#FrozenMechanicals Crisis: Unfiled Supplemental Comments of @helienne Lindvall, @davidclowery, @theblakemorgan and @sealeinthedeal

[Chris Castle says: Here’s the context of this post. As it turns out, the CRB extended the filing deadline for comments due to what they said was a technical difficulty, although we have yet to meet anyone who couldn’t file their comment on time. This extension seems contrary to the CRB’s February revised rules for filings by participants. The CRB procedures presciently have an email filing procedure in the case of technical problems arising out of their “eCRB” document filing system. It will not surprise you to know that the NMPA, NSAI, and major labels filed what is essentially a reply comment after the close of business on the last day of the extension, after at least our if not all commenter accounts were disabled, the practical effect of which was that no one could respond to their comments through the eCRB, i.e., on the record.

We tried, and drafted a reply to the most important points raised in the majors’ comment. We emailed our comment to the CRB during business hours on the next day in line with the CRB’s own “Procedural Regulations of the Copyright Royalty Board Regarding Electronic Filing System” (see 37 CFR §303.5(m)) or so we thought. But not so fast–we were told by an email from a nameless person at the CRB that we would need to file a motion in order to get approval to file the comment less than 24 hours late for good cause–which of course, we are not able to do since we are not “participants” in the proceeding. See how that works? According to this person’s email, we’d also need to contact CRB technical support to get our accounts reopened which would make the comment later still even if we were able to file a motion. Instead, we decided to just post our reply comment on the Internet. A wider audience. Unfortunately not part of the record, but we’ll see what happens.]

SUPPLEMENTAL COMMENTS OF HELIENNE LINDVALL, DAVID LOWERY, BLAKE MORGAN  AND GWENDOLYN SEALE OBJECTING TO PROPOSED SETTLEMENT OF SUBPART B RATES

            This comment is in reply to the comment[1] filed by the Copyright Owners and the Joint Record Company Participants (the “Majors”) time-stamped after the close of business on August 10, 2021 and made available on the CRB docket the morning of August 11, 2021, i.e., after the deadline established by the Judges in the Proposed Rule published at 86 FR 33601 that would codify the Proposed Settlement.[2] 

            We ask the Judges’ leniency in permitting our late-filed supplemental comment to be made a part of the record in hopes that our responsive discussion will be helpful to the Copyright Royalty Board in resolving the frozen mechanicals crisis.

            This comment is filed on behalf of Helienne Lindvall, David Lowery and Blake Morgan who timely filed their comment on July 26, 2021[3] in accordance with the proposed rule.  This comment is also filed by Gwendolyn Seale who timely filed her own comment[4] in accordance with the proposed rule.  Their respective biographical information may be found in their previously filed comments.

            We will briefly discuss what we think are the essential points the Judges should consider that the Majors have raised in their comment.

I. Discussion

            A.  Authority:  As multiple commenters have stated, it is unclear whether the NMPA and NSAI have been authorized by their respective memberships of over 300 music publishers and over 4,000 songwriters to propose and/or accept a settlement freezing the statutory rate for Subpart B configurations through 2027. Thus, we ask the Judges to seek out evidence demonstrating that self-published songwriters and independent publishers have authorized the NSAI and NMPA to accept this Proposed Settlement.  We do not question the integrity of the Majors, but we do have questions about the negotiation process that have yet to be answered. 

            References to a broad “consensus” must be questioned because there is both a lack of evidence of consensus and also evidence in the record that at least 12 international songwriter groups object to the Proposed Settlement.  Independent songwriters, including Ms. Lindvall, Mr. Lowery and Mr. Morgan, also object.  It seems simple enough for the Judges to require some evidence of consent to the Proposed Settlement given the awesome power of the government that the Judges are essentially asked by Congress to delegate to the Majors through a voluntary negotiation.  This seems to us to be good cause for further verification of authority to make the deal in the first place.

            B.  The Judges Predicted the Current Opposition in their Phonorecords III Determination

The Majors rely on a citation that both demonstrates the foresight of the CRB and on balance tends to support our position that the NMPA and the NSAI likely lack the requisite authority to negotiate on behalf of all the world’s songwriters.  The Majors invite the Judges to participate in a thought experiment[5] that actually serves quite well to highlight the issues we have raised in the respective comments regarding both the authority of the NMPA and NSAI and the implied below-statutory rates bootstrapped indirectly by means of the freeze:

As the Judges have noted, “NMPA and NSAI represent individual songwriters and publishers,” and would not “engage[] in anti-competitive price-fixing at below-market rates,” since they must “act[] in the interest of their constituents” lest their constituents “seek representation elsewhere.” [Phonorecords III] at 15298.[6]

Respectfully, the problem is way beyond seeking representation elsewhere—the problem is that there was likely no “representation” in the first place if you take “representation” in the legal sense (such as that of a common agent) which we gather is how the Judges intended the use of the word.  Likewise, there is a difference between an agent’s principal and a “constituent”, i.e., a difference between one who expressly authorizes an agent to represent them in certain circumstances and one who is allowed to vote on who that representative is to be.  Neither is the case for many songwriters who have commented in the record for the current proceeding.  We will leave their record to speak for themselves as to why they have sought “representation elsewhere” but it appears that it is for the same reason that they are not participants in the proceeding—they can’t afford the justice and this is why they ask the Judges to give special weight to their comments in the CRB’s deliberations.

            But the Major’s thought experiment and speculation continues in an interesting coda regarding below statutory licensing (generally not permitted as a matter of contract in likely tens of thousands of co-publishing and administration agreements):

And certainly it would not be in the interest of any major publisher to agree to extend a below-market mechanical royalty rate to the competitors of its sister record company.[7]

While the thought experiment and speculation sound innocuous, consider what is being said here.  First, the Majors identify their interest as that of “major publishers”; not all publishers, not all songwriters, but “major publishers.”  Then the Majors go on to say that it would not be in the interest of the major publishers to give a “below market” rate to their sister record company’s competitors

            Of course, there is no market rate in the U.S. and essentially never has been; the Judges have the unenviable task of divining a market rate to be made statutory.  We would therefore modify the thought experiment to include “below statutory”.  Now we are left with the assertion that major publishers use the statutory rate to protect their record company affiliates from competition—not that they fulfill their role as true blue fiduciaries for their songwriters by refusing to grant below-statutory rates (either directly or indirectly), but rather being hard on the competitors of their affiliates.   And they are using their market power to impose a rate on the world that they seem to say protects their affiliates.  Extending the frozen mechanical rate certainly doesn’t protect their songwriters—the Judges have ample evidence that many songwriters object to the extension.  But in the Majors’ own words we now know cui bono, and the benefit goes back to Phonorecords III and likely earlier.

            But let us extend the thought experiment a little bit further.  Who is an unrelated “competitor” of the three major labels and all their distributed labels, DIY operations like The Orchard, joint ventures and so on and on and on?  That must be a pretty small group of true independents who have cobbled together a distribution network for the Subpart B configurations to deal with the logistics of manufacturing, warehousing, shipments, returns, and the like—branch distribution is what makes a major label a major.  Perhaps the Majors could provide some examples of these “competitors”?  Clearly though, the citation demonstrates that the Judges sensed many years ago the very situation now unfolding on the record in the frozen mechanicals crisis.

            C.  Comparisons to Largely Unopposed Prior Rulemakings Compare Apples to Oranges:  We understand that the Majors claim to have proposed a similar settlement in Phonorecords III resulting in a freeze of the statutory rate for Subpart B configurations, and that the Judges then-adopted that settlement.  We also understand that there was little if any formal objection to that freeze in Phonorecords III at least by comparison to the number of objecting commenters in Phonorecords IV.  The Judges are now presented with a significant number of objectors who entirely reject the application of the Proposed Settlement to the world in a kind of bootstrapping move.  Respectfully, comparing the field in Phonorecords III to Phonorecords IV is comparing apples to oranges and creating a pomegranate.

            We also acknowledge the millions of dollars that the NMPA asserts that it spent litigating these rates some fifteen years ago, but this assertion perhaps proves too much.  The cost of participating in any of these proceedings is exactly the reason why objecting songwriters understandably rely entirely on the Judges to seek fairness and justice.  They cannot afford to participate in these proceedings themselves and trust the Judges to balance all the facts not just the arguments of rich people and corporations. 

Not only do the Majors gloss over the songwriters’ objections, but their reasoning is actually fallacious. Because both proceedings are called “Phonorecords” does not make them similar in regard to the frozen mechanicals crisis.  The facts on the ground are wildly different between III and IV.  Moreover, we hear a subtext in the Major’s argument that if a configuration experiences declining sales, that is a reason for the government to reduce the royalty rate.  Aside from a lack of statutory authority, this is also fallacious reasoning because the Majors have produced no evidence that the per-unit price for Subpart B configurations has declined, and if anything, we are informed that the dealer price has increased in the case of vinyl.[8] 

We respectfully ask that the Judges consider these flaws in the Majors’ positions and give them their due weight. 

            D.  The Elusive MOU:  The Majors tell the Judges that: 

The MOU entered into contemporaneously with the Settlement is irrelevant to the Judges’ consideration of the Settlement, and does not call into question the reasonableness of the Settlement.[9]

            Respectfully, if the MOU is “irrelevant” to the settlement, why did they bring it up at all?  Recall that we previously asked the Judges to question whether the MOU was additional consideration for extending the frozen mechanical rates.  While others may have, we did not concern ourselves with whether the MOU was a “sweetheart deal” as we knew nothing about it.  Rather our issue was whether the MOU was a quid pro quo of additional consideration for the frozen rates that was enjoyed by a limited group of participants in the settlement but was not enjoyed by strangers to the deal who were still subject to the frozen rate.  Indeed, it appears that this is exactly the case.  While we appreciate that the Majors have now disclosed the MOU as part of their Reply, nothing in the Majors’ comment ameliorates this fundamental concern.

            A significant reason why the concern still exists is language in the now-disclosed MOU that certainly has the ring of a quid pro quo directly related to extending the frozen Subpart B rates in Phonorecords IV:

This MOU4 is a separate, conditional agreement [the quid] that shall not go into effect until [the quo] NMPA, SME, WMG’s affiliate Warner Music Group Corp., and UMG submit a motion to adopt a proposed settlement of the Phonorecords IV Proceeding as to statutory royalty rates and terms for physical phonorecords, permanent downloads, ringtones and music bundles presently addressed in 37 C.F.R. Part 385 Subpart B (the “Subpart B Configurations”), together with (1) certain definitions applicable to Subpart B Configurations presently addressed in 37 C.F.R. § 385.2 and (2) late payment fees under Section 115 for Subpart B Configurations presently addressed in 37 C.F.R. § 385.3, together with certain definitions applicable to such late payment fees presently addressed in 37 C.F.R. § 385.2, for the rate period covered by the Phonorecords IV Proceeding, which the Parties anticipate happening promptly after this MOU4 has been signed by SME, UMG, WMG, RIAA, NMPA, Sony Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group, and Warner Chappell Music, Inc. (the “Initial Signatories”).[10]

            To the contrary, a fair reading of the MOU suggests, and may even require, that the consideration for the MOU is tied directly to extending the frozen rates in the Proposed Settlement.

            Moreover, we can revisit the authority issue raised above given language in the MOU.  Consider the following post-closing condition imposed on the NMPA by the plain terms of the MOU:

It is understood that only the Initial Signatories will sign this MOU4 at the outset, and that NMPA shall use its best efforts to obtain the signatures to this MOU4 by all of the remaining Parties within two (2) weeks thereafter.[11]

            If the NMPA had the authority to bind these many publisher “Parties” to the MOU, why would there be a need to impose such a post-closing condition on the NMPA?  There may be an explanation for this structure, but it is not obvious to us.

            We also find it somewhat unusual that neither the Reply of the Majors nor the now-disclosed MOU reference a dollar figure that is changing hands as far as we can tell.  This could be a lot of cash.  In the 2009 Billboard article cited by the Majors, the MOU that was the subject of that reporting was valued at “up to $264 million.” [12] However “routine” the MOU process is, a $264 million payment in a “pennies business” is not routine.  We would appreciate a further disclosure of the amount at issue in the current MOU.  As they say, it is evidently not a secret.

            Respectfully, it does not appear that one can completely exclude the relevance of the MOU as consideration for extending the freeze on Subpart B royalties at least on the face of the documents provided.  As strangers to the deal do not have the opportunity to subject these assertions to the crucible of cross-examination, we hope the Judges can welcome the reliance on them of those who cannot afford to participate in this proceeding.

II.  Conclusion

            In conclusion, we respectfully ask the Judges to consider the foregoing comments along with the many heartfelt and well-reasoned comments by others in Phonorecords IV.  Unfortunately, as is too often the case in the music business, we think that the sum and substance of the Majors’ argument is that “we are the wealthy and therefore we win.”

            We do not have to remind the Judges that this is the antithesis of our Constitutional system of government.

                                                                         Respectfully submitted.

Christian L. Castle

Gwendolyn Seale


[1] Comments in Further Support of the Settlement of Statutory Royalty Rates and Terms for Subpart B Configurations,  Docket No. 21–CRB– 0001–PR (2023–2027) (August 10, 2021)(Reply).

[2] Motion to Adopt Settlement of Statutory Royalty Rates and Terms for Subpart B Configurations, Docket No. 21–CRB– 0001–PR (2023–2027) (May 25, 2021) (Proposed Settlement).

[3] Comment of Helienne Lindvall, David Lowery and Blake Morgan, Docket No. 21–CRB– 0001–PR (2023–2027) (July 26, 2021) available at https://app.crb.gov/document/download/25533

[4] Comment of Gwendolyn Seale, Docket No. 21–CRB– 0001–PR (2023–2027) (July 26, 2021) available at https://app.crb.gov/document/download/25534

[5] Reply at 5.

[6] Id. (emphasis added).

[7] Id.

[8] See, e.g., Samantha Handler, Copyright Panel Rethinking Song Royalties Streamers Pay, Bloomberg Law (Aug. 12, 2021) (“Royalties from downloads and CDs haven’t increased since 2006, but still make up a significant portion of income for independent songwriters.”) available at https://news.bloomberglaw.com/ip-law/copyright-panel-rethinking-song-royalties-streamers-pay

[9] Reply at 6 (emphasis added).

[10] Reply at 19, MOU-4 at 2 (emphasis added).

[11] Id. at 20, MOU-4 at 3.

[12] Ed Christman, NMPA, Major Labels Sign Terms of Agreement, Billboard (Oct. 7, 2009) available at https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/1264471/nmpa-major-%20labels-sign-on-terms-of-agreement.

#FrozenMechanicals Crisis: Comments of @helienne Lindvall, @DavidCLowery and @TheBlakeMorgan to the Copyright Royalty Board

Before the

United States Copyright Royalty Judges
Copyright Royalty Board

Library of Congress

Docket No. 21–CRB–0001–PR
               (2023–2027)

COMMENTS OF HELIENNE LINDVALL, DAVID LOWERY AND BLAKE MORGAN

            Helienne Lindvall, David Lowery and Blake Morgan submit these comments responding to the Copyright Royalty Judges’ notice soliciting comments on whether the Judges should adopt the regulations proposed by the National Music Publishers Association, Nashville Songwriters Association International, Sony Music Entertainment, UMG Recordings, Inc. and Warner Music Group Corp. as the so-called “Subpart B” statutory rates and terms relating to the making and distribution of physical or digital phonorecords of nondramatic musical works that, if adopted by the Judges, would apply to every songwriter in the world whose works are exploited under the U.S. compulsory mechanical license (86 FR 33601).[1]

            We object to the proposed rates and terms for the following reasons and respectfully suggest constructive alternatives.  The gravamen of our objection is that (1) the Subpart B rates have already been frozen since 2006; (2) no evidence has been publicly produced in the Proceeding that justifies or even explains extending the proposed freeze; (3) very large numbers of songwriters of various domiciles around the world do not even know this proceeding is happening and have not appointed any of the parties to act on their behalf or been asked to consent to the purported settlement; (4) physical sales are still a vital part of songwriter revenue; and (5) there are many just alternatives available to the Judges without applying an unjust settlement to the world’s songwriters.

 A.  Statement of Interests.

By way of background, following are short summaries of the commenters’ respective biographies demonstrating their respective significant interests in the subject matter of this proceeding.

            Helienne Lindvall:  Ms. Lindvall is an award-winning professional songwriter, musician and columnist based in London, England. She is Chair of the Songwriter Committee & Board Director, Ivors Academy of Music Creators (formerly British Academy of Songwriters, Composers & Authors BASCA) and chairs the esteemed Ivor Novello Awards. She also is the writer behind  the Guardian music industry columns Behind the Music and Plugged In and has contributed to a variety of publications and broadcasts discussing songwriters’ rights, copyright, and other music industry issues.

            David Lowery:  Mr. Lowery is the founder of the musical groups Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven and a lecturer at the University of Georgia Terry College of Business and is based in Athens, Georgia.  He has testified before Congress on the topic of fair use policy[2]  and is a frequent commentator on copyright policy and artist rights in a variety of outlets, including his blog at TheTrichordist.com.   He has been a class representative in two successful class actions by songwriters against music streaming services.

            Blake Morgan:  Mr. Morgan is a New York-based artist, songwriter, label owner, music publisher, and the leader of the #IRespectMusic campaign[3] which focuses on supporting fair payment for creators across all mediums and platforms including supporting the American Music Fairness Act sponsored by Representatives Deutch and Issa.[4]  Mr. Morgan also lectures on artists’ rights at music, business, and law schools across the United States. 

Helienne Lindvall, David Lowery and Blake Morgan (collectively, the “Writers”) are independent songwriters who own the copyrights to many of their songs. They previously were amici in Google v. Oracle[5] together with the Songwriters Guild of America.  In some instances, they have written songs whose copyrights they have transferred in limited parts and in some cases for limited periods of time to major music publishers.  In other cases, their songs are not owned by major music publishers but are administered by one or more of them, in many cases also for limited periods of time.  In some instances, these transfers were in perpetuity subject to certain statutory or contractual termination rights.  They also have retained the copyrights to many of their songs and are self-administered songwriters with respect to those nondramatic musical works. 

            We thank the Copyright Royalty Judges for inviting the public to comment on the proposed regulations in the docket referenced above (“Proceeding”) and the purported “settlement”[6] that in large part resulted in the Copyright Royalty Board’s proposed regulations.

B.  Objections, Discussion and Solutions

            We appreciate this opportunity to make our views known and hope that our suggestions are helpful to the Judges in trying to solve the frozen mechanicals crisis.  We also appreciate that the Judges seek to do justice and find a fair result given their appointed role of administering the awesome power of the government to compel songwriters to accept all rates and terms of the statutory license.

1.  Lack of Authority to Negotiate for Non-Participants

            As a threshold matter, we think it is important to clarify the source of authority for the purported settlement as set forth in the Motion.  Some play a bit fast and loose with who represents whom in a parade of glittering generalities and hasty generalizations.  The Writers are not members of the Nashville Songwriters Association International and have not authorized NSAI to negotiate any agreement on their behalf, nor would the Writers ever authorize any lobby shop to do so. 

            Neither are the Writers members of the National Music Publishers Association, nor have Writers authorized the NMPA to negotiate any agreement on their behalf.  The NMPA has many members but we seriously doubt that the NMPA has expressly obtained authority from any of its members to negotiate the purported settlement on their behalf, outside of its board of directors.  That authority may give the NMPA employees cover, but is pretty weak sauce as authority for the negotiation of frozen rates to be applied to all the songwriters in the world. 

            We doubt that any other songwriter (outside of the insiders) or that any copyright owner gave consent either, aside from members of the NMPA Board of Directors authorizing employees of the NMPA to accept (or perhaps even propose) frozen rates on behalf of the board.  Neither do we see any evidence that the NMPA or NSAI were appointed a “common agent” by copyright owners to set prices and otherwise negotiate and agree upon the terms and rates under Subpart B.[7]  Therefore, we encourage the Judges to inquire further to determine if an appointment was a necessary condition for settlement or if the majority are claiming a kind of misconstrued authority, perhaps with the best of intentions.  One person’s negotiation strategy is another’s catastrophe.

            We anticipate that the Judges will take that position that the Writers will be “bound” by the purported “settlement” in the Motion among the NMPA (which owns no copyrights), the NSAI (which owns no copyrights), and the major labels (which in theory own no musical work copyrights).  We find it astonishing that entities that do not appear to represent, or to have been appointed a common agent of, all the persons to be bound by the settlement, are still able to use the Copyright Royalty Board to bind nonparties to a settlement.  This seems at best contrary to American constitutional jurisprudence requiring the consent of the governed and at worst destructive of the ends of government. 

            If anyone contests our position that the parties to the settlement had no authority to bind strangers to the deal, let them come forward with a common agent appointment, board minutes, board votes, membership votes, court ruling or other evidence of due process to disclose how this purported settlement described in the Motion was actually approved and which copyright owners authorized the NMPA and NSAI to conclude the agreement on their behalf (and, therefore, which did not). 

            We think that what such disclosure will demonstrate at most is that the respective boards of directors of the two organizations[8] authorized the settlement.  Since neither the organizations nor their respective boards were likely authorized to accept a frozen rate by strangers to that deal, the board members may have merely indicated their own company’s intention to be bound by the settlement.  They likely had no actual authority to do more. 

Even this seems odd.  Each NMPA board member who represents a publisher presumably would be agreeing on their own behalf.  It is unclear what the NSAI board actually approved, since NSAI owns no copyrights and at least some of the songwriter board members are likely signed to publishers, perhaps some or all of the same publishers who were voting on the NMPA board.[9]  Murkiness abounds.  So, if anyone says that their board approval resulted in some kind of “consensus” binding on strangers, that may be something of a misdirection that does not consider the obvious and customary limitations of a board’s authority.  We respectfully ask the Judges to get to the bottom of exactly how this happened by asking for supplemental briefs or such other means as the Judges deem appropriate.

The Writers are in two different groups that fairly are not represented in the Proceeding.  First, Writers are in the very large and global group of songwriters and copyright owners who cannot afford to participate in the Proceeding.  As the Judges are likely aware, yours is very rarified air where only the very rich drive the process but all songwriters must bear the burden of the result.  Songwriters and copyright owners living outside the United States (and even those living outside of Washington, DC)  are essentially prevented from participating at hearings in a far-away capitol although the Judges’ rulings directly affect their works when exploited in America.  This is how process becomes punishment.[10]

            Second, the Writers are in another bucket with some songs still co-published or administered by publishers that may be represented by the NMPA in the settlement—we do not know because individual publishers did not sign the Motion in their own names.  None of those publishers have consulted with the Writers about freezing the statutory royalty rates for yet another five years and essentially granting a reduced rate license without our permission.  Many co-publishing or administration agreements include a restriction on the publisher that prohibits them from granting licenses at less than the statutory rates—songwriters did not consider negotiating an additional restriction that would prohibit the publisher from lobbying to indirectly reduce the rate through freezing the statutory rate and then bootstrapping that agreement to apply to the world through the CRB. Perhaps the CRB will give songwriters a reason to start negotiating a “no frozen rate lobbying” marketing restriction in future deals.

            Respectfully, the Judges should not enable these publishers to do indirectly that which they cannot do directly.  We would ask the Judges to inquire further and opine as to whether such marketing restrictions are at work in the purported settlement as to songwriters or publishers administered by any of the settling publishers.  Since those publishers are not individually parties to the settlement, we have no way of confirming who is in and who is not.

            Regardless, Writers did not authorize anyone to negotiate the frozen rates on their behalf and never would.  If the Judges adopt the proposed settlement without a mechanism to obtain consent of those they govern, such a ruling seems to us to fly in the face of all the fundamental building blocks of democracy and in particular American Constitutional democracy.  Accordingly, Writers reserve the right to challenge any such decision to freeze mechanicals on a number of grounds[11] including due process, equal protection and 5th Amendment takings.

            The parties to the purported settlement would have the Judges believe that because they claim that ‘‘the settlement represents the consensus of buyers and sellers representing the vast majority of the market for ‘mechanical’ rights for Subpart B Configurations”[12] and seem to ask the CRB to accept without question the lack of evidence of the authority to negotiate the settlement in the first place which belies the unelected “consensus.”  It must be said that on the one hand, songwriters are not polled to determine what they want in the way of rates, but on the other hand their number or the number of their works are used to justify frozen rates to argue for a “majority” view (when songwriters were never asked if they want the freeze).  Such “consensus” is chimerical and is, frankly, an equivocation that defies a common definition[13] of the word “consensus” that we find inapt given the current facts and is closer to Kings X.

            The settling parties (presumably the NMPA in this case) would have the Judges apply their private deal to all songwriters throughout the world.  It’s easy to get a faux consensus from “the majority” if you do not invite—and even attack or threaten[14]–those with opposing views.  It illustrates the “tyranny of the majority” that every American high school civics class discusses in the context of governance[15]–even assuming there was a vote of the affected songwriters which there apparently was not.[16] 

Therefore, from the outset the proposed rule is simply not a reasonable basis for setting statutory rates or terms for those not party to the voluntary agreement set forth in the Motion.

            But on a more practical note, we think songwriters will ask what can be done to try to fix the mess the parties have created?  We offer several concrete solutions.

2.  Limit the Settlement to Named Parties to the Agreement or Let Sunlight Shine on the Settlement if Settlement Applies to All Songwriters in the World: 

            We call the Judges’ attention to the record company parties to the settlement.  Note that each of the major labels signed in their own organization names, yet for some reason the publishers did not.  Had they signed in their own names, the symmetry between the two might be obvious due to common ownership at the group level.[17]

The Judges could require that the voluntary settlement apply only to those parties who actually agreed it, rather than trade associations that own no copyrights and likely have limited agency at best.  The Judges could cabin the rates and terms to those parties who are actually signatories to the settlement, directly or indirectly.  The publishers involved could be ordered to step forward for the rationally related purpose of determining who the settlement rate should apply to.  This approach would treat the purported settlement more in the nature of a voluntary license among the parties as is permitted under the Copyright Act.  This cabined approach seems to be consistent with the Act and the proper role of regulatory agencies like the CRB, not to mention the Constitution. 

            If the Judges do not wish to take this approach, the Judges may wish to assure that all songwriters who are affected by their ruling are provided with the full picture of what the deal was that induced the purported settlement.  This approach recognizes that the proposed regulations do nothing to disclose all consideration that was paid in connection with the settlement.  This question has been raised by many interested persons, including Representative Lloyd Doggett in a July 13, 2021 letter[18] to the Librarian of Congress and the Register of Copyrights regarding CRB procedures.

            The settlement expressly refers to undisclosed terms that sound very much like other consideration exchanged and also expressly refers[19] to a side deal or “MOU” between the NMPA and the major labels.[20]  How can the Judges determine, or expect anyone outside the insider group to agree, that the rates and terms set forth in the proposed regulations are fair and reasonable without knowing the full extent of the consideration exchanged?  Therefore, the proposed rule as drafted is simply not a reasonable basis for setting statutory terms or rates for those not party to the voluntary agreement as set forth in the Motion and who are not “in the know” regarding its terms including the terms of the MOU.

3.  Opt In for Independents and Co-Published Songwriters

            We perceive the obvious lack of authority to bind non-parties is a fatal flaw of the proposed settlement.  If true, lack of authority is likely sufficient good cause for the Judges to reject the settlement without even addressing whether the rates and terms meet the willing buyer-willing seller standard required by Congress. 

            We recognize that the Judges may wish to avoid an outright rejection of the purported settlement.  An agreement among the parties is consistent with the goals of a voluntary negotiation.  One remedy might be for the Judges to require the parties to construct an opt-in structure that would only apply to those who affirmatively agree to accept the frozen rate.  There clearly are precedents for implementing an opt-in structure that would allow songwriters and copyright owners to accept the settlement or reject it and negotiate their own arms-length rate as true and unrelated willing sellers to a willing buyer.[21]  If there really is a “consensus,” an opt-in process would simply confirm it in a legally cognizable manner.

            For example, if copyright owner A was party to a co-publishing agreement with publisher X who is represented on the NMPA board, it would be a simple thing to require publisher X to proffer an authorization document permitting the negotiation of the settlement on behalf of copyright owner A.  Failing that proffer, publisher X could put the settlement out for opt-in consent by copyright owner A and those in the same class as copyright owner A.  An opt-in process seems efficient.  Common questions would predominate, the publishers concerned would not be prohibitively numerous, the copyright owners could easily be located based on the billing relationship between them and publisher X and an opt-in structure would no doubt be preferable and less costly than other remedies.

            Alternatively, songwriters or copyright owners could be allowed to opt-out of the settlement by a simple notice by their publisher to them requesting an opt-in, or from them to their publisher opting in or out.  The Judges would, of course, do well to specify the rules for this process and supervise the administration.

            Absent this or similar evidence of authority, there will always be an open question of whether the purported settlement provides a reasonable basis for setting statutory terms or rates which may be answered later down the line in the CRB or other fora.

4.  When the Willing Buyer and Willing Seller Are Effectively the Same Legal Person

            It must be said that we sympathize with the position that the Judges are in of trying to divine a free market rate in America where songwriters have not been free in over 100 years.  In fact, songwriters in America have not been free for so long we could safely say they have never been free in stark contrast to the U.S. economy generally.  Generations of songwriters are held guilty of some long-forgotten and Kafka-esque original sin requiring a degree of government regulation as though songs were hazardous materials.  Regulation that protects monopolists like Google and iHeartMedia from the supposed anticompetitive urges of songwriters who we are asked to believe seek out the closed door of the writer room for one reason–collusion.

            While this willing buyer-willing seller standard makes good sense in the case of webcasting rates[22] or streaming mechanicals where the parties typically are not and are not likely to be related, it is extraordinarily difficult for the Writers to swallow in the case of the parties to the purported settlement—an ancient conflict of interest that was easily predictable on the face of the “Music Modernization Act.”[23]  There is nothing modern about this unitary buyer/seller problem. 

            The major publishers are, of course, owned at the group level by the same companies that own the major labels.  That’s what makes them “major” but that is also what makes them unitary.  Assuming arguendo that the major publishers have obtained the consent of their co-publishers or their administration principals, they would be free to enter into any permitted settlement even with their affiliated record company music users.  But the Motion is hardly a willing buyer-willing seller scenario—the two are essentially the same legal person, or are “unitary.”  Congressman Doggett raised a question about this very issue in his Letter, and we raise it here to the CRB.  We think it deserves a detailed reply from the CRB and will be a key legal precedent going forward under the “new” MMA standard.[24]  All the more reason why the settlement is more suited to a voluntary license among the parties than a rule that applies to all the world.

            The Judges may find the recent report[25] by the UK Parliament’s Digital Culture Media and Sport Committee to be helpful on this point; Ms. Lindvall and the Ivors Academy campaigned for the DCMS Committee’s inquiry. 

            The DCMS Committee called upon the Government to have the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority investigate competition in the recorded music market, particularly the tied song and sound recording markets,[26]  noting that: 

 “With [independent] music publishers…unanimously calling for the value of the song to have parity with the value of the recording [citation omitted], it is conspicuous that the MPA [the UK counterpart to the NMPA] refused to give a definitive perspective on the debate, particularly given that the publishing arms of the three major music groups are counted amongst their members….Whilst the major music groups dominate music publishing, there is little incentive for their music publishing interests to redress the devaluation of the song relative to the recording.[27]

            Accordingly, we do not believe, as discussed more fully below, that the purported settlement agreement in any way approximates fair or reasonable royalty rates and terms, or rates and terms that would have been negotiated in the marketplace between an arms-length willing buyer and a willing seller, i.e., a non-unitary buyer/seller.  Given the position expressed by the DCMS Committee, it’s entirely possible that at least the UK Parliament may wish to resolve the issue in another forum. 

We are open to being persuaded otherwise by the Judges, but it appears that the unitary willing buyer-willing seller will establish a critical precedent going forward.  Therefore, the proposed rule is simply not a reasonable basis in this great moment for setting statutory terms or rates until the application of this standard to related parties is clearly spelled out by the CRB and reviewed.

5.  Vinyl Is a Booming Business

            We ask that the Judges take notice of the multitude of news reports on vinyl sales.[28]  Contrary to the vague assertions by NSAI members outside of the Proceeding about unnamed and undisclosed “industry revenue analysis” when defending their decision to “accept” a frozen rate because they believe that physical is a declining configuration,[29] vinyl sales are, if anything, understated due to the severe inability of supply to keep up with demand.  (Why a rational commercial actor would allow that mismatch to continue to such an egregious extent and to the detriment of artists and songwriters is a whole other question.[30]

            These supply chain problems started well before the pandemic,[31] so please do not allow yourselves to be “gaslighted” into the belief that the problems are caused by the pandemic.  Since the whole point of capitalism is for supply to meet demand, we must assume that this situation will be remedied eventually considering the incredibly strong and nearly vertical demand for vinyl, yet that remedy is slow in coming. 

            While the 2008 coming of Spotify is taken by the press (and Spotify itself) as some sort of celestial arrival of a savior straight out of the Book of Revelation,[32] the data tell a different story about vinyl sales.  For whatever reason of consumer taste, the coming of Spotify was also roughly the beginning of the vinyl boom.  Respectfully, it does not take an economist to read the newspaper—stories of vinyl’s resilience to cannibalization by streaming abound. 

            This upward sales trend is reflected in new survey data as well.  According to a small survey conducted by Artist Rights Watch[33] of self-selected songwriters during the period June-July 2021, approximately 26% of respondents said that, roughly speaking, their songwriting income from physical sales had increased over the last two years, and 32% said they expect their income from physical sales to increase over the next two years.[34]

           

These survey results are consistent with the views expressed by Jeff Gold[35], a music industry veteran, historian and author who has operated the Record Mecca collectibles site for many years.  Rolling Stone profiled Mr. Gold as one of the five “top collectors of high-end music memorabilia.” Mr. Gold told us in an interview[36]:

            “I think the vinyl boom is being driven by a number of factors. First, nostalgia: people like me love the experience of looking at an album cover, putting a vinyl record on the turntable, and traveling back in time. The Record Collector world I live in has expanded as well, with highly collectible records [selling] for much more than ever.

            Second, for younger people I think there is a collectible factor – – they are trying something from a different era, it’s trendy to have a turntable and play vinyl records, and they think maybe this is something they can buy that’ll be worth more later. And that is often the case.

Also, there’s the Record Store Day[37] phenomenon, under pressing records to make instant collectibles.  And to some [vinyl records] are merch[andise] for fans of artists who want to own everything connected to that act.

The market for vinyl has dramatically expanded, and the rare vinyl I sell is more desirable than ever. If I had to guess I would think that the collectible record world will continue to expand, but at some point the fad vinyl buying will begin to ebb. Though I’ve been saying that for a long time and there’s no sign of it.”

            The Artist Rights Watch small survey and recent commentary[38] supports a phenomenon that we respectfully suggest the Judges should explore further before accepting the alleged “consensus” for the purported settlement as fact—a significant number of songwriters appear to find mechanical royalty income from physical sales to be important to them and likely would not accept the terms of the voluntary agreement.  Again, we are not trying to dictate rates and terms to those who find the voluntary agreement to suit their needs; they should have their rates and terms.  But we respectfully ask the Judges not to impose those frozen rates on everyone else without their participation and consent as well as evidence.  What is good for the goose may be anathema to the gander.

            Even if every single one of the current vinyl trends are wrong, even if vinyl stops being a resurgent business and abruptly crashes and burns at some point in the next five years due to supply chain problems or reversals in consumption patterns not currently measurable, even if the NSAI songwriters’ undisclosed sources turn out to be 100% correct, what remains even in the industry-wide and world-wide 1% of revenue projected by the NSAI songwriters is still a significant revenue stream to a large portion of songwriters[39] and even music users.  We will believe the users do not care about physical and digital downloads when the first record company president comes forward and declines 15% of annual billing.

            These assertions and speculations about the future are a fine example of a judgement based on conditional probabilities that does not consider the effect of prior probabilities.  If this sudden crash theory really is part of the majority’s thinking, it does seem that the least they could do is provide the Judges and the public with supporting evidence on the record for their projection (or their guesswork) that so far is entirely absent from the record.

            We do not make an emotional appeal, however.  Sales levels do not change the fact that songs have value that deserves greater economic analysis and justification than a finger in the wind.  As the DCMS Committee observed in their referral to the UK’s competition authorities, there are some unusual forces at work here.  The Motion may well provide greater evidence for such a review albeit inadvertently.

            In the absence of an economic case put on by any party to the voluntary agreement regarding freezing Subpart B rates, we ask that the Judges take notice of the overwhelming amount of public information available to document the importance of vinyl and the error of the fundamental assumptions of the NSAI songwriters which we assume gave voice to certain NMPA members.  We have provided the Judges with a handful of representative articles above.
            While the CRB may have other reasons for continuing to impose the existing frozen mechanical rate on the world’s songwriters for another five years, relying on an unnamed “industry revenue analysis” of imaginary dwindling physical sales without inquiring further when there is ample public evidence to the contrary seems to be an unreasonable and arbitrary basis for setting statutory terms or rates.  In fact, putting your finger in the air and guessing that vinyl sales will reverse course into a nose-dive in the face of overwhelming facts and data to the contrary seems the very definition of arbitrary.

6.  Disclosure Should be Mandatory

            Respectfully, we believe there is a compelling need for the Judges to require the disclosure of both the settlement agreement that established the frozen rates as well as the MOU referenced in the Motion.[40]  It appears from the Motion that there was additional consideration beyond putting a finger in the air and deciding to freeze the rates another five years; yet, that additional consideration is described but not disclosed.  It seems that no copyright owner (other than insiders) can rationally evaluate the purported settlement without knowing all the facts.

            We respectfully call the Judges’ attention to analogous facts in Pandora’s ASCAP and BMI rate court proceedings from 2007.  While dated, the story is good background for understanding the problems that can be unleashed from bootstrapping secret deals into law—in the Pandora case, one could say that it led directly to the Music Modernization Act’s provisions requiring random assignment of rate court judges.  This quote from Billboard[41] is a succinct description of the problem:

Back in 2007-2010, when ASCAP and BMI rate court judges were involved in litigation between DMX and performance rights societies, the judges examined the direct licensing deals DMX cut with publishers. During that process, judges did not review the advances or any of the other aspects of the deal, and only looked at the reduced per-store royalty rate. Consequently, in the case of BMI, this resulted in the per-store negotiated rate falling from $36.36 to a per-location fee of $18.91, much to the chagrin of the publishers, who stayed a part of the PROs’ blanket licenses. The ASCAP rate court returned a similar finding.

             Congressman Doggett also correctly raised this question in his Letter and it is entirely understandable—without disclosure of all consideration, strangers to the settlement are being asked to buy a pig in a poke.

            Accordingly, we ask that you compel the disclosure of all documents, payments and other consideration that changed hands or were promised to change hands in the purported settlement.  This would include any payments outside the four corners of the Motion but related to the purported settlement. In the absence of that disclosure or binding certification that it does not exist, the proposed rule is simply not a reasonable basis for setting statutory terms or rates until the full terms of the purported settlement are disclosed or the settlement is cabined as a voluntary license among the parties. 

7.  Raising the Rates

                 First and foremost, the problem with the CRB adopting the purported settlement as the law of the land is the appearance of the bootstrapping of a private deal among apparently related parties and the controlled opposition into rates and terms that apply to all songwriters in the world.  As Congressman Doggett says in his Letter, these are rates and terms that apply to all songs ever written or that ever may be written.  We know you will agree that the rule making authority of the CRB is a serious and solemn example of the awesome power of the government over unrepresented songwriters. 

                 The potential for this bootstrapping is particularly offensive to songwriters who live outside the United States as evidenced by opposition to the frozen mechanicals from a host of international songwriter groups. 

                 We wish to express our desire for a separate and higher rate from the frozen rate accepted by the parties to the purported settlement.  We recognize the corner that the CRB has been backed into regarding raising the rates that have been frozen for so long that they have been substantially eroded by inflation without even considering the value of songs to the booming vinyl business.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI-U calculator[42] (the same index used by the Judges in the recent Web V rate determination), a 9.1¢ rate set in 2006 would be indexed to 12¢ today. We therefore estimate that 9.1¢ in 2006 would have the buying power today of approximately 6¢, less than the 1992 mechanical rate established 29 years ago.[43]   

                 However justified, we are sure that raising the 9.1¢ rate across the board would be met by a great howling and rending of garments by at least some of the parties to the purported settlement.  The easy answer to this issue is one raised by Congressman Doggett in his Letter–limiting the settlement rate to the settling parties and setting a higher rate for non-settling parties, i.e., the inverse of the trick referenced above that was played by DMX on the entire industry and the rate courts.

                 The new minimum statutory rate applied to the non-settling parties could be as simple as a headline rate between a bounded range greater than 9.1¢ and up to 12¢ with the appropriate adjustment for the long-song formula.  That headline rate could then be adjusted for inflation and indexed to the CPI-U for the out-years in a similar manner as the Judges applied in Web V.  Even these rates are excruciatingly low and demonstrate the deep hole that the government imposed on songwriters between 1909 and 1978 when the rate for generations of songwriters was frozen at 2¢ through two World Wars, the Great Depression, a global pandemic, two post-war booms and a moon walk.  Songwriters have been digging out ever since, both in the US and abroad due to America’s long commercial shadow.  The Writers fear that a similar freeze has developed with the Subpart B rates and without meaningful consultation.[44]  While we cannot reasonably ask the CRB to solve all the world’s mistakes, we can ask that the Judges not repeat them.  As Congressman Doggett says, we are concerned that we not misstep.

           Alternatively, the CRB could, after consultation with representative parties opposing the frozen rates such as the Songwriters Guild of America, Ivors Academy, ATX Musicians, the Society of Composers and Lyricists, MusicAnswers, the Screen Composers Guild of Canada, Alliance of Latin American Composers & Authors, Asia-Pacific Music Creators Alliance, Pan-African Composers and Songwriters Alliance, Music Creators North America, the Alliance for Women Film Composers and ECSA appoint a representative for independent songwriters to negotiate with both the major labels and the independent labels on rates applicable to and higher than the rates in the settlement.  Such a consultation in this or another forum would go a long way toward clearing up the due process and equal protection Constitutional issues hanging like a cloud over the current Proceeding.  Obviously, the cost of such negotiation should not be borne by the songwriters or recouped from their royalties.

           Therefore, absent such a ruling by the Judges, the proposed rule is simply not a fair or reasonable basis for setting statutory terms or rates until there are truly representative bodies negotiating on behalf of songwriters and independent copyright owners. 

              Thank you again for this opportunity to express our views on the proposed rule.  We respectfully hope that our comment has provided the Judges with some additional insight into how the proposed rule affects independent songwriters and publishers both in America and around the world, particularly since none of us can afford to participate in the rate setting proceeding itself.  We greatly appreciate the Judges’ willingness to avoid process becoming punishment.

                                                                  Respectfully submitted.

                                                                 Christian L. Castle
                                                                
                                                                 Christian L. Castle, Attorneys
                                                                 9600 Great Hills Trail, Suite 150W
                                                                 Austin, Texas 78759

                                                                 July 26, 2021


                  [1]  We focus in this comment almost entirely on the Subpart B rates applicable to physical carriers under 37 C.F.R. §385.11(a).  We note, however, that there is some apprehension among songwriters that the “music bundle” rate in 37 C.F.R. § 385.11(c) could be twisted in a way to drag Non-Fungible Tokens into the frozen rates.  We doubt that Congress intended to include NFTs in the statutory rates since they did not exist even at the time of the Title I amendment to Section 115.  It would certainly add insult to injury for large sums to change hands for NFTs but songwriters be reduced to their usual meagre gruel in compensation while everyone else enriches themselves from the songs. Clarity on this point would be appreciated.

                  [2] See The Scope of Fair Use: Hearing before the Subcomm. on the Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet of the H. Comm. on the Judiciary, 113th Cong. (Jan. 28, 2014) (statement of David Lowery)

                  [3] See #IRespectMusic campaign, available at https://www.irespectmusic.org.

                  [4] See Reps. Issa, Deutch Introduce Bill to Ensure Artists Receive Fair Pay for FM/AM Radio Airplay (June 21, 2021) available at https://issa.house.gov/media/press-releases/reps-issa-deutch-introduce-bill-ensure-artists-receive-fair-pay-fmam-radio.

                  [5] Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc., 593 U.S. ___ (2021), Brief of Amici Curiae Helienne Lindvall, David Lowery, Blake Morgan and the Songwriters Guild of America in support of Respondent (2021) available at https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/18/18-956/133298/20200218155210566_18-956%20bsac%20Helienne%20Lindvall%20et%20al–PDFA.pdf.

                  [6] Motion To Adopt Settlement Of Statutory Royalty Rates and Terms For Subpart B Configurations, Docket No. 21-CRB-0001-PR (2023-2027) hereafter the “Motion.”

                  [7] See, e.g., 17 U.S.C. §115(c)(1)(D).

                  [8] We invite the Judges to take notice of the relationships at the board level between the NMPA and the NSAI which is beyond the scope of the comment, but we think the Judges may find very relevant for discussions of negotiating authority and the scope of designation of a common agent.

                  [9] It must be noted that the NMPA board and the NSAI board share members from time to time.

                  [10] We are mindful of the result of the WTO arbitration over the Fairness in Music Licensing Act that found the United States liable for damages in violating the TRIPS Agreement. See WT/DS160/12 (Jan. 15, 2001) available at https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/FE_Search/FE_S_S006.aspx?Query=(@Symbol=%20wt/ds160/*)%20and%20(@Title=%20((arbitration%20under%20article%2021.3)%20and%20((award%20of%20the%20arbitrator)%20or%20(report%20of%20the%20arbitrator))))&Language=ENGLISH&Context=FomerScriptedSearch&languageUIChanged=true#,

                  [11] See, e.g., United States v. Arthrex, Inc., 594 U.S. ____ (2021).

                  [12] Motion at 4.

                  [13]  The Cambridge English Dictionary defines “consensus” as either a “generally accepted opinion” or a “wide agreement,” neither of which apply to frozen mechanicals.

                  [14] Paul Resnikoff, AMLC Board Member Accuses NMPA President David Israelite of Tortious Business Interference and Collusion, Digital Music News (Nov. 28, 2018) available at https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2018/11/28/amlc-nmpa-president-david-israelite-collusion/

                  [15] Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address (1801) (“All too will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”)(emphasis added); James Madison, Federalist Papers 10 and 51.  John Locke, Second Treatise of Government (1689) at par. 95 (“[N]o one can be put out of [his property], and subjected to the political power of another, without his own consent.”)

            [16] The tradition of concern with the familiar “tyranny of the majority” sounds in discussions of representative government, the concern being that the majority that gives a representative quorum in a body also could lead to disastrous consequences for the minority.  This is particularly true when the governed have rules imposed on them that they had no part in crafting by persons they had no part in electing.  Washington expressed it well and highlights the very point before this Court today:  “To be fearful of vesting Congress, constituted as that body is, with ample authorities for national purposes, appears to me the very climax of popular absurdity and madness. Could Congress exert them for the detriment of the public without injuring themselves in an equal or greater proportion? Are not their interests inseparably connected with those of their constituents? By the rotation of appointment must they not mingle frequently with the mass of citizens? Is it not rather to be apprehended, if they were possessed of the power before described, that the individual members would be induced to use them, on many occasions, very timidly and inefficaciously for fear of losing their popularity and future election?”  George Washington, “To John Jay,” August 15, 1786, The Papers of George Washington, “Confederation Series,” Vol. 4 (1976) at 212–13 (emphasis added).  If the truth is as we apprehend it, that a dedicated group of essentially unelected likeminded people known for extracting vengeance from anyone who dares question them got in a private room at a private meeting and decided the fate of the world’s songwriters was their unelected remit, then this is not even a vote fulfilling the tyranny of the majority because there was no vote and there was no majority—just tyranny.  de Tocqueville admonishes that “[t]he despotism of faction is not less to be dreaded than the despotism of an individual.”  Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 2, Ch. XIV (1840) at 289.

                  [17] This is particularly relevant in the case of a songwriter who has entered one of the various publishing, co-publishing or administration agreements commonly in use in the music business.  If publisher X intends to be bound by the settlement, yet does not act under its own name in the settlement, songwriters “signed” to publisher X have no way of knowing if they are to be bound.  While certain relationships can be inferred, it seems that there should be clarity regarding the parties to such a watershed agreement.

                  [18] Letter from Hon. Lloyd Doggett to Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden and Register of Copyrights Shira Perlmutter (July 13, 2021), available at https://thetrichordist.files.wordpress.com/2021/07/letter-library-of-congress-register-of-copyrights-7.13.21.pdf hereafter “Letter”.

                  [19] “Concurrent with the settlement, the Joint Record Company Participants and NMPA have separately entered into a memorandum of understanding addressing certain negotiated licensing processes and late fee waivers.” Motion at 3.

            [20] The “MOU” description and “late fee waiver” reference brings to mind another late fee “MOU” being the NMPA Late Fee Program available at http://www.nmpalatefeesettlement.com/mou2/index.php.  If this MOU is a version of that MOU, it could be a substantial sum.  (“The Record Companies have represented there is approximately $275 million in “pending and unmatched” accrued royalties (the “P&U Royalties”) that have not been distributed to the music publishers. In exchange for waivers of certain late fees through 2012, the Record Companies must comply with the provisions of the MOU, including paying participating music publishers and foreign societies their respective market share of accrued P&U Royalties.”  Available at http://www.nmpalatefeesettlement.com/group_1/summary.pdf)

                  [21] For example, see the Songclaims.com portal used to implement the Spotify class action settlement.

                  [22] 17 U.S.C. §§ 112, 114(d)(2).

                 [23] 17 U.S.C. §§ 115(b)(1) and (3).

                  [24] It is worth noting that we have been unable to find any reference to the unitary buyer/seller in any of the public comments or legislative history regarding the Music Modernization Act.  In fact, the NMPA’s “pitch sheet” entitled Music Modernization Act (MMA): Bringing Songwriters into the Digital Age (Dec. 28, 2017) states that the new MMA rate standard establishes “[r]ates based on what a willing buyer and a willing seller would agree to reflect market negotiations” in contrast to the 801(b) standard that resulted in “below-market rates.”

                  [25] Digital Culture Media and Sport Committee, Economics of Music Streaming (Second Report of Session 2021-22), UK Parliament (July 15, 2021) available at https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/6739/documents/71977/default/.

                  [26] Id. at 3 and 105.

                  [27] Id. at 71 (emphasis added).

                  [28] Tina Benitez-Eves, Vinyl Record Sales up 108.2% in First Half of 2021, American Songwriter (July 16, 2021) (“For the past 15 years, vinyl record sales have seen consecutive growth, despite the continued uptick of digital consumption in the U.S. and drop in sales and backup in production due to the pandemic.”)  available at https://americansongwriter.com/vinyl-record-sales-up-108-2-in-first-half-of-2021/;  Sarah Whitten, Music Fans Pushed Sales of Vinyl Albums Higher, Outpacing CDs, Even As Pandemic Sidelined Stadium Tours, CNBC (July 14, 2021) (“Music consumption in the first half of the year has remained robust even without the sold-out stadium tours, according to a new report. While on-demand audio streaming is up 15%, consumers are also looking to own more tangible collectibles like vinyl albums, which continue to surpass CD sales. In the first six months of 2021, 19.2 million vinyl albums were sold, outpacing CD volume of 18.9 million, according to MRC Data, an analytics firm that specializes in collecting data from the entertainment and music industries.”) available at https://www.msn.com/en-us/entertainment/news/music-fans-pushed-sales-of-vinyl-albums-higher-outpacing-cds-even-as-pandemic-sidelined-stadium-tours/ar-AAM6S31; Ed Christman, Audio Streams Up 15%, Vinyl Sales Double in First Half of 2021, Billboard (July 15, 2021) (“Vinyl sales, which have grown for the past decade, more than doubled between January and June, up 108.2% to 19.2 million from 9.2 million in the first six months of last year. Even CD sales, which have been steadily and precipitously declining, posted a modest 2.2% gain, to 18.9 million units. The only serious loss was in digital sales: Album downloads fell 26.8%, to 12.92 million, while track sales dropped 20.3%, to 101.8 million. But physical sales rose so much that, for the first time in years, total album sales rose, by 12.6% to 51.26 million.”) available at https://www.msn.com/en-us/music/news/audio-streams-up-15-vinyl-sales-double-in-first-half-of-2021/ar-AAM9Sk7); Sam Willings, Sainsbury’s Supermarket Will Stop Selling CDs, Sale of Vinyl Records Will Continue (July 13, 2021) (“A spokesperson for the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) told the BBC that “The CD has proved exceptionally successful for nearly 40 years and remains a format of choice for many music fans who value sound quality, convenience and collectability.”  They continued: “Although demand has been following a long-term trend as consumers increasingly transition to streaming, resilient demand is likely to continue for many years, enhanced by special editions and other collectable releases.”) available at https://www.musictech.net/news/sainsburys-supermarket-will-stop-selling-cds-sale-of-vinyl-records-to-continue/; Andre Paine, Record Store Day set to deliver another summer boost for vinyl sales, Music Week (July 15, 2021)(“ Participating shops will be expecting queues from the early hours as fans and record collectors seek out rare and exclusive vinyl titles being released especially for the day.”) available at https://www.musicweek.com/labels/read/record-store-day-set-to-deliver-another-summer-boost-for-vinyl-sales/083710; Sage Anderson, Barnes & Noble ‘Vinyl Weekend’ Launches With Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac Exclusives, Rolling Stone (July 15, 2021)(“Barnes & Noble may be known for their cozy bookstores and massive collective of great reads across all genres, but the retailer has also just announced the return of their fan-favorite “Vinyl Weekend,” which offers dozens of limited-edition records and exclusive in-store and online specials.”) available at https://www.rollingstone.com/product-recommendations/lifestyle/barnes-and-noble-vinyl-turntable-sale-1197904/. 

                  [29] L.B. Cantrell, NSAI Songwriters Respond to Criticism of Decision not to Challenge Physical Mechanical Rates, Music Row (June 2, 2021)(“Based on industry revenue analysis, it is anticipated that physical mechanical royalties will amount to less than 1% of the total mechanical royalty revenue in the United States during 2023-2028, the rate period this CRB proceeding covers.”) available at https://musicrow.com/2021/06/nsai-songwriters-respond-to-criticism-of-decision-not-to-challenge-physical-royalty-rates/.

                  [30] Erin Osman, “It’s a Total Nightmare”: Problems at Direct Shot Distributing Has Made New Vinyl and CDs Scarce, Billboard (Dec. 18, 2019) (“Since April, record stores and labels have been plagued by a distribution bottleneck that began when Warner Music Group moved its physical product to Direct Shot Distributing (DSD). The change made DSD, which also has contracts with Universal and Sony, one of the largest distributors of physical music in the country. The problem became apparent on April 13 — Record Store Day, the busiest and most profitable day of the year for many retailers — when some stores didn’t receive the exclusive releases they had ordered. Since then, the problem has gotten worse.”), available at https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/8546794/direct-shot-distributing-problems-vinyl-cds-physical-product.

                  [31] Allison Hussey, A Major Music Distributor Has Stifled Vinyl Sales for Record Stores and Indie Distributors, Sources Say, Pitchfork (Dec. 19, 2019) available at https://pitchfork.com/thepitch/a-major-music-distributor-has-stifled-vinyl-sales-for-record-stores-and-indie-labels-sources-say/.

                  [32] David Rowan, Daniel Ek: Europe’s Greatest Digital Influencer Tops Wired 100, Wired (May 16, 2014) available at https://www.wired.co.uk/article/wired-100-daniel-ek.

                  [33] “Thriving on scorn from the establishment since 2015”, http://www.artistrightswatch.com               

[34] Artist Rights Watch, Songwriter Mechanical Royalty Income Questionnaire June-July 2021 to be made available at http://www.artistrightswatch.com and results available from the commenters (N=54).

                  [35] https://recordmecca.com/about/

                  [36] Available from the authors.

                  [37] See, e.g., https://recordstoreday.com

                  [38] See, e.g., Artist Rights Watch Podcast Episode 1 “Frozen Mechanicals” available at https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-artist-rights-watch/id1574250584; The Trichordist.com “frozen mechanicals” category https://thetrichordist.com/category/frozen-mechanicals/

                  [39] We are likewise unaware of any provision of the Copyright Act or regulations promulgated there under that provides for a sales-based determination of any particular rate.  Such an argument appears to be exactly what underlies the NMPA and NSAI acquiescence to frozen rates but it simply is not the law that the fewer phonorecords sold the lower the royalty rate that the CRB may set.

                  [40] There may be other side agreements that are not disclosed in the Motion.

                  [41] Ed Christman, Less Could Be More:  Why Merlin’s Deal with Pandora May Pay Off, Billboard (Dec. 11, 2014) (emphasis added).

                  [42] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CPI Inflation Calculator available at https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm.

                  [43] The minimum statutory royalty rate in effect during the 1992-93 period was 6.25¢.  U.S. Copyright Office, Mechanical License Royalty Rates (Sept. 2018) available at https://www.copyright.gov/licensing/m200a.pdf.

                  [44] Respectfully, the Congress missed an opportunity to strike a blow for fairness in the Copyright Act of 1976 when it failed to index the 2¢ rate retroactively and instead treated a 70-year wage and price control as thought there were nothing to see here.  Had Congress indexed the rate retroactively and then increased the rate prospectively based on value and indexed to inflation, songwriters would be exponentially better off.  When songwriters complain to the CRB that they struggle to make a living, it is this decades long dark hole of the 2¢ rate freeze that is a major contributing factor and apparently punishment for some long-forgotten original sin.  While the CRB is not tasked to fix all the songwriters’ financial woes, an argument could be made that it is at least partly responsible for fixing the ones cause by the government or at least not making it any worse by taking actions such as freezing mechanical royalty rates for twenty years.

#FrozenMechanicals Crisis: Comments to CRB by Twelve International Songwriter Groups Opposing Frozen Mechanicals Part 2

[Editor Charlie sez: This post demonstrates that no single songwriter group–including NSAI–speaks for every songwriter in the world and that songwriters around the world do not want their incomes smashed. So that’s a bit of a pickle.]

Part 2 of 2 parts, read part 1 here.

COPYRIGHT ROYALTY BOARD (CRB)

In re DOCKET NO. 21-CRB-0001-PR-(2023-2027)

Making and Distributing Phonorecords (Phonorecords IV)

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking re: 37 C.F.R. Part 385 Subpart B

Comments Submitted by the Songwriters Guild of America, Inc.,  the Society of Composers & Lyricists, Music Creators North America, and the individual music creators Rick Carnes and Ashley Irwin

These Comments Are Endorsed by the Following Music Creator Organizations:

Alliance for Women Film Composers (AWFC). https://theawfc.com

Alliance of Latin American Composers & Authors (AlcaMusica) https://www.alcamusica.org

Asia-Pacific Music Creators Alliance (APMA), https://apmaciam.wixsite.com/home/news

European Composers and Songwriters Alliance (ECSA), https://composeralliance.org

The Ivors Academy (IVORS), https://ivorsacademy.com 

Music Answers (M.A.), https://www.musicanswers.org

Pan-African Composers and Songwriters Alliance (PACSA), http://www.pacsa.org

Screen Composers Guild of Canada (SCGC), https://screencomposers.ca

Songwriters Association of Canada (SAC), http://www.songwriters.ca

[Continued from Part 1]

IV. Discussion of Objections By Independent Music Creators


A. The Willing Buyer-Willing Seller Standard and the Conflicts of Interest Inherent in the Present Settlement Negotiation Process

In evaluating whether the terms of the settlement proposal set forth in the May 25 Motion to Adopt “provide a reasonable basis for setting statutory terms or rates,” the US Copyright Act establishes a blueprint in §115(c)(1)(F) for determining the reasonability and adequacy of any such proposed, industry-wide agreement:   

The Copyright Royalty Judges shall establish rates and terms that most clearly represent the rates and terms that would have been negotiated in the marketplace between a willing buyer and a willing seller(emphasis added).

The US Treasury Department provides further insight into the “willing buyer-willing seller” construct in the Code of Federal Regulations:[21]

Valuation of Property; in general:  The value of the property is the price at which such property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell, and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts (emphasis added).

Thus, while under certain circumstances the US Copyright Act provides that private agreements and licenses may be entered into between copyright owners and prospective users that apply various other indicia and metrics to gauge the advisability of one particular royalty rate over another, that latitude does not exist in regard to proposals for the adoption of industry-wide settlements by the CRB “binding on all copyright owners of musical works” per §801(b)(7)(A).

The circumstances under which the settlement negotiations were conducted that produced the proposed royalty rate freeze set forth in the May 25 Motion to Adopt can be fairly characterized  –under the above standards– as being exactly the opposite of what both Congress and the Executive Branch have in mind in defining “reasonability” under the “willing seller-willing buyer” formula.  Rather than arm’s length negotiations between parties on opposites sides of the table, the referenced discussions that produced the settlement agreement instead seem to have taken place solely among vertically integrated parties and their trade association agents, apparently with little or no input from independent music creators and copyright owners[22] upon whom “those rates and terms [will be] binding.”

More to the point, the corporate parties participating in such settlement discussions could by definition plausibly have been compromised by the conflicts of interest inherent in the fact that the corporate overseers of each major label participating in the “negotiation” likewise control the affiliated music publishers of each such label.  UMG is not only one of the three largest record labels in the world, it also is one of the world’s three largest music publisher owners of copyrights in musical compositions, with both UMG entities reporting to the same corporate ownership (Vivendi, Inc. of France).[23]  The same holds true for both WMG (in regard to the multinational corporation Access Industries headquartered in New York)[24] and SME (in regard to the Sony Corporation of Japan).[25]  

Together, these three international conglomerates control close to 70% of the market for sound recordings and musical compositions in the world.[26]  All three represent both sides in any Subpart B mechanical royalty rate discussions, rendering the concept of “willing buyer-willing seller” almost farcical in relation to fashioning a fair proposal to the CRB.  Simply put, in this case, the buyers are the sellers (and the prospective licensors are the prospective licensees). 


NMPA’s role in these negotiations was, and is, as the trade association for music publishers operating in the US, including the above-mentioned major music publishing firms that serve as their most powerful and influential board members by far– and who answer to the same owners as those against whom they and NMPA are allegedly negotiating.  It is unclear what level of input independent music publishers were enabled to exercise in the negotiations, including those with representatives on the board of the trade association.  

In regard to NSAI, its demonstrably uniform alignment with NMPA on a broad array of music industry issues over recent years has in our view appeared so unwavering as to approach potential inseparability.  As a result, we believe we are correct to be concerned that the organization cannot be said in this instance to represent music creator rights and interests in an independent, unbiased manner.  In an informal survey conducted by the well-respected music industry publication Trichordist, to our knowledge not a single music creator entity (either organizational or individual) responded that it intended to join NSAI and its narrow membership in support of the “royalty freeze” proposal.[27]  Organizations and individuals representing hundreds of thousands of songwriters, composers and lyricists, on the other hand, have publicly voiced objection to the proposed royalty rate freeze. 

Based upon these facts and circumstances alone, the settlement agreement produced by the Settling Parties can in no way be considered to have been fashioned upon “willing buyer-willing seller” principles.  As such, respectfully, it should not be relied upon as the basis for a conclusion by the CRB that the proposed settlement “[provides] a reasonable basis for setting statutory terms or rates,” per §801(b)(7)(A) of the Copyright Act and otherwise.

B. Lack of Transparency in the Negotiating and Settlement Process

As previously noted, the Independent Music Creator Community remains additionally concerned over the general lack of transparency that has marked the entire process described above.  We are especially disquieted by the unexplained contents of a “separate Memorandum of Understanding addressing certain related issues” referenced in the March 2 Notice as having been negotiated among the three major labels and publishers and NMPA, with the conspicuous absence of NSAI. 

Has such an MOU been presented to the CRB for approval or adoption?  Has it been seen by NSAI?  Is NSAI endorsing it?  These are important, additional details and questions that require comprehensive answers to complete a full evaluation of any settlement alleged to be reasonable and based upon “willing buyer-willing seller” principles.

Further on the issue of transparency, we also are compelled to raise the issue of NSAI’s public statements purportedly made to explain its support for a five-year continuation of the Subpart B royalty rate freeze. These statements give insight into the level of factual distortion that may have been foisted upon NSAI during negotiations, and that may have hampered it in evaluating the advisability of the settlement, as discussed below.

C. Misleading Mechanical Royalty Statistics

In an open letter to its “Fellow Songwriters and Composers” published by NSAI on or about June 2, 2021,[28] the organization presented the following analysis of its position in favor of continuing the Subpart B royalty freeze:

Based on industry revenue analysis, it is anticipated that physical mechanical royalties will amount to less than 1% of the total mechanical royalty revenue in the United States during 2023-2028, the rate period this CRB proceeding covers [sic]. History and experience told us not to create a powerful opponent when there is a strong possibility of losing with little to gain. So, we decided to focus on the digital streaming services and streaming rates during the next trial. While 1% of revenue is meaningful, waging war was not worth the risk, especially since the rate may have been lowered!

The statistics presented by NSAI in its statement are patently misleading and/or incorrect, contradicted by data published by the principle trade association of US recording companies, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) (a participating party in the Phonorecords IV proceeding).  According to the RIAA’s Year-End 2020 Revenue Report,[29] the record industry’s total US revenues in both 2019 and 2020 from the combined categories of physical phonorecords and permanent downloads surpassed $1 billion in each of those years, correlating on a percentage basis to 14.3% of total revenues in 2020 and 17% of total revenues in 2019:

RIAA US RECORDING REVENUES (rounded)     2020                                        2019

VINYL                                                                      $620M (5.1%)                        $480M (4.3%)

CDs                                                                         $483M (4.0%)                        $631M (5.7%)

DOWNLOADED ALBUMS                                     $320M (2.6%)                        $369M (3.3%)

DOWNLOADED SINGLES                                      $312M (2.6%)                        $408M (3.7%)

TOTAL PERCENTAGES                                            14.3%                                      17.0%

The data published by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) for 2020 regarding global recorded music revenues is even more starkly indicative of the continuing statistical and economic importance of physical phonorecords and permanent downloads.  According to IFPI, those two categories combined for over 25% of total worldwide earnings.[30]

On the basis of these numbers, it would seem a near impossibility for mechanical royalties attributable to physical phonorecords and permanent downloads (projected by NSAI to be less than 1% of US mechanical revenues by 2027) to represent anywhere near such a tiny comparable percentage to total recording revenue in the same categories.  That is especially so when one takes into account the fact that recording revenues from vinyl recordings are actually growing at a substantial rate (a 30% increase in 2020), not diminishing.  In fact, recent reports for the first half of 2021 indicate that this vinyl growth trend is actually accelerating.  Vinyl sales in quarters one and two of 2021 reportedly rose a whopping 108% over the same period in 2020,[31] and demand for vinyl records is outpacing manufacturing capabilities on both a national and global basis.[32] 

Thus, while no one can plausibly argue that “traditional” mechanical uses of music have not shifted significantly toward streaming on demand in the digital age, that is not to say that Subpart B uses in the US are disappearing or anything close to it.  Subpart B mechanical royalty income remains a substantial and continuing revenue source for many music creators and independent music publishers, almost certainly amounting to tens of millions of dollars per year out of the $823.5 million in mechanical royalties NMPA reports are generated annually in the US.[33]  

And make no mistake about it.  Those tens of millions in annual Subpart B revenues are keeping thousands of songwriters and composers financially afloat in an age that continues to be dominated by unlicensed uses of music on the Internet, and far-below market value royalty rates being paid for music streaming.  The freezing of the Subpart B royalty rate starting in 2006 has inarguably caused significant financial harm to creators in an era when they could least afford it. 

One independent music publishing company owner with substantial, practical insight into this issue, recently offered the following observations:

The royalty amount for digital streams is a micro-penny. Unless we are talking about top songwriters with hundreds of millions to billions of streams, there is an excellent chance he or she still may be driving an Uber to support a family.  It literally takes hundreds of streams to equal the 9.1 cent mechanical publishers receive for a physical sale or download.  That’s why the physical and download mechanical rate is so important to independent creators, and especially to those just starting out.

Vinyl sales are still strong among many retailers, including Amazon. CDs remain a significant media format, and many listeners still prefer to ‘own’ rather than temporarily cache the music they listen to.  Major music publishers do not face the same struggles as independent publishers and songwriters. They are part of multi-national conglomerates that own both the major publishers and major record labels. Major publishers that agree to freeze the statutory rate are simply leaving more money in the pockets of the labels that are their sister companies.  We, on the other hand, are trying to preserve the only sources of revenue that we have.  We don’t have another pocket.  That’s why we must fight to be heard.[34]

D. NFTs

On a very much related issue, the emergence of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and related block chain technologies seem to have been glaringly omitted from the mechanical royalty analysis presented in NSAI’s informal statement and explanations of the proposed Subpart B settlement.   Although the longevity periods of such trends are notoriously difficult to predict, NFTs appear to be forming the basis of new, specialized and mainstream music products and associated downloads. 

As a category of recording industry revenues, NFT estimates for 2020-21 are in the tens of millions of dollars (out of billions of dollars in NFT earnings in all categories during that period so far).[35]  The question of whether this issue was raised in the Phonorecords IV Subpart B settlement negotiations is an important one, on both a conceptual and a financial basis.  Given the wide range of NFT supported consumer products that may be introduced in the near future, it is not a phenomenon that can be prudently ignored in light of its significant potential effects on the future of US and global mechanical royalties.

NFTs, which by definition are regarded as electronic and non-fungible, have since their introduction in the music realm often been bundled with specialty physical product and downloads to increase their total value.  We pose the rhetorical question of whether there shouldn’t be a conversation taking place at the CRB level as to whether an NFT that is purchased for hundreds, thousands or even millions of dollars (as some recently have been), and which includes a bundled, sometimes unique physical sound carrier or download component, shouldn’t produce more than a one-time, 9.1 cent revenue payment for music creators and copyright administrators?  Are these really sales to the public for private use under §115 of the Copyright Act, and what royalty rate should apply to them?   Might a fixed percentage of the sale price realized be a more equitable means of compensating music creators in such situations?    Millions of dollars in songwriter, composer and independent music publisher revenue may be riding on the answers to those questions.  

On a much broader scale, the same holds true for recorded physical products and downloads that are sold to the general public as part of mainstream NFT packages now and in the future.  Some industry analysts are predicting a further, significant resurgence of vinyl sales and downloads predicated on an NFT boom that will drive purchases of products such as artist box sets and other music collections and compilations.  As we stand on the threshold of what might be a new era reliant in important part on NFT music distribution, the extension of a new, five-year freeze on already frozen Subpart B mechanical rates would further exclude the creative community from participation in the real and potential rewards such new technologies are intended to generate.

While the future may not be clear, the fact that these issues deserve full, public airings and careful consideration before the CRB certainly is.  We should not and cannot permit silent acquiescence through privately negotiated, confidential agreements, to control the future of NFT-related mechanical royalties.  Moreover, we cannot help but wonder whether the NFT issue has been relegated to the unknown contents of the Settling Parties’ MOU (at least executed and possibly negotiated without the participation of NSAI), which we expect may be claimed by those same Settling Parties to be subject to non-disclosure requirements (including those set forth in the protective order in place for these proceedings). 

These are issues of serious concern and great financial importance to the independent music creator community.  We urge that they be addressed transparently and publicly as part of the Phonorecords IV Subpart B proceedings.  At the very minimum, it also seems that NFTs should be excluded from the “music bundles” contemplated by Subpart B.

E. Economic Bars to Effective Music Creator Participation

There is one additional, extremely important issue raised by NSAI’s explanatory statement upon which we believe it is essential to comment.  It concerns the financial ability of independent music creators to participate in CRB proceedings, and the severely compromised bargaining positions of music creators when it comes to the negotiation of so-called “industry settlements” under the current CRB rate setting system.

In defending its position in favor of the continuing Subpart B royalty rate freeze in Phonorecords IV, NSAI offered the following observation:

The question songwriters and composers should be asking is why these false critics [apparently referring to all other music creator organizations] did not participate in the trial [sic] themselves. Any of these groups or individuals could have participated, but they did not even try.

That position presents an interesting juxtaposition to this prior assertion made by NSAI within the same published statement:

What these critics are not telling you is that we did fight that battle in 2006, during CRB I, when we asked the Copyright Royalty Board to increase the physical rate, while critics were nowhere to be found.[36]  [footnote added] Instead, after our side spent more than $20 million, the judges kept the rate exactly where it was, at 9.1 cents [emphasis added].

The point made by NSAI about the necessity of huge participatory expenditures goes a long way toward explaining why the only “songwriter group” participating in the Phonorecords IV settlement discussions is NSAI.[37]  Other music creator organizations do not have millions of dollars –or anything close to it– to allow their full participation in CRB proceedings.  Neither, in reality, does NSAI.  In fact, we wonder how NSAI continues to be able to participate in $20 million battles without accepting support from other groups on its “side” whose conflicted goals and actions may be antithetical to songwriter interests, both long and short term.

Much has changed since 2006.  In practice, the prohibitive costs of participating in CRB rate setting proceedings now form a nearly impenetrable barrier to entry for any independent music creator group wishing to participate while maintaining its autonomy. To participate generally means to acquiesce to those music publishing mega-corporations with the funds to remain in control of the negotiation, settlement and/or litigation process, including the conflicted major music publisher affiliates of the major record labels (some of whom purportedly utilize revenues charged back to their songwriters and composers to pay for positions taken before the CRB that are incompatible with those same music creators’ interests—such as the approval of frozen royalty rates). 

Thus has the current Phonorecords IV Subpart B settlement negotiation process continued to move forward without independent music creator input, tainted by the appearance of conflicts of interest created through vertical integration.  Unsurprisingly, the resulting “settlements” now unfairly threaten to harm the ability of music creators to argue successfully for substantial and desperately needed increases in streaming royalty rates. 

In that regard, shortly after the March 2 Notice was filed by the Settling Parties concerning their anticipated agreement to again freeze Subpart B royalty rates in Phonorecords IV, a witness for the music streaming company Pandora in the Phonorecords III Remand proceeding filed testimony citing the March 2 Notice as proof that frozen or diminished streaming royalty rates are similarly needed as a matter of both sound policy and fairness.[38]   

This predictable backfiring of the Settling Parties’ “roll forward” strategy is likely to be the catalyst for many more, baseless claims by other members of the digital distribution community desperately seeking to avoid paying market value streaming royalty rates under the Phonorecord III Remand and the Phonorecord IV proceeding.  That sad eventuality raises even more complex, potential conflict of interest issues concerning past or current cross ownership/investment arrangements between record companies and digital distributors too labyrinthian to detail in these Comments, but worthy of future consideration.  For now, however, we should consider that the ability of a stronger, broader group of independent music creator organizations and representatives to affordably participate in future CRB rate setting proceedings might avoid many of these unfair and counter-productive results.  It is an inquiry that we believe is worth pursuing through the US Copyright Office.

In the meanwhile, to independent music creator organizations such as ours and our colleagues, the choice to officially participate in the Phonorecords IV proceedings (especially regarding the Subpart B settlement negotiations) as second-class citizens on an economically tilted playing field remained no choice at all.  We instead have chosen to rely on the comments process, and our belief in the authority and wisdom of the CRB to ensure that the principles set forth in §§115 and 801 of the US Copyright Act, among others, are diligently applied.

To us, the events of 2006 occurred too long ago to be used as a pretext not to fight now for higher, more equitable Subpart B mechanical royalty rates, which in the interim have been devalued by a third simply due to inflation, inflicting significant economic harm on creators.  Rather, we submit as independent music creator representatives that the circumstances described throughout these Comments demonstrate beyond doubt –despite the endorsement by NSAI of the Subpart B royalty rate freeze in Phonorecords IV—that the proposed settlement does not come close to providing a reasonable basis for setting royalty rate standards arrived at through a willing buyer-willing seller process.

V. Recommendations

In light of the foregoing, and with likely hundreds of millions of dollars of music creator income at stake for the future rate periods under consideration in Phonorecords IV, the independent music creator signatories to these Comments respectfully submit the following recommendations in regard to this Rulemaking:

  1. For the reasons stated throughout these Comments, we urge the CRB to decline to adopt the settlement agreement as a basis for statutory rates and terms.   Adoption of the settlement and the rules as proposed would represent a miscarriage of justice, placing the imprimatur of the CRB on a negotiation and settlement process that was unfair, non-transparent, and may have been conducted under circumstances that were anything but reasonable pursuant to (and setting crucial precedent for) the required “willing buyer-willing seller” standard.
    
  2. We further urge that the CRB publish for comment at the earliest possible time the full text of the settlement
    agreement as submitted by the Settling Parties, and the MOU referenced in the March 2 Notice.  As Congressman Lloyd Doggett of Texas wrote to the Librarian of Congress and the Register of Copyrights on July 18, 2021, “it seems appropriate that every songwriter who will be affected by the outcome of this proceeding, from San Antonio and Austin, Memphis, to Detroit and beyond, should have the opportunity to read and comment meaningfully on the actual settlement agreement posed for adoption, and the related MOU referenced.”[39]
    
  3. We urge that at minimum, new royalty rates be made applicable to Subpart B uses pursuant to Phonorecords IV, adjusted to reflect changes in the CPI since 2006 as a starting point, and further adjusted according to changes in the CPI each year thereafter (with a permanent floor of 9.1 cents and corresponding per minute rates for physical phonorecords and permanent downloads).   Precedent and support for such a prospective adjustment methodology can be found in §805 of the Copyright Act,[40] as well as in the CPI-based mechanical royalty rate adjustments applied during the period January 1, 1990 through December 31, 1997,[41] and recent §114 decisions, among other sources.  Moreover, at a minimum, it seems that NFTs should also be excluded from the “music bundles” contemplated by Subpart B.  If the Settling Parties wish to establish different rates through private agreements for themselves, that is their prerogative.  Non-participants in such settlements and agreements, however, should not be tied to such settlements and agreements (especially ones not negotiated at arm’s length) by the CRB.
    
  4. We urge that the CRB recommend the undertaking of a study by the US Copyright Office to improve the ability of independent music creators and music publishers to more fully participate in CRB proceedings at reasonable cost.  The current inability of all but the major music publishers and their affiliated music publisher and music creator groups to effectively participate in CRB proceedings due to the costs of such participation must be effectively addressed.  Until then, it is incumbent upon the CRB to help level the playing field by taking into account the interests and predicaments of the independent music creator community, whose Constitutional, creative and economic interests the US Copyright Act is primarily intended to protect pursuant to Article I, §8 of the US Constitution.

VI. Conclusion

We thank the Copyright Royalty Judges and the CRB for this opportunity to participate in the Phonorecord IV proceedings through the submission of these Comments.

Respectfully submitted,

    

Rick Carnes                                                    Ashley Irwin

President, Songwriters Guild of America      President, Society of Composers and Lyricists

Officer, Music Creators North America         Co-Chair, Music Creators North America



List of Other Supporting Organizations

Alliance for Women Film Composers (AWFC). https://theawfc.com

Alliance of Latin American Composers & Authors (AlcaMusica) https://www.alcamusica.org

Asia-Pacific Music Creators Alliance (APMA), https://apmaciam.wixsite.com/home/news

European Composers and Songwriters Alliance (ECSA), https://composeralliance.org

The Ivors Academy (IVORS), https://ivorsacademy.com

Music Answers (M.A.), https://www.musicanswers.org

Pan-African Composers and Songwriters Alliance (PACSA), http://www.pacsa.org

Screen Composers Guild of Canada (SCGC), https://screencomposers.ca

Songwriters Association of Canada (SAC), http://www.songwriters.ca

cc:    Charles J. Sanders, Esq.

         Ms. Carla Hayden, US Librarian of Congress

         Ms. Shira Perlmutter, US Register of Copyrights

         Mr. Eddie Schwartz, President, MCNA and International Council of Music Creators (CIAM)

         The Members of the US Senate and House Sub-Committees on Intellectual Property


[1] https://www.songwritersguild.com/site/index.php

[2] https://thescl.com/

[3]  https://www.musiccreatorsna.org

[4] https://www.songwritersguild.com/site/rick-carnes

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashley_Irwin

[6] https://www.fairtrademusicinternational.org/

[7] See, e.g., http://www.americanmusicpreservation.com/songwriters.htm

[8] https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm

[9] See, e.g., https://escholarship.org/content/qt332557hg/qt332557hg.pdf

[10] https://copyright.gov/licensing/m200a.pdf

[11] https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm

[12] Ibid..

[13] As songwriter and recording artist Michelle Shocked has so aptly commented on this issue, “many may forgive the past, but we do not forget it.”

[14] https://app.crb.gov/document/download/25288

[15]  https://app.crb.gov/document/download/23883

[16] https://www.musiccreatorsna.org/mcna-letter-regarding-fairness-and-transparency-on-frozen-mechanicals/

[17] https://thetrichordist.com/2021/05/25/coalition-of-songwriter-groups-ask-crb-wheres-the-motion-on-insider-deal-for-frozen-mechanicals/

[18] https://app.crb.gov/document/download/25288

[19] https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2021-06-25/pdf/2021-12950.pdf     

[20] 801 (b) Functions.—Subject to the provisions of this chapter, the functions of the Copyright Royalty Judges shall be as follows:

…(7)(A). To adopt as a basis for statutory terms and rates or as a basis for the distribution of statutory royalty payments, an agreement concerning such matters reached among some or all of the participants in a proceeding at any time during the proceeding, except that—

(i) the Copyright Royalty Judges shall provide to those that would be bound by the terms, rates, or other determination set by any agreement in a proceeding to determine royalty rates an opportunity to comment on the agreement and shall provide to participants in the proceeding under section 803(b)(2) that would be bound by the terms, rates, or other determination set by the agreement an opportunity to comment on the agreement and object to its adoption as a basis for statutory terms and rates; and

(ii) the Copyright Royalty Judges may decline to adopt the agreement as a basis for statutory terms and rates for participants that are not parties to the agreement, if any participant described in clause (i) objects to the agreement and the Copyright Royalty Judges conclude, based on the record before them if one exists, that the agreement does not provide a reasonable basis for setting statutory terms or rates.

[21]  26 CFR § 25.2512-1

[22] See, e.g., Statement of Anthony Garnier, https://thetrichordist.com/category/frozen-mechanicals/.

[23] https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2021/06/18/biggest-record-labels-of-2021/

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid

[26] Ibid

[27] See, https://thetrichordist.com/2021/06/07/the-ivors-academy-joins-the-no-frozen-mechanicals-campaign/

[28] https://musicrow.com/2021/06/nsai-songwriters-respond-to-criticism-of-decision-not-to-challenge-physical-royalty-rates/

[29] https://www.riaa.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/2020-Year-End-Music-Industry-Revenue-Report.pdf

[30] https://www.ifpi.org/our-industry/industry-data/

[31] https://www.cnbc.com/2021/07/13/music-fans-pushed-sales-of-vinyl-albums-higher-in-first-half-of-2021.html

[32] https://static.billboard.com/files/2021/06/june-08-2021-billboard-bulletin-1623187818.pdf

[33] https://www.royaltyexchange.com/blog/u-s-music-publishing-grows-nearly-10-to-over-4b-in-2020

[34] Comments of Abby North of North Music Group.  See also, “Hit Songwriters are Driving Ubers,”  https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-55232418

[35]  See, e.g.,  https://variety.com/2021/music/news/nft-sales-imusic-business-wild-west-1234970419/;  https://www.businessinsider.com/how-crypto-art-muscians-primary-income-nfts-record-labels-2021-3; https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2021/06/09/are-nfts-the-new-crypto-a-guide-to-understanding-non-fungible-tokens/?sh=51fc14763d95  

[36] It should be noted that SGA did participate in the 2006 CRB proceedings.  Moreover, perhaps the fact that “critics” in the music creator community were “nowhere to be found” in 2006 is because all espoused the same position in favor of a royalty rate increase for Subpart B uses. 

[37] As the Independent Music Creator signatories have previously pointed out in these Comments, one individual music creator is participating in the Phonorecords IV proceedings. As always, we admire the courage and energy of Mr. George Johnson, whose efforts are appreciated by his fellow creators.  However, as Mr. Johnson has often readily admitted, his ability to match the overwhelming firepower arrayed against him at every turn in these and other proceedings before the CRB severely diminishes his capacity to serve as an effective advocate, and frequently results in his total marginalization by other participants.

[38]  See pages 65-67 at  https://app.crb.gov/document/download/23858; https://thetrichordist.com/2021/06/25/guest-post-by-sealeinthedeal-a-foreseeable-result-of-the-phonorecords-iv-private-settlement-opening-pandoras-box/   

[39] https://thetrichordist.com/category/frozen-mechanicals/

[40] 805. General rule for voluntarily negotiated agreements

Any rates or terms under this title that—

(1) are agreed to by participants to a proceeding under section 803(3),

(2) are adopted by the Copyright Royalty Judges as part of a determination under this chapter, and

(3) are in effect for a period shorter than would otherwise apply under a determination pursuant to this chapter, shall remain in effect for such period of time as would otherwise apply under such determination, except that the Copyright Royalty Judges shall adjust the rates pursuant to the voluntary negotiations to reflect national monetary inflation during the additional period the rates remain in effect [emphasis added].

[41] https://copyright.gov/licensing/m200a.pdf

#FrozenMechanicals Crisis: Comments to CRB by Twelve International Songwriter Groups Opposing Frozen Mechanicals Part 1

[We’re going to break this excellent CRB comment into two parts, so check back tomorrow for Part 2. You can find the whole post on MusicTechPolicy]

[Editor Charlie sez: This post demonstrates that no single songwriter group–including NSAI–speaks for every songwriter in the world and that songwriters around the world do not want their incomes smashed. So that’s a bit of a pickle.]

COPYRIGHT ROYALTY BOARD (CRB)

In re DOCKET NO. 21-CRB-0001-PR-(2023-2027)

Making and Distributing Phonorecords (Phonorecords IV)

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking re: 37 C.F.R. Part 385 Subpart B

Comments Submitted by the Songwriters Guild of America, Inc.,  the Society of Composers & Lyricists, Music Creators North America, and the individual music creators Rick Carnes and Ashley Irwin

These Comments Are Endorsed by the Following Music Creator Organizations:

Alliance for Women Film Composers (AWFC). https://theawfc.com

Alliance of Latin American Composers & Authors (AlcaMusica) https://www.alcamusica.org

Asia-Pacific Music Creators Alliance (APMA), https://apmaciam.wixsite.com/home/news

European Composers and Songwriters Alliance (ECSA), https://composeralliance.org

The Ivors Academy (IVORS), https://ivorsacademy.com 

Music Answers (M.A.), https://www.musicanswers.org

Pan-African Composers and Songwriters Alliance (PACSA), http://www.pacsa.org

Screen Composers Guild of Canada (SCGC), https://screencomposers.ca

Songwriters Association of Canada (SAC), http://www.songwriters.ca

I. Introduction

The following Comments are respectfully submitted by the signatory organizations Songwriters Guild of America, Inc. (“SGA”),[1] Society of Composers & Lyricists (“SCL”),[2] and Music Creators North America (“MCNA”),[3] and by the individuals Rick Carnes[4] and Ashley Irwin[5] (the parties sometimes collectively referred to herein as the “Independent Music Creators”).  These Comments have also been endorsed by the national and international music creator groups additionally listed above.  Together, these commenters and endorsers advocate for and represent the interests of hundreds of thousands of independent songwriters, composers and lyricists in the United States (US) and throughout the world.  

The Independent Music Creators speak today (i) in strong opposition to any rulemaking that would result in the adoption by the CRB of a proposed, continuing freeze on mechanical royalty rates for physical phonorecords, permanent downloads, ringtones, and music bundles, and (ii) against other, non-transparent elements that may be presented to the CRB by the National Music Publishers Association (“NMPA”), the Nashville Songwriters Association International (“NSAI”), and the major record labels Universal Music Group Recordings (“UMG”), Sony Music Entertainment (“SME”), and Warner Music Group Corp (“WMG”).   

II.  Statements of Interest

SGA is the longest established and largest music creator advocacy and copyright administrative organization in the United States run solely by and for songwriters, composers, and their heirs.  Its positions are reasoned and formulated independently and solely in the interests of music creators, without financial influence or other undue interference from parties whose interests vary from or are in conflict with those of songwriters, composers, and other authors of creative works.  Established in 1931, SGA has for 90 years successfully operated with a two-word mission statement: “Protect Songwriters,” and continues to do so throughout the United States and the world.  SGA’s organizational membership stands at approximately 4500 members.  SGA is represented by signatory Rick Carnes, who is signing as an individual music creator and copyright owner, and as an organizational officer.

SCL is the premier US organization for music creators working in all forms of visual media (including film, television, video games, and musical theatre).  It has a membership of over 2000 professional composers and lyricists, and is a founding co-member –along with SGA and other independent music creator groups– of MCNA.  SCL is represented by signatory Ashley Irwin, who is signing as an individual music creator and copyright owner, and as an organizational officer.

MCNA is an alliance of independent songwriter and composer organizations that advocates and educates on behalf of North America’s music creator community. As the only internationally recognized voice of American and Canadian songwriters and composers, MCNA, through its affiliation with the International Council of Music Creators (CIAM), is part of a coalition that represents the professional interests and aspirations of more than half a million creators across Africa, Asia, Austral- Oceania, North and South America, and Europe.  MCNA is represented by signatories Rick Carnes and Ashley Irwin, who are signing as organizational officers.

Of particular relevance to these comments, SGA, SCL and MCNA are also founding members of the international organization Fair Trade Music,[6] which is the leading US and international advocacy group for the principles of transparency, equitable treatment, and financial sustainability for all songwriters and composers.

III.  History of US Statutory Mechanical Royalty Rate-Setting 

As the CRB is well aware, the establishment of a compulsory mechanical rights licensing system, and the setting of a statutory mechanical royalty rate for the manufacture and distribution of sound carriers reproducing musical compositions, has its roots in the US Copyright Act of 1909.  Section 1 (e) of that law provided that once a musical composition had been distributed for the first time on a sound carrier in the US, any other party (i.e., a record company) was free to make and distribute its own recorded version of such composition so long as such party abided by the formalities set forth in the law, and paid a total of 2 cents for each unit of each composition distributed.  Thus began one of the most notorious miscarriages of economic justice in the history of the international music industry. 

By 1978, the tiny US record industry of the early twentieth century had grown into a multi-billion dollar, multi-national corporate entertainment empire that dominated the international music marketplace.  A good deal of the credit for such growth, it is widely acknowledged, is attributable to the fact that the intervening years were marked by one of the greatest periods of creative songwriting and composing that the world had ever seen, centered principally in the United States.  Those 20th century (and later 21st century) songs, composers and lyricists created the foundation on which the American record industry’s domination of global music sales was constructed, and on which it still rests.[7] 

Surreal as it may still seem, however, for that entire seventy-year period of phenomenal record industry growth between 1909 and 1978, the US mechanical royalty rate remained static at 2 cents per composition. According to US Consumer Price Index (CPI) statistics during those seven decades, the buying power of 2 cents in 1909 required the approximate equivalent of 14 to 15 cents in 1978.[8]  A songwriter or composer would have needed to earn about 750% of the original 2 cent royalty rate to have maintained his or her cost-of-living standard.  And yet no increase whatsoever had taken place.

Congress, despite enduring the intense lobbying of the recording industry not to take action, did finally raise the US statutory mechanical rate in 1978 under the “new” US Copyright Act of 1976.  It did so, however, by raising the rate by just 37.5%, to 2.75 cents.  Immediately thereafter, the entire record industry (claiming coincidence rather than collusion) immediately introduced and expanded the concept of the “controlled composition clause” into nearly every American recording contract.[9]  The practical effect of that essentially non-negotiable provision was to contractually freeze and then de-value the new US statutory mechanical royalty rate to 75% of its new level — driving it back down to two cents.

The outcry from the US and global music creator community over the ensuing years was substantial enough to result in gradual rises in the statutory mechanical royalty rate phased in every five years under the statutory rate-setting provisions of the 1976 Copyright Act (with some increases based upon negotiated cost of living increases tagged to various measurements under the CPI).  That process continued until its current 9.1 cent royalty rate zenith was reached in 2006.[10]  And there it has stayed, applicable not only to musical compositions manufactured and distributed in physical phonorecord form, but to permanent downloads in the realm of digital phonorecord deliveries and to certain other uses also specified in 37 C.F.R. Part 385 Subpart B (“Subpart B”). 

Subsequently, the Copyright Royalty Board opted in the rate-setting proceedings Phonorecords I (2006), Phonorecords II (2011) and Phonorecords III (2016) to adopt “roll forward” recommendations regarding the 9.1 cent royalty rate relative to Subpart B, principally without the formal objection of music creators.  In those years, members of the songwriter and composer community were forced to focus on pleading for substantial increases in the pitifully low digital streaming rates that were driving most music creators either into poverty or out of the music industry altogether.  That same drastic problem, unfortunately, remains for music creators.  Streaming royalty rates continue to be the subject of ongoing federal litigation brought by copyright users in the digital music distribution industry to negate rate increases mandated in Phonorecords III.  The case is currently on remand back to the CRB.  

Thus, economic circumstances for songwriters and composers –after fifteen years of a 9.1 cent rate applicable to Subpart B uses– are more dire than ever.  That is especially true in light of the hardships brought on by the recent pandemic.  The vast majority of songwriters and composers simply cannot abide a continuation of this financially strangling status quo any longer.  To do so would be to rubber stamp the extension of a second era of frozen mechanical royalty rates applicable to the sale of physical phonorecords and permanent downloads, for a period that would now stretch to over twenty years and counting (2006-2027). 

To put the effect of such result into numerical perspective, even a simple cost of living application to the subject statutory mechanical royalty rate since 2006 would have already yielded a 2021 royalty rate of 12 cents under CPI measurements.[11]  The 9.1 cent rate, in other words, has already been devalued by one third in real dollars since its implementation.  That leaves aside the historical legacy of the 2-cent rate from 1909, which would in 2021 dollars equal over 55 cents pursuant to those same CPI formulas.[12]  While no one is suggesting this latter extrapolation be considered dispositive on the issue of new rate-setting, it does starkly demonstrate the outrageous unfairness that has been imposed on the music creator community over a period of more than an entire century.[13]

Nevertheless, on March 2, 2021, the three major, multinational record conglomerates UMG, SME and WMG, the US music publisher trade group NMPA (whose largest members include the music publishing affiliates of those major record companies), and inexplicably, the Nashville Songwriters Association International (collectively, the “Settling Parties”), filed a Notice of Settlement in Principle (the “March 2 Notice”)[14] with the CRB, stating as follows:

Once they reach a definitive agreement concerning the Settlement, the Participants expect to propose to the CRJs [Copyright Royalty Judges] that the royalty rates and terms presently set forth in 37 C.F.R. Part 385 Subpart B, and the related definitions and late fees for Subpart B Configurations presently addressed in Subpart A, should be continued for the rate period at issue in the Proceeding [through 2027]. 

One participant in the Phonorecord IV proceedings, pro se music creator and music publisher George Johnson, filed his objections to the adoption with the CRB on April 19, 2021.  He noted specifically the unfairness of the proposed roll forward of the frozen Subpart B royalty rate proposals,[15] among his other objections that also included a substantial lack of transparency by the Settling Parties.   

The remainder of the music creator community, none of whose members seem in any way to have been consulted concerning the anticipated settlement noted in the March 2 Notice by the Settling Parties, were similarly taken aback by the Settling Parties’ actions.   Not only were they blindsided by the pending decision to recommend a continued freeze of the royalty rates and other terms contained in Subpart B, they were also agitated by the lack of more detailed disclosure by the Settling Parties concerning the following statement contained in the March 2 Notice:

NMPA, UMG, WMG and SME have also reached an agreement in principle concerning a separate memorandum of understanding addressing certain related issues.

With a pending deadline of May 18, 2021 set by the CRB for the filing by the Settling Parties of a final proposed settlement, the signatories to these Independent Music Creator Comments –in reliance on, among other provisions, §801 (b) (7) of the US Copyright Act– sent a letter to the CRB dated May 17, 2021[16] stating as follows:

In the interests of justice and fairness, we respectfully implore the CRB to adopt and publicize a period and opportunity for public comment on the record in these and other proceedings, especially in regard to so-called proposed “industry settlements” in which creators and other interested parties have had no opportunity to meaningfully participate prior to their presentation to the CRB for consideration, modification or rejection. In the present case, hundreds of millions of dollars of our future royalties remain at stake, even in a diminished market for traditional, mechanical uses of music. To preclude our ability to comment on proposals that ultimately impact our incomes, our careers, and our families, simply isn’t fair.

Thereafter, the Settling Parties informed the CRB on May 18, 2021 that they had reached an agreement that mirrored the terms set forth in their prior March 2 Notice, but did not file a motion asking the CRB to adopt their settlement.  This procedural anomaly raised alarms among the members of the independent music creator community, who once again had not been consulted in any way by the Settling Parties regarding their settlement discussions, or concerning the subsequent filings announcing agreement on the royalty rate freeze. 

In a second letter to the CRB dated May 24, 2021,[17] the Independent Music Creator signatories to these Comments once again conveyed their concerns:

We believe that this procedural omission (whether permissible or not) may well be calculated to delay and/or compromise the ability of the independent music creator and music publishing communities to file comments in a timely manner, and could result in irreparable harm to our ability to present our views and pose our questions, for example, if one or more of the settling parties subsequently withdraws from the proceeding.  Simply put, we believe the settling parties are seeking to stifle timely discussion and dissent through delay, a strategy which should be rejected as antithetical to due process.

On the next day, the Settling Parties acted to file their “Motion to Adopt Settlement of Statutory Royalty Rates and Terms For Subpart B Configurations” (“the May 25 Motion to Adopt”).[18]  That motion contained the following statement by the Settling Parties:

In all material respects, the Parties propose that the current regulatory provisions applicable to Subpart B Configurations, and Late Fees solely as they concern Subpart B Configurations, remain in effect. They propose a few minor editorial changes to the applicable regulatory language, which are shown below with additions in bold and underlined text and deletions in bold with a strikethrough. To the extent that the provisions set forth below are also applicable to configurations other than Subpart B Configurations, such matters are outside the scope of the Settlement.

The May 25 Motion to Adopt contained no further elaboration concerning the statement originally made in the Settling Parties’ March 2 Notice that “NMPA, UMG, WMG and SME have also reached an agreement in principle concerning a separate memorandum of understanding addressing certain related issues.”

One month later, on June 25, 2021, the CRB published in the Federal Register its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking[19]addressing the May 25 Motion to Adopt filed by the Settling Parties, stating in pertinent part as follows:

The Judges may decline to adopt the agreement as a basis for statutory terms and rates for participants not party to the agreement if any participant objects and the Judges conclude that the agreement does not provide a reasonable basis for setting statutory terms or rates. See §801(b)(7)(A).[20] (Emphasis and Footnote added). If the Judges adopt rates and terms reached pursuant to a negotiated settlement, those rates and terms are binding on all copyright owners of musical works and those using the musical works in the activities described in the proposed regulations….

The Judges solicit comments on whether they should adopt the proposed regulations as statutory rates and terms relating to the making and distribution of physical or digital phonorecords of nondramatic musical works. Comments and objections regarding the rates and terms and the minor revisions must be submitted no later than July 26, 2021.

By submitting these Comments today, the Independent Music Creator community seeks to respectfully explain the myriad reasons why adoption by the CRB of the Settling Parties’ May 25 Motion to Adopt (including the proposed royalty freeze) would not only be inconsistent with the provisions of the US Copyright Act, but will cause great harm to the US and global songwriter and composer communities.  We likewise urge circumspection by the CRB concerning the possibility of any potential “insider” or “self-dealing” settlement arrangement among related companies and trade associations that may have been carried out at the expense of those music creators whom Congress intended (pursuant to Article I §8 of the US Constitution) to be the beneficiaries –not the victims– of the statutory mechanical royalty rate-setting process.

Continued in Part 2

The @IvorsAcademy Joins the No Frozen Mechanicals Campaign

The Ivors Academy joins the campaign against frozen mechanical royalties for songwriters by the Copyright Royalty Board in the US. Ivors is the UK’s independent professional association for music creators and is a community of diverse, talented songwriters and composers across all styles. Their talent creates the music that the world loves. The organization was formerly known as the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors, and is home to the Ivors Awards named after Ivor Novello. Ivors Academy are leading advocates for songwriters across Europe and are leading the #BrokenRecord and #PaySongwriters campaigns that have resulted in an inquiry into music streaming by the UK Parliament. Follow them at @IvorsAcademy.

Against Frozen MechanicalsSupporting Frozen Mechanicals
Songwriters Guild of AmericaNational Music Publishers Association
Society of Composers and LyricistsNashville Songwriters Association International
Alliance for Women Film Composers 
Songwriters Association of Canada 
Screen Composers Guild of Canada 
Music Creators North America 
Music Answers 
Alliance of Latin American Composers & Authors 
Asia-Pacific Music Creators Alliance 
European Composers and Songwriters Alliance 
Pan African Composers and Songwriters Alliance 
North Music Group 
Blake Morgan 
David Lowery 
ATX Musicians 
Ivors Academy 

Three Nashville Songwriters Respond on Frozen Mechanicals

You should read this post by three Nashville songwriters published in the Nashville trade website Music Row who evidently are at the center of the negotiations and decisionmaking process on frozen mechanicals at the Copyright Royalty Board and have been for many years.  (One of the signers, Lee Miller, once considered running for Marsha Blackburn’s congressional seat on the Republican ticket in 2017.)  It is a heartfelt effort, although you do have to ask yourself where are the publishers?

The post is a very illuminating look inside the CRB process that many find mysterious, and also is a good demonstration of some of the concerns expressed by writers on The Trichordist on this subject.  The three accomplished Nashville songwriters add some color commentary to the proceedings, particularly for those who may have been in high school or college during the 2006 CRB frozen mechanical rate setting that many think caused the problem. 

The songwriters express a good deal of frustration and passion which is as understandable as the frustration and passion of those who feel that the CRB process is as inequitable, unwieldy and prohibitively expensive as these songwriters seem to be telling us that it is.  Someone may want to do a point by point discussion of the many good issues that the three Nashville songwriters raise, but a couple things jump out.

First, they defend the streaming mechanical rate from the last CRB. No one criticized the streaming mechanical rate in the last CRB proceeding that is currently under appeal.  If the rate survives the appeal and reworking at the CRB, and makes its way through the MLC, every songwriter should expect to see the promised increase in their streaming royalty check.  That would be a great thing and everyone no doubt thanks everyone involved for the effort.  The topic, though, was primarily the frozen mechanical not the streaming mechanical.

Also, who paid the $20 million cost for “our side” to participate in the CRB that the three Nashville songwriters refer to?  Surely the publishers did not ask the songwriters to open up their own pocketbooks, even though each has been extraordinarily successful in their genre. 

We couldn’t find any discussion by the three Nashville songwriters of what terms are in the private settlements referred to in their own filing.  The point that many have made about public commentary about the private settlements is that the Copyright Royalty Judges can decide on who is “bound” by the settlements and that it is the motion at issue as filed that gets commented on unless the Judges ask that it be supplemented.  Commenters said the “who” should be broadly construed.  They also said that the “what” is crucially important. Many have made the point that public commentary about the settlements requires that all the terms of the settlements are made public. Until made public, the terms are private.  The only thing we know about the settlements from the three Nashville songwriters’ own CRB filing is the terms that are disclosed—frozen rates.  Even though their filing refers to settlements, we still don’t know anything further.  Maybe we will in coming days.  Any additional terms that exist may not be remarkable, but they might be.  Presumably this is the kind of thing that important people in the negotiation process would know due to their special position.  We just don’t know.

The three Nashville songwriters apparently believed they had a mandate to make decisions about what was worth pursuing in the CRB.  If they did have that belief, presumably they base that belief on some kind of vote.  Since their CRB settlement impacts every songwriter in the world, that’s the magnitude of decision that some might think is deserving of a vote of their membership, not just a board vote if that’s what happened—we just don’t know.  It’s a real privilege to be in the position to make those kinds of decisions, so you might well think that it’s the kind of thing you wouldn’t want to take on by yourself or with only the approval of a limited number of people.  But maybe not. 

Be sure to read this post and thank these songwriters for their service to the community.  They certainly deserve it.

Healing with Sunlight: A Rate Based Solution for the Frozen Mechanicals Dilemma

By Chris Castle

[This post first appeared on MusicTech.Solutions]

Well, it’s been quite a week for the frozen mechanicals issue on The Trichordist (once again cementing its leadership role in providing a platform for the voice of the people).  Many songwriter groups, publishers, lawyers and academics stepped forward with well-reasoned commentary to demand a better rate on physical and downloads and full disclosure of the secret deals between NMPA and the major label affiliates of their biggest members.  Even the mainstream press had to cover it.  So much for physical and downloads being unimportant configurations.

Readers should now better understand the century of sad history for U.S. mechanical royalties that cast a long commercial shadow around the world.  This history explains why extending the freeze on these mechanical rates in the current CRB proceeding (“Phonorecords IV”) actually undermines the credibility of the Copyright Royalty Board if not the entire rate setting process.  The CRB’s future is a detailed topic for another day that will come soon, but there are many concrete action points raised this week for argument in Phonorecords IV today–if the parties and the judges are motivated to reach out to songwriters.

Let’s synthesize some of these points and then consider what the new royalty rates on physical and downloads ought to be.

            1.  Full Disclosure of Side Deals:  Commenters were united on disclosure.  Note that all we have to go on is a proposed settlement motion about two side deals and a draft regulation, not copies of the actual deals.  The motion acknowledges both a settlement agreement and a side deal of some kind that is additional consideration for the frozen rates and mentions late fees (which can be substantial payments).  The terms of the side deal are unknown; however, the insider motion makes it clear that the side deal is additional consideration for the frozen rate. 

            It would not be the first time that a single or small group negotiated a nonrecoupable payment or other form of special payment to step up the nominal royalty rate to the insiders in consideration for a low actual royalty rate that could be applied to non-parties.  The rate—but not the side deal–would apply to all.  (See DMX.)

            In other words, if I ask you to take a frozen rate that I will apply to everyone but you, and I pay you an additional $100 plus the frozen rate, then your nominal rate is the frozen per unit rate plus the $100, not the frozen rate alone.  Others get the frozen rate only.  I benefit because I pay others less, and you benefit because I pay you more.  Secret deals compound the anomaly.

            This is another reason why the CRJs should both require public disclosure of the actual settlement agreement plus the side deal without redactions and either cabin the effects of the rate to the parties or require the payment of any additional consideration to everyone affected by the frozen rate.  Or just increase the rate and nullify the application of the side deal.

            It is within the discretion of the Copyright Royalty Judges to open the insider’s frozen mechanical private settlement to public comment.  That discretion should be exercised liberally so that the CRJs don’t just authorize comments by the insider participants in public, but also authorize public comments by the general public on the insiders work product. Benefits should flow to the public–the CRB doesn’t administer loyalty points for membership affinity programs, they set mechanical royalty rates for all songwriters in the world.

            2.  Streaming Royalty Backfire:   If you want to argue that there is an inherent value in songs as I do, I don’t think freezing any rates for 20 years gets you there.  Because there is no logical explanation for why the industry negotiators freeze the rates at 9.1¢ for another five years, the entire process for setting streaming mechanical rates starts to look transactional.  In the transactional model, increased streaming mechanicals is ultimately justified by who is paying.  When the labels are paying, they want the rate frozen, so why wouldn’t the services use the same argument on the streaming rates, gooses and ganders being what they are?  If a song has inherent value—which I firmly believe—it has that value for everyone. Given the billions that are being made from music, songwriters deserve a bigger piece of that cash and an equal say about how it is divided.

            3.  Controlled Compositions Canard:  Controlled comp clauses are a freeze; they don’t justify another freeze.  The typical controlled compositions clause in a record deal ties control over an artist’s recordings to control over the price of an artist’s songwriting (and often ties control over recordings to control over the price for the artist’s non-controlled co-writers). This business practice started when rates began to increase after the 1976 revision to the U.S. Copyright Act.  These provisions do not set rates and expressly refer to a statutory rate outside of the contract which was anticipated to increase over time—as it did up until 2006.  Controlled comp reduces the rate for artist songwriters but many publishers of non-controlled writers will not accept these terms.  So songwriters who are subject to controlled comp want their statutory rate to be as high as possible so that after discounts they make more.  

            Because controlled comp clauses are hated, negotiations usually result in mechanical escalations, no configuration reductions, later or no rate fixing dates, payment on free goods and 100% of net sales, a host of issues that drag the controlled comp rates back to the pure statutory rate.  Failing to increase the statutory rate is like freezing rate reductions into the law on top of the other controlled comp rate freezes—a double whammy.

            It must be said that controlled compositions clauses are increasingly disfavored and typically don’t apply to downloads at all.  If controlled comp is such an important downward trend, then why not join BMG’s campaign against the practice?  If you are going to compel songwriters to take a freeze, then the exchange should be relief from controlled compositions altogether, not to double down.

            4.  Physical and Downloads are Meaningful Revenue:  Let it not be said that these are not important revenue streams.  [Ironically, Taylor Swift just broke the record for first week vinyl sales on her Evermore album.] As we heard repeatedly from actual songwriters and independent publishers, the revenue streams at issue in the insider motion are meaningful to them. Even so, there are still roughly 344.8 million units of physical and downloads in 2020 accounting for approximately $1,741.5 billion of label revenue on an industry-wide basis.  And that’s just the U.S. Remember—units “made and distributed” are what matter for physical and download mechanicals, not “stream share”.  If you don’t think the publishing revenue is “meaningful” isn’t that an argument for raising the rates?

U.S. Recorded Music Sales Volumes and Revenue by Format (Physical and Downloads) 2020 UnitsRevenue
LP/EP  22.9 million$619.6 million
Download Single257.2 million$312.8 million
Download Album  33.1 million$319.5 million
CD  31.6 million$483.3 million
Vinyl Single  0.4 million$    6.3 million

Source: RIAA https://www.riaa.com/u-s-sales-database/

            5.  Inflation is Killing Songwriters:  The frozen mechanical is not adjusted for increases in the cost of living, therefore the buying power of 9.1¢ in 2006 when that rate was first established is about 75% of 9.1¢ in 2021 dollars.

            6.  Willing Buyer/Willing Seller Standard Needs Correction:  When the willing buyer and the willing seller are the same person (at the group level), the concept does not properly approximate a free market rate under Section 115. Because both buyers and sellers at one end of the market are overrepresented in the proposed settlement, the frozen rates do not properly reflect the entire market.  At a minimum, the CRJs should not apply the frozen rate to anyone other than parties to the private settlement.  The CRJs are free to set higher rates for non-parties.

            7.  Proper Rates:  While the frozen rate is unacceptable, grossing up the frozen rate for inflation at this late date is an easily anticipated huge jump in royalty costs. That jump, frankly, is brought on solely because of the long-term freeze in the rate when cost of living adjustments were not built in.  The inflation adjusted rate would be approximately 12¢ (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm).  

            Even though entirely justified, there will be a great wringing of hands and rending of garments from the labels if the inflation adjustment is recognized.  In fairness, just like the value of physical and downloads differ for independent publishers, the impact of an industry-wide true-up type rate change would also likely affect independent labels differently, too. So fight that urge to say cry me a river.

            Therefore, it seems that songwriters may have to get comfortable with the concept of a rate change that is less than an inflation true up, but more than 9.1¢.  That rate could of course increase in the out-years of Phonorecords IV.  Otherwise, 9.1¢ will become the new 2¢–it’s already nearly halfway there.  The only thing inherent in extending the frozen mechanicals approach is that it inherently devalues the song just at the tipping point.

            Let’s not do this again, shall we not?

ATX Musicians Joins Opposition to Frozen Mechanicals

Against Frozen MechanicalsSupporting Frozen Mechanicals
Songwriters Guild of AmericaNational Music Publishers Association
Society of Composers and LyricistsNashville Songwriters Association International
Alliance for Women Film Composers 
Songwriters Association of Canada 
Screen Composers Guild of Canada 
Music Creators North America 
Music Answers 
Alliance of Latin American Composers & Authors 
Asia-Pacific Music Creators Alliance 
European Composers and Songwriters Alliance 
Pan African Composers and Songwriters Alliance 
North Music Group 
Blake Morgan 
David Lowery 
ATX Musicians 

Professor Kevin Casini (@KCEsq) Asks Congress and the CRJs for Meaningful Public Comment on Frozen Mechanical Royalty Settement

May 27, 2021

Senator Richard Blumenthal
90 State House Square
Hartford, CT 06103

Senator Chris Murphy
Colt Gateway
120 Huyshope Avenue, Suite 401
Hartford, CT 06106
Hon. C.J. Jesse M. Feder
Hon. J. David R. Strickler
Hon. J. Steve Ruwe

US Copyright Royalty Board
101 Independence Ave SE / P.O. Box 70977
Washington, DC 20024-0977

Senators Blumenthal and Murphy, and Honorable Judges of the Copyright Royalty Board:

I am a Connecticut resident, attorney, and law professor, and the views expressed here are mine, and not necessarily those of any local or state bar association, or any employer. I am an active participant in politics local, state, and federal. I am a registered non-affiliate in New Haven. And I need your attention for about ten minutes.

On May 18, 2021, a “Notice of Settlement in Principle” was filed by parties to the proceedings before the Copyright Royalty Board about its Determination of Royalty Rates and Terms for Making and Distributing Phonorecords.[1] That Notice was followed on May 25, 2021 by a Motion To Adopt Settlement Of Statutory Royalty Rates And Terms For Subpart B Configurations, filed by the NMPA, Sony, Universal and Warner and NSAI.[2] I write today in reference to that proposed settlement.

This settlement outlines the terms by which mechanical royalty[3] and download rates will remain locked at the current rate of 9.1¢. The same almost-dime for each copy of a work manufactured and distributed. The same almost-dime that it’s generated since 2006. A paltry sum to be certain but a far cry from the 2¢ royalty rate mechanical royalties imposed for the better part of seventy years.[4] Starting in 1977, Congress mandated that the mechanical royalty be increased incrementally until 2006 when the rate of 9.1¢ was achieved. And there it has remained.

This proposed private settlement would extend that 2006 freeze until 2027.

In March 2017, a precursor to Phonorecords IV found the Copyright Royalty Board ruling that interactive streaming services must pay more in mechanical royalties over the course of the next five years.[5] Surely more than a simple inflation adjustment, but nonetheless a sign that the CRB thought costs and values needed to become more aligned for streaming—which is paid by the streaming platforms unlike the physical and download mechanical which is paid by the record companies. Now comes Phonorecords IV, and a proposed settlement from the major publishers and their affiliated major labels. Before this proposal can be accepted by the CRB, I asked for the simple opportunity of public comment.

As you well know, in nearly all other administrative proceedings public comment is an integral and indispensable component of the process. To see that the CRB may allow for a public comment period by members of the public beyond the participants in the proceeding or parties to the settlement is a step in the right direction, and my hope is that this development will be broadcast far and wide so that the CRB, and in turn, Congress, may get a full picture of the status of mechanical royalty rates, especially from those that are historically underrepresented. “Public comments” should be comments by the public and made in public; not comments by the participants made publicly.

Let me back up and state that I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the work put into the landmark copyright legislation that came about at the end of 2018, and for those that made it happen. So too for the members of the CRB, and in this space, I thank those Judges for taking the time to read a letter from an adjunct law professor with no economic stake in the outcome, but rather an interest in, and duty of, candor to the Court.

In an age of unprecedented political polarization, the consensus built in the passage of the Music Modernization Act showed that politics aside, when it’s time to make new laws that fix old problems, Congress can still get the job done. I know well the sweat-equity poured into its creation by the very same people that propose this settlement. I have found myself on the same side fighting the same fight as them many times. They have proven capable of navigating your halls and taking on those that would seek to devalue (or worse) the work of the songwriter, and musician. In this instance, I would like to see them fight the fight yet again. recognize the reasoning and intention behind the proposed settlement. Comment by the public made publicly is a way for that to happen.[6]

Our state, Connecticut, has a long and storied history with music. In 1956, The Five Satins recorded what would go on to be one of the most recognizable and beloved doo-wop songs in history. “In The Still of the Night” was ranked 90th in Rolling Stone’s list of Top 500 songs of all time.[7] Five years later, the 1961 Indian Neck Folk Festival was where a young Bob Dylan’s first recorded performance.[8] That young man turned into a fine songwriter, as evidenced by the 4,000+ covers recorded of his works, and his record sale last year of his publishing royalties.[9] And no one will forget Jim Morrison’s arrest at the old New Haven Arena, December 1967. Ticket price: $5.00. Connecticut is home to more than 14,000 registered songwriters, only a small percentage of whom have engaged a music publisher. These writers are considered “self-publishing”, but the reality is, they have no publishing. Ironically, it is these independent writers who rely disproportionately on physical sales, direct downloads, and Bandcamp Fridays.[10]

A year ago, I made the unilateral decision to pivot our consulting company, Ecco Artist Services, to purposefully work with, and advocate for, the traditionally and historically underserved and underrepresented in the music industry. Freezing the growth of rates for physical and digital sales that are already digging out of the residual effects of 70 years at 2¢ strikes at the heart of that community’s ability to generate revenues from their music.

Sadly, rate freezes for mechanical royalties are nothing new. I’ll tell you what has not been frozen since 2006: the cost of living. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, prices for rent of primary residence were 53.49% higher in 2021 versus 2006 (a $534.91 difference in value). Between 2006 and 2021 rent experienced an average inflation rate of 2.90% per year. This rate of change indicates significant inflation. In other words, rent costing $1,000 in the year 2006 would cost $1,534.91 in 2021 for an equivalent purchase. Compared to the overall inflation rate of 1.82% during this same period, inflation for rent was higher.[11] Milk? How about 19.48%.[12] Childcare? In Connecticut? Senators, you don’t even want to know.[13]

Now, it’s no secret the trade association for the US music publishing industry is funded by its music publisher members, and of course, as a professional trade organization, the association is bound to represent those members. Publishers have long enjoyed a better reputation amongst industry insiders than “the labels,” and for good reason, but the fact remains that writers signed to publishing deals are in contractual relationships with their publishers, and their interests are not always aligned. Such is the state of play in a consumer-driven marketplace, and especially now that publishers and labels are consolidating their businesses under the same tents.

Unfortunately, the independent songwriter lacks the resources to participate fully in the process, and although a signed songwriter may believe her interests and those of her publisher are one and the same, they may not always be. It would seem the economic analysis the publishers undertook in deciding the mechanical royalty was not worth the heavy cost and burden of fighting is the same calculus the writers need not do: they couldn’t afford the fight no matter the decision.

But I ask: if the mechanical royalty covered by the proposed settlement is a dying source of revenue, why would the fight be so onerous? By the RIAA’s 2020 year-end statistics, physical sales and downloads accounted for 15% of the music marketplace.[14] That’s a $12.2 billion marketplace, and that 15% amounts to $1.8 billion. Now, I know attorney’s fees can be exorbitant in regulatory matters, but I would think we could find a firm willing to take the case for less than that. As for sales, in 2020, 27.5 million vinyl LPs were sold in the United States, up 46-percent compared to 2019 and more than 30-fold compared to 2006 when the vinyl comeback began,[15]  while some 31.6 million CD albums were sold.[16]

Median wages in the US, adjusted for inflation, have declined 9% for the American worker. Meanwhile, since the 9.1¢ rate freeze, the cost of living has gone up 31%, according to the American Institute of Economic Research[17]. The 2006 inflation rate was 3.23%. The current year-over-year inflation rate (2020 to 2021) is now 4.16%[18], which is all really to say, simply, an accurate cost-of-living increase would have a mechanical rate of at least 12¢ per sale. Twelve cents! You would think that would be an easy sell, but the streaming rates are fractions of that rate. The reality is a song would need to be streamed 250 times to generate enough money to buy it from iTunes. As my dear friend Abby North put it, the royalty amount for the digital stream of a song is a micro penny.[19]

An adjustment for inflation should require no briefing, let alone argument. If songwriters were employees, this would simply be line-item budgeted as a “cost-of-living adjustment.” If songwriters were unionized it would be a rounding error, but I digress.

A period and opportunity for the general public to comment publicly and on the record in these and other proceedings before the presentation to the CRB of this proposed settlement is in the interest of all involved. Even if it is true that the mechanical revenue is a lost and dying stream, by the RIAA’s own figures, there stand to be billions of dollars at stake. An opportunity to be heard, without having to sign with a publisher and then hope that publisher takes up the fight you want, maybe that’s all the independent writers of the industry—and, indeed, the world–need to be able to win.

In addition to a meaningful public comment period, and an inflation-adjusted cost-of-living update to the mechanical statutory royalty rate at issue, I’d ask that this letter be made a part of the Phonorecords IV public record and that you review the best practices of the Copyright Royalty Board. Not only so that those independent, self-published writers affected by its decision may voice their concerns through public comments that the CRB considers before it makes its final decision, but so that those of us that speak without financial stake in the matter can provide perspective from a policy and legal perspective.

I want to close by thanking the Board, and Copyright Office, the Judiciary Committee and the Intellectual Property Subcommittee, and the Copyright Royalty Board for their continued attention to the universe of copyright, licensing royalties, and the economy that exists therein. Lord knows there are lots of fires to be put out all over and the time spent and thought given to these policies is acknowledged and appreciated.

Kevin M. Casini
New Haven, CT

Attorney-at-Law, Adj. Professor, Quinnipiac Univ. School of Law

cc: Ms. Carla Hayden, US Librarian of Congress

Ms. Shira Perlmutter, US Register of Copyrights


[1] (Phonorecords IV) (Docket No. 21–CRB–0001–PR (2023–2027)).

[2] Available at https://app.crb.gov/document/download/25288

[3] The term “mechanical royalty” dates back to the 1909 Copyright Law when Congress deemed it necessary to pay a music publishing company for the right to mechanically reproduce a musical composition on a player-piano roll. As a result, music publishers began issuing “mechanical licenses”, and collecting mechanical royalties from piano-roll manufacturers. The times, and the tech, changed, but the name stuck.

[4] A summary of historical mechanical royalty rates is available from the U.S. Copyright Office at https://www.copyright.gov/licensing/m200a.pdf

[5] Docket No. 16-CBR-0003-PR (2018-2022) (Phonorecords III).

[6] The CRB arguably has the statutory obligation to publish the Motion in the Federal Register for public comment, but may have the discretion to construe those commenting to the participants in the proceeding and the parties to the settlement.  17 U.S.C. § 801(b)(7).  It would be unfortunate if the Judges narrowly construed that rule to the exclusion of the general public, unlike the Copyright Office regulatory practice.

[7] “Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. Rolling Stone. April 2010.

[8] “Looking Way Back, As Bob Dylan Turns 60” Roger Catlin, Hartford Courant May 24, 2001
https://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-xpm-2001-05-24-0105241174-story.html

[9] “Bob Dylan Sells His Songwriting Catalog in Blockbuster Deal” Ben Sisario, New York Times, December 7, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/07/arts/music/bob-dylan-universal-music.html

[10] Bandcamp Fridays Brought in $40 Million for Artists During Covid Pandemic Ethan Millman, Rolling Stone December 15, 2020

[11] https://www.officialdata.org/Rent-of-primary-residence/price-inflation/2006-to-2021?amount=1000

[12] https://www.in2013dollars.com/Milk/price-inflation/2006-to-2021?amount=4

[13] According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, prices for childcare and nursery school were 52.57% higher in 2021 versus 2006 (a $5,256.98 difference in value).

Between 2006 and 2021: Childcare and nursery school experienced an average inflation rate of 2.86% per year. This rate of change indicates significant inflation. In other words, childcare and nursery school costing $10,000 in the year 2006 would cost $15,256.98 in 2021 for an equivalent tuition. Compared to the overall inflation rate of 1.82% during this same period, inflation for childcare and nursery school was higher.

[14] RIAA year-end revenue statistics. https://www.riaa.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/2020-Year-End-Music-Industry-Revenue-Report.pdf

[15] MRC 202 Year End Report. https://static.billboard.com/files/2021/01/MRC_Billboard_YEAR_END_2020_US-Final201.8.21-1610124809.pdf

[16] Id.

[17] American Institute for Economic Research. https://www.aier.org/cost-of-living-calculator/

[18] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index https://www.officialdata.org/articles/consumer-price-index-since-1913/

[19] Abby North, North Music Group Letter to Congress on Frozen Mechanicals and the Copyright Royalty Board, The Trichordist (May 24, 2021) available at https://thetrichordist.com/2021/05/24/northmusicgroup-letter-to-congress-on-frozen-mechanicals-and-the-copyright-royalty-board/

Another Call for Congressional Oversight of the Proposed Settlement of Physical and Download Mechancials

[Editor T says pay close attention to Gwen Seale’s analysis of the side deal.]

Gwendolyn Seale, Esq.

May 26, 2021

The Hon. John Cornyn III
517 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Hon. Ted Cruz
Russell Senate Office Building 127A
Washington, DC 20510


SENT VIA EMAIL

Re: Potential Settlement of Mechanical Royalty Rates in CRB Phonorecords IV

Dear Senators Cornyn and Cruz,

I am a music lawyer in Austin, Texas, and represent songwriters located throughout our great state. The views I express here are my own and are not on behalf of any of my clients or the State Bar of Texas.

I am contacting you as I am deeply troubled by the private party settlement of mechanical royalty rates pertaining to physical product and digital sales in the “Determination of Royalty Rates and Terms for Making and Distributing Phonorecords (Phonorecords IV)” currently pending before the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB).

Background / Historical Context


With the constant consumption of music occurring via the streaming services, many do not realize the degree of revenue generated from the sale of physical products (vinyl, CDs)  and digital downloads in the United States. Notwithstanding the devastating pandemic which forced the majority of workers to pivot, and resulted in at the very least the temporary shutdown of a significant amount of businesses, revenue from the physical music sales amounted to $1.13 billion dollars in 2020 (YEAR-END 2020 RIAA REVENUE STATISTICS). Additionally, vinyl record sales increased by more than 28% from 2019 to 2020.  Physical and downloads accounted for 15% of worldwide revenue for U.S. recorded music in 2020.

The current statutory mechanical royalty rate pertaining to physical products and digital downloads in the United States is 9.1 cents per song per record sold and has been so since 2006. To give some historical context, this statutory rate was frozen at 2¢ from 1909 to 1978.  Congress mandated that the rate be incrementally increased beginning in 1978, following the passage of the 1976 Copyright Act, from 2¢ to the 9.1 ¢ minimum rate in 2006. Prior to the passage of the 1976 Copyright Act, this rate had been frozen at 2 cents for 69 years.

The participants in this current private party settlement request that the 9.1¢ rate remain frozen through 2027, which results in this rate remaining the same for over 20 years. Note that the mechanical royalties pertaining to physical product sales are paid to songwriters and publishers by record companies and not by streaming services.  The Big 3 record companies also own the Big 3 music publishers who are the major members of the National Music Publishers Association, so the licensee record companies literally take the money for mechanicals out of one pocket and place it in the other—songs and recordings are tied together.

Mechanical royalties from physical product sales are a crucial revenue stream for independent songwriters – for Texan songwriters. In contrast, the mechanical royalty “rate” pertaining to streams on Spotify Premium during April 2020 amounted to $0.00059 per stream (according to the Audiam U.S. Mechanical rate calculator: https://resources.audiam.com/rates/ ). The “rate” for the ad-supported tier of Spotify was even lower. Note that the mechanical royalties pertaining to interactive streaming are paid by the streaming services.  The streaming services are not parties to the private party settlement.

The Private Party Settlement

I find it important to provide the aforementioned context because there is a serious lack of education regarding copyright, the various royalty streams pertaining to music and the innerworkings of the music industry. And if you happen to be a songwriter, particularly a songwriter outside of the Los Angeles, New York or Nashville hubs, this education gap expands exponentially. So now, let us draw our attention to this private party settlement.

The initial area of my concern pertains to the participants requesting the settlement. On one side, you have the major record companies, consisting of Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group. On the other side, you have one trade organization, the NMPA, which represents certain music publishers, including publishing company affiliates of the major record companies (Universal Music Publishing Group, Sony Music Publishing, and Warner/Chappell Music Publishing) which companies have representation on the board of the NMPA.  You also have another trade organization, the Nashville Songwriters Association International, which represents a fragment of the songwriter community. This unequivocally presents a conflict of interest: how can songwriters be adequately represented when one of the two parties to the settlement, which are claims to advocate for the songwriters and publishers, is comprised of affiliated major record companies on the opposite side of the negotiation?  The Trichordist asked the question—if the willing buyer and the willing seller are the same person, is that a free market?

The settlement participants stated the following in MOTION TO ADOPT SETTLEMENT OF STATUTORY ROYALTY RATES AND TERMS FOR SUBPART B CONFIGURATIONS, Docket No. 21-CRB-0001-PR (2023–2027) at 4:

“And because the Settlement represents the consensus of buyers and sellers representing the vast majority of the market for “mechanical” rights for [physical, permanent downloads, ringtones and music bundles]…”

This settlement does not represent the consensus of songwriters; this settlement represents “buyers” and “sellers” who are one in the same at the corporate level.

Songwriters should have been included in these negotiations from the outset. But, at the bare minimum, parties to transactions involving the fate of this critical revenue stream for songwriters should be transparent to the people they purport to represent. Neither of the foregoing are occurring. Only after the circulation of a rash of articles concerning this issue did the settlement participants respectfully request that the CRB post the royalty rates and terms of the settlement in the Federal Register for public notice and comment.

There are plenty of organizations that represent our country’s songwriters which could provide feedback and suggestions without the presence of conflict, and it is simply disingenuous to ask those parties for their comments following a settlement being presented to the CRB for adoption as a done deal. Any public comments are and will be utterly predictable; songwriter advocates simply ask for an increase in this mechanical rate. Songwriter advocates foresee history repeating itself, with an increase in this rate occurring sometime around this country’s Tri-centennial.

Transparency equates to honesty, and on the flip side of the coin, a lack of transparency leads to distrust. As such, along with providing my concerns about the nature of this settlement, and the dire need for honesty in connection with settlements that affect every Texan songwriter and every songwriter in this country, I request that you press the CRB to request that the settlement parties disclose not only the actual settlement agreement (not just the regulations giving effect to the settlement) but also the “Memorandum of Understanding” referenced in MOTION TO ADOPT SETTLEMENT OF STATUTORY ROYALTY RATES AND TERMS FOR SUBPART B CONFIGURATIONS, Docket No. 21-CRB-0001-PR (2023–2027) at 3.

“Concurrent with the settlement, the Joint Record Company Participants and NMPA have separately entered into a memorandum of understanding addressing certain negotiated licensing processes and late fee waivers.”

If this “Memorandum of Understanding” was irrelevant to this settlement, the language would not have been included in this motion filed by the settlement participants. Setting aside the broadly drafted “certain negotiated licensing processes,” the phrase “late fee waivers” is exceptionally concerning, given the aforementioned context. It sounds like money is changing hands and it is consideration for the frozen mechanical—but only for a select few who were invited to the multi-tiered negotiation.

Thank you for your time and I am more than happy to discuss these issues with you anytime.

Best Regards,

Gwendolyn Seale