for the mandated interest-bearing account for the black box so that the account is held by a third-party bank unrelated to The MLC, the DLC, their board members or their vendors. There should be specific withdrawal instructions to that third-party bank. I find it difficult to understand why anyone would oppose such an ethical separation.
 The loans are limitless because there is no limitation on the amount in Title I. The loan could theoretically even exceed the amount of the then-existing black box and be taken from a future accrual.
[The Copyright Office is bravely trying to regulate The MLC to keep the MMA from becoming a feeding frenzy for the data lords. As Chris Castle said in his comment on what should be stamped “Confidential” and kept away from songwriters: “The premise of confidential information under Title I is that there is in rock and roll certain information deserving of government-mandated secrecy.” Or as Otis said, too hot to handle. Keep that in mind–when they say “confidential information” they mean information they can keep away from you.
We are going to excerpt some of the good comments that support independents in the other Copyright Office “rulemaking” consultation that just closed devoted to confidential treatment of data by The MLC and the DLC. You can read them all here.]
The Future of Music Coalition made some great points in their filing, read the whole thing here.
Restrictions on use by MLC and DLC Vendors and Consultants FMC shares concerns expressed by other commenters about the possibility of vendors using confidential data for competitive advantage or purposes beyond what the MLC was created to do. There should be no provision for HFA to use confidential data for “general use”, even on an opt-in basis. The risk of anti-competitive harm is too great.
[Editor Charlie sez: Artist Rights Watch, Music Tech Policy and The Trichordist are pleased to support this effort. Please let your representatives in Washington know that you do, too!]
WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 8, 2020) – Leading music and film organizations today sent a new letter to leaders of Congress that highlights the ways implementation of the CARES Act has fallen short in assisting workers in need in the entertainment community and requests that these flaws in implementation be remedied in a new CARES Act COVID relief package.
The organizations said in a joint statement: “While we appreciate the efforts of lawmakers to meet the challenges of this pandemic, we need to ensure that our community is getting the aid they need to survive. Musicians are struggling to access the basic financial resources available due to conflicting and burdensome requirements in relief programs. Simply, there is a hole in this safety net that Congress must fix in the next version of the CARES Act.”
The letter lays out in stark terms the crisis that the live entertainment industry is facing due to the pandemic.
“We need help that only [Congress] can provide, in a way that recognizes the particulars of our industry. On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of us across the country, thank you for your understanding and your action.”
In the letter, the organizations point out the implementation of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program (PUA) has overlooked workers who have mixed income and report it on W-2 and 1099 forms. “In almost all cases that we see in every state, a minimum amount of W-2 income disqualifies a self-employed individual for PUA and significantly lowers the amount of assistance they receive,” the letter states. “PUA must be updated to recognize these different income streams and allow individuals to show their mixed sources of revenue for a full accounting of their annual income.”
The letter also describes concerns about the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program that were included in the first CARES Act.
The organizations who signed include the Artist Rights Alliance (ARA), American Association of Independent Music (A2IM), American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), the Future of Music Coalition, Global Music Rights (GMR), the Music Artists Coalition (MAC), the Music Business Association, National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA), Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), the Recording Academy, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the Screen Actors Guild-the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC), the Songwriters Guild of America, the Songwriters of North America (SONA), SoundExchange and many more.
The full text of the letter follows:
Honorable Nancy Pelosi Honorable Kevin McCarthy
Speaker Republican Leader
U.S. House of Representatives U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515 Washington, DC 20515
Honorable Mitch McConnell Honorable Charles Schumer
Majority Leader Democratic Leader
U.S. Senate U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20510 Washington, DC 20510
Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader McConnell, Leader McCarthy, and Leader Schumer:
The broad and diverse American entertainment community would like to thank you for your continued efforts to provide assistance to those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act and the subsequent “Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act” were sincerely welcomed programs, particularly their essential coverage of independent contractors, sole proprietors, and other self-employed individuals who make up so much of the live entertainment workforce.
As you know, many of our jobs have not only vanished, they will be gone for quite some time. From on-set production to public performance, our work in the entertainment industry naturally requires close personal interaction and public gatherings. Even when business restrictions are eased, it will take much longer to restore the social interaction inherently necessary for the creative industries to operate.
For those of us in the creative field to survive – and recover – after this crisis, we must be able to access the full support intended by Congress. Thus, we would like to highlight a few ways that the CARES Act has fallen short in assisting those of us most in need and hope that it will be instructive in your continued discussions on any further federal funding assistance.
First, given the unique nature of our industry, many in our profession work from project to project and gig to gig, not only in multiple jobs but in various capacities. As a result, creators often find themselves working as employees receiving W-2 wages and as independent contractors (or otherwise self-employed) receiving 1099 income for performances, royalties, and other services. Unfortunately, implementation of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program (PUA) has overlooked workers with mixed income. In almost all cases that we see in every state, a minimum amount of W-2 income disqualifies a self-employed individual for PUA and significantly lowers the amount of assistance they receive. PUA must be updated to recognize these different income streams and allow individuals to show their mixed sources of revenue for a full accounting of their annual income.
In addition, those who work on location or perform on tour earn freelance income in multiple states, some of which does not come with a 1099. While some state agencies allow for this type of reporting, some do not. Congress’s intent is that such workers should be fully eligible for at least the minimum PUA amount, but state implementation does not fully reflect this intention. PUA must be updated to recognize these unique circumstances.
Second, the CARES Act does not recognize the full scope of small business arrangements prevalent within our industry. As the PUA mixed income issue and the actual operation of our industry make clear, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) should be sure to allow payments to self-employed individuals, including independent contractors. The workers in our industry cannot afford to be shut out of federal assistance on such a technicality and any future plan should recognize self-employed individuals as eligible payroll participants.
Third, SBA’s PPP guidelines on eligibility criteria and requirements for the self-employed are overly burdensome and restrictive. SBA requires a 2019 Schedule C as the principal document to determine eligibility and loan size, even though the IRS delayed the 2019 tax year filing deadline to July 15, 2020. This puts a burden on smaller, independent creators who must now scramble to secure professional accounting services so they can supply a 2019 Schedule C. More importantly, the SBA restricts self-employed applicants to loans that are sized according solely to net business income as reflected on a Schedule C. Net business income does not reflect the fact that professionals have significant overhead costs – mortgages, studio rentals, equipment costs, health insurance premiums, and other expenses.
The SBA should allow the use of 1099-MISC forms and consideration of health insurance costs in the calculation of loan amounts, as well as the 2018 Schedule C when a 2019 form is not readily available. SBA should calculate loans consistent with the intent of the CARES Act, which allows for consideration of any compensation to a sole proprietor or independent contractor.
Finally, the SBA has limited the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) grant of up to $10,000 to only $1,000 per employee. This means self-employed individuals who do not have employees are unfairly penalized, even though they need immediate relief just as much as any other small business. Congress clearly lays out in the CARES Act that funds from the EIDL advance may be used for many purposes other than payroll.
And when it’s time to once again open the doors to live music venues and recording studios, music will continue to need help. The government must commit to provide adequate testing, contact tracing, viral treatments and a vaccine to ensure safety and restore public trust. We will also need clear national guidelines to facilitate touring and live performances from musicians and entertainers in venues of all sizes.
There is no sugarcoating this: the entire live entertainment industry has been decimated. We trade in imagination, but the reality of our situation is dire. Today, we eagerly share our craft when we can – through video streams, on social media, or from apartment balconies. But it is not a viable “work from home” solution and it will not sustain us. We need help that only you can provide, in a way that recognizes the particulars of our industry. On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of us across the country, thank you for your understanding and your action.
Academy of Country Music (ACM)
Actors’ Equity Association
Alliance for Recorded Music (ARM)
American Association of Independent Music (A2IM)
American Federation of Musicians (AFM)
Americana Music Association
Artist Rights Alliance (ARA)
Artist Rights Watch
Association of Independent Music Publishers (AIMP)
California Arts Advocates
Christian Music Trade Association (CMTA)
Church Music Publishers Association (CMPA)
Country Music Association (CMA)
Digital Media Association (DiMA)
Folk Alliance International
Future of Music Coalition
Guild of Italian American Actors
Global Music Rights (GMR)
Gospel Music Association
The Harper Agency
International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA)
Music Artists Coalition (MAC)
Music Business Association (MusicBiz)
Music Managers Forum – US
Musicians On Call
Music Technology Policy Blog
National Independent Venue Association
National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA)
National Songwriters Association International
On Board Experiential
Paradigm Talent Agency
Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)
Reel Muzik Werks, LLC
Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA)
Songwriters Guild of America
Songwriters of North America (SONA)
Southern Gospel Music Guild
Writers’ Guild of America, East