Major Labels Pounce on Copyright Royalty Judges in Effort to Cram Down Frozen Rates

By Chris Castle

[This post first appeared on MusicTechPolicy]

“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread.” 

Anatole France

It’s hard to believe, but the major labels have filed an “emergency motion” at the Copyright Royalty Board asking the Judges to “clarify” their historic rejection of the insider deal to extend the freeze on physical mechanical royalties for songwriters that many have criticized as being flat out corrupt (and the Judges certainly hinted at it, smoke and fire being what they are). I don’t know about that, but what they seem to really mean is for the Judges to limit the rejection to George Johnson because he’s the only songwriter in the Phonorecords IV proceeding–like that will help them–but screw every other songwriter in the world, and indie label, too, for that matter.

Look, everyone is entitled to a hail mary, but the labels are essentially asking the Judges to say “just kidding” about their rejection of the insider deal. I must say that it’s kind of hard to follow the pretzel logic in places, but one point was very, very clear and it is this:

Nor would there be any basis for the Judges to reject the Settlement as to non-participants [that would be every songwriter except George]. Non-participants take a calculated risk when they choose to sit out a proceeding. Specifically, they decide that to save the expense and burden of participating in a proceeding, they will live with the outcome of the proceeding whatever it is. In particular, just as a dissatisfied non-participant [that would be you and me] cannot seek appellate review of the outcome of a rate proceeding, non-participants may not object to any settlement reached by those who are prepared to undertake the expense and burden of participation. [Well judging by the uniformly negative public comments lots of people including me did not get that memo.] Thus, while Congress has authorized the Judges to decline to adopt a settlement as to an objecting participant, it expressly did not authorize the Judges to decline a settlement as to non-participants who, by definition, have chosen to allow the participants to reach an agreement on their behalf. In so doing, Congress reasonably chose to promote participation in proceedings while also giving settlements broad effect.

Guys, guys, guys…there are a lot of ways you could have said this, but why on Earth you chose this one is beyond me. By definition, non-participants have chosen to allow the participants to reach an agreement on their behalf? Really? Really? By whose definition? I’m sorry, but that just does not pass the laugh test.

And are they really saying that the preferred outcome–promoted by Congress, no less–is to have every songwriter and independent label in the world crammed into the Copyright Royalty Board’s hearing room? Do they really want a line out the door and around several blocks? Because if that’s really what they want, maybe that could be arranged in Phonorecords V. But we also may see real scorched earth litigation ensue here if the Judges refuse to reverse themselves instead of making lemonade out of lemons.

Actually, Congress did not charge the well-heeled major label and publisher participants to look out for the interests of nonparticipants. (Almost sounds like…gasp…a fiduciary duty, don’t it?) You know who Congress does charge with that obligation as true blue fiduciaries?

The Judges. That’s their job. And the Judges showed up for work, rejected the insider deal, and did their job just as they are supposed to in order to preserve equal justice under law.

[If you want to tell the Copyright Royalty Board what you think, try crb@loc.gov]

What’s Next for Unfrozen Mechanicals? One proposal.

It was a big week for songwriters last week! The Copyright Royalty Judges rejected the frozen mechanicals settlement put forward by the majors in the current rate-setting proceeding at the Copyright Royalty Board thanks in part to the best audience in the world–that would be you! All that hammering on the issue paid off.

We also acknowledge the hard work of all the commenters who spoke straight from the heart and of course songwriter George Johnson who has been fighting the good fight in the Copyright Royalty Board all by himself for years now. We’re also very grateful to the Judges for a well-thought out ruling and a thorough vetting of the issues, George’s many filings and the songwriter public comments.

The question we’ve heard a lot in recent days is where do we go from here? Clearly the answer is “Up” but how far up is the question. We need to be mindful of the economic impact that increased rates will have on independent labels in particular, but at the same time acknowledge that all record companies have gotten the benefit of frozen rates for 16 years and that songwriters have taken it in the shorts for a long, long time.

The Judges seem to be hinting at a deal in their ruling (remembering this is the rate for physical and downloads only (called “Subpart B rates”) and not for Spotify-type streaming which is not affected by these rate changes). Here’s the relevant quote from the ruling:

Commenters advocated application of an inflation adjustment beginning, at a minimum, in 2006. See, e.g. [Songwriters Guild of America] Comments at 4; [Monica] Corton Comments at 4; [Kevin] Casini Comments at 4. According to the proponents of a cost of living adjustment (COLA) applied to the 2006 rates, that adjustment would yield a 2021 royalty rate of $ 0.12 (an upward 31.9% inflation adjustment over the sixteen-year period). See, e.g., SGA Comments at 4. SGA conceded that the COLA extrapolation cannot be considered dispositive on the issue of new rate-setting, but they contended that 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.”

Step one, then, could be to increase the minimum statutory rate to 12¢ (or 13¢ depending on how you do the math) with customary adjustments for the “long song” formula for songs over 5 minutes.

That increase in the rate would be significant and probably the biggest rate increase ever on a percentage basis for the statutory rate. Will that satisfy everyone? Probably not, but it’s a step forward.

But–and this is a big but–that’s not the end of the story. We do not want to be right back in the same position in a few years time. One way to avoid this is to increase the new rate for inflation every 12 months (called “indexing”) the same way that the webcasting rates are indexed for sound recordings.

The Judges also hint at indexing as a potential solution to avoid just another rate freeze:

[George Johnson] has long advocated inclusion of an inflation index in royalty rates set by the Judges, including the…rates at issue here. In support of his advocacy, GEO has filed 27 pleadings, including motions seeking imposition of an inflation index on section 115 rates and periodic notices of U.S. inflation rates. His plea is bolstered by the many commenters who, almost unanimously, included this suggestion.

So the way this would work is that starting in 2023, the current 9.1¢ rate would be increased to 12¢. After 12 months, the rate would be increased by the Consumer Price Index (the CPI-U rate) for each 12 month period until 2027 when new rates would get decided by the CRB in the next rate proceeding (Phonorecords V). Example: If the CPI is 10%, then the minimum statutory rate would increase to 13.2¢ for the next 12 months. If the CPI in the second year was also 10%, then the 13.2¢ rate would be increased to 14.52¢ and so on until the last year of the period (2027). (Of course we can’t tell today what the CPI will be in 2023.)

Given the Judge’s rejection of the frozen rates, it is very doubtful that there will ever be another freeze, but we have to stay alert and vocal. When the new rates come up, we all have to pay attention.

It’s important to remember that “indexing” to inflation just preserves buying power. Meaning that 12¢ today is what 9.1¢ was worth in 2006. Would it be the fair thing to index all the way back to 1909? Sure, but while the Judges hint at going back further (the “at a minimum” reference), the Judges may not be inclined to go further back than 2006 when the current freeze started, but we’ll see what happens.

We’d be very interested in hearing from you with any questions you have or other ideas for solutions. Obviously, this post is just sharing ideas with our audience and isn’t a formal statement by any particular person or group. There may be a number of proposals coming out and we’ll of course post them on Trichordist.

It must also be said that George Johnson has yet to weigh in on the situation and may very well have a different idea. There’s also some twists and turns to sort out, such as the black box “MOU” (the fourth of its name) but especially the controlled compositions rates that the Judges discussed in some detail (as Judge Barnett said, “The disparity between the static rate and the dynamic market is even more stark when considering the “controlled composition clause.””).

In any event, feel free to comment and we welcome the discussion.

Copyright Royalty Judges Reject “Settlement” Extending Freeze on Physical Mechanicals

By Chris Castle

More on this to come, but the Copyright Royalty Judges have rejected the frozen mechanicals settlement in a very well-reasoned and methodical filing in the docket for Phonorecords IV. I will reproduce the conclusion of the filing here, but you should read the whole thing.

The upshot of the Judges’ ruling rejecting the extension of the frozen rates is that both George Johnson as a participant and a host of commenters brought up many valid points about problems with the settlement. I suppose the next step will be for the Judges to either set rates themselves and let the parties react to them or ask the parties to resubmit a new proposal in line with the Judge’s ruling.

Either way, the settlement is rejected and we have to thank the Judges who listened thoughtfully, George Johnson who toils alone representing himself (and the independent songwriter’s view) as an actual participant in the proceeding, and all the songwriters, independent publishers, lawyers and songwriter groups who took the time to comment.  And of course a huge thank you to all the Trichordist readers who supported fairness and justice and all the heartfelt comments against frozen mechanicals.

The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they do turn. Don’t forget it–the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

Here is the Judges conclusion:

Rightsholders are free to choose their representation in these proceedings. Admittedly, individual songwriters and self-publishers have traditionally chosen not to expend the resources necessary to participate in these proceedings at the same level as trade organizations and major technology companies. Nonetheless, the outcomes of these proceedings can have a significant impact on the lives of the individual rightsholders. In this proceeding, the Judges received lengthy comments from SGA, which claims to represent thousands of songwriters. For SGA’s comments to have independent influence, however, SGA would have needed to join the proceeding as a participant. Nonetheless, with regard to the present proposed settlement, the comments of non-participants cumulatively served to amplify those of the objecting participant.

Pursuant to section 801(b)(7)(A)(ii), based on the totality of the present record—including the Judges’ application of the law to that record, as well as GEO’s objections, which, as noted supra, are consistent with the non-participant comments—the Judges find that the proposed settlement does not provide a reasonable basis for setting statutory rates and terms. Furthermore, the Judges find a paucity of evidence regarding the terms, conditions, and effects of the MOU. Based on the record, the Judges also find they are unable to determine the value of consideration offered and accepted by each side in the MOU. These unknown factors, as highlighted in the record comments, provide the Judges with additional cause to conclude that the proposed settlement does not provide a reasonable basis for setting statutory rates and terms.

The Vinyl Resurgence is Understated

by Chris Castle

[A version of this post first appeared in MusicTech.Solutions]

If you’ve tried to get a vinyl record pressed in the last few years, one thing is very obvious: There is no capacity in the current manufacturing base to accommodate all the orders–unless your name is Adele or Taylor Swift, of course. If that’s your name, as if by magic you get your vinyl orders filled and shipped on time.

Jack White spotted the vinyl trend early on–in 2009–and is filling the gap through his Third Man pressing operations. But Jack is calling on the major labels to please compete with him–rather unusual–because it’s the right thing to do in order to meet the demand for the benefit of the consumer. And the elephant in the room of this discussion is that we don’t really have any idea what the vinyl sales would be because demand is not being met by supply.

Not even close.

When a major label abandons a configuration, it’s not really abandoned. It gets outsourced to an independent and as long as there is manufacturing capacity in the system, that independent still takes orders and fulfills those orders by using that manufacturing capacity. The titles still appear in the sales book, orders get taken and returns accommodated.

Major labels also hand off vinyl manufacturing to their “special markets” divisions. For example, if you have ever tried to get vinyl manufactured in a limited run for venue sales on a major label artist (or former major label artist) you will get put through the bureaucratic torture gauntlet for the privilege of paying top dollar on a product that the label will have nothing to do with selling.

But even so, at some point that manufacturing capacity begins to shrink because the majors are getting out of the configuration and they will eventually get out of the manufacturing business altogether. And that creates a great sucking sound as capacity tanks.

I raised this problem in comments to the Copyright Royalty Board about the frozen mechanicals debacle where the smart people have tried to extend the 2006 songwriter rates on vinyl and CDs without regard to rampant inflation and simply the value of songs to sell millions of units. Why? Because vinyl and CDs don’t matter according to the lobbyists. This is, of course, bunk.

The fact is–and Jack White’s plea illuminates the issue–we don’t know what the sales would be if the capacity increased to meet demand. But we do know that sales would be higher. Probably much higher.

You do see entrepreneurs entering the space using new technology. Gold Rush Vinyl in Austin is a prime example of that phenomenon. The majors need to reconsider how to meet demand and keep the consumer happy. They also need to clean up the sales and distribution channel so that it’s easy for record stores to actually get stock, which, frankly is a joke.

Why anyone wants to substitute away from high margin physical goods to low margin streaming goods with a “rich get richer” financial model is a head scratcher. Although maybe I answered my own question.

But–as Trichordist readers will recall, the major publishers and major labels as well as the Nashville Songwriters Association are trying to convince the Copyright Royalty Board that vinyl and CDs are not important and that songwriters should have their mechanical royalty rates frozen again. You do have to ask if Jack White is even aware that the major publishers and major labels are trying to get the Copyright Royalty Board to extend the 2006 freeze on mechanicals for the resurgent vinyl configuration for another five years.

Vinyl and CDs still account for about 15% of revenue on an industry wide basis–I’ll believe that it’s not significant when Lucian Grange says he doesn’t need 15% of billing. Yeah, that will happen.

The only reason that mechanicals for those configurations aren’t higher is because they have been artificially suppressed by the participants at the Copyright Royalty Board telling the judges that the revenue is low so please freeze the rates again. Kind of circular, yes? The current 2006 rate of 9.1¢ would be adjusted to 13¢ in current dollars just taking into account inflation and ignoring the value of the songs to create a nearly vertical chart like this:

Maybe someone should tell Jack.

Frozen Mechanicals Crisis: Twelve Songwriter Groups Reject Majors Position that Copyright Royalty Board MUST Ignore Songwriter Objections

Second 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://musiccreatorsap.org/

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


Discussion

  1.  The Statutory Importance of Interested, Non-Participant Comments to CRB Decision Making

While Congress may have expressed enthusiasm for joint rate setting proposals being developed through arms-length, independent negotiations among the parties to a CRB rate-setting proceeding (which clearly may not have been what transpired in the present case among vertically integrated parties),[1] Congress was also crystal clear in another of its related statutory directives.  Namely, that the CRB also has a duty to ensure that interested, non-participating parties who would be bound by the terms of the negotiated agreement are given the full opportunity to comment upon the proposal as part of the record of the proceeding prior to the proposal’s adoption or rejection by the CRB. 

Section 801(b)(7)(a)(i) of the US Copyright Act stipulates that:

[T]he Copyright Royalty Judges shall [1] 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 [2] provide to participants in the proceeding under § 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.  (Bracketed numbers added for clarity)

More importantly for the purposes of these Comments, Section 801(b)(7)(a)(ii) explicitly sets forth the authority of the CRB to accept or reject the proposed agreements of parties to a proceeding based upon the combination of comments and objections filed both by participants in the proceeding and outside, interested party commenters:

[T]he 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. (emphasis added)

In the present case, the Major Music Conglomerates (once again counterintuitively joined by NSAI) have chosen to simply ignore the statutory requirements, set forth above, and focus solely on issuing a blanket rejection of the comments of pro se participant George Johnson (who formally objected to the proposed agreement).  In fact, in their submission to the CRB of August 10, 2021,[2] the Major Music Conglomerates did not even bother to mention the detailed comments of those many individuals and groups who, on behalf of their constituents comprising a large percentage of the US’ and the world’s music creators, filed detailed comments with the CRB objecting to the proposed frozen mechanical rate deal as unreasonable.  

Rather, the Conglomerates opted instead to stand solely on the following, naked assertion:

Mr. Johnson provides no basis for the Judges to reject the Settlement. Mr. Johnson makes unfounded accusations of fraud and inaccurate statements concerning the corporate structure of record companies, but provides no economic reason to believe that the rates in the Settlement are outside the “zone of reasonableness.” This is nothing more than a rehash of arguments he made and the Judges rejected when a similar settlement was presented in Phonorecords III….

Objections to a settlement that is substantially the same as the one adopted in Phonorecords III, absent a showing of changed market conditions that would support a change in the rates and terms for Subpart B configurations at this time, do not permit the Judges to “conclude that the agreement reached voluntarily between the Settling Parties does not provide a reasonable basis for setting statutory terms and rates.” (citation omitted). Thus, as in Phonorecords III, “the Judges must adopt the proposed regulations that codify the partial settlement.”[3] (emphasis added).

This evasive and misleading statement is counter-productive to upholding the Congressional mandate that all interested parties be heard –even those unable to afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars required to participate effectively in the formal rate-setting proceedings. 

To repeat the obvious, when they filed the above comments, the Major Music Conglomerates were fully aware that Mr. Johnson was by far not the only person or entity to have filed detailed objections with the CRB to the frozen mechanical proposal, including the extensive comments of the Independent Music Creator groups who are the signatories hereto that had been submitted some two weeks prior to the filing of the Major Music Conglomerates’ comments on August 10, 2021 and reported on and published in the press.[4] 

Specifically, some two dozen other organizations and individuals filed or endorsed comments[5] detailing with great specificity the unreasonable nature of the frozen royalty rate proposal made by the Major Music Conglomerates, owing to drastically changed market conditions that include the damage of long-term and now accelerating inflation, the growing length in time of the current freeze, and the demonstrably re-emerging physical phonorecord, download/Non-Fungible Token (NFT) markets amounting to tens of millions of dollars in annual royalty revenue for music creators.  Those issues were spelled out extensively in our own Comments of July 26, 2021, and later updated in our Letter of October 20, 2021. 

There is little mystery why the Major Music Conglomerates would choose not to acknowledge the existence of these many music creator dissenters, or to comment on what those dissenters had to say.  As the CRB itself noted presciently in its Phonorecords III determination, “NMPA and NSAI represent individual songwriters and publishers.”  For them to “engage in anti-competitive price-fixing at below-market rates,” would be against the interests of their potential constituents, who would likely “seek representation elsewhere” if they were so concerned.[6]  

In the current instance, the Major Music Conglomerates seem to be actively seeking to obfuscate the fact that this result, for whatever reason, is exactly what has transpired.  The multiple sets of comments received by the CRB from US and global music creator advocacy groups bluntly criticizing the frozen royalty rate proposal signify the raising of voices of those representing a vast portion of the world’s music creators against the proposal’s obvious inadvisability and irrationality.  The isolated support for the proposal by NSAI, an organization that represents only a tiny sliver of US songwriters and composers principally from a single genre and local geographic area (and whose underwritten presence in the proceeding raises significant questions about whether it can truly represent any collection of songwriters and composers – let alone the actual, diverse universe whose rights and livelihoods are presently at stake), has been drowned out by hundreds of thousands of other music creators arguing substantively through their organizational representatives against the thoroughly unreasonable nature of extending frozen rates for another five-year period. 

Thus is the specious nature of the Major Music Conglomerates’ central claim –that the CRB has neither the authority nor sufficient reason to reject the proposed mechanical rate freeze as unreasonable– demonstrated.  Fulfilling all statutory requirements, a participant in the proceedings (George Johnson) has objected to the privately negotiated deal concocted by the vertically integrated Conglomerates.  Further, numerous interested commentators who “would be bound by the terms, rates, or other determination set by the agreement” have joined with Johnson in providing to the CRB amply detailed comments demonstrating significant, multiple changes in circumstances that make the proposed agreement unreasonable and irrationally flawed in 2021. 

Under such circumstances, the CRB would be well within the scope of its statutory authority to either “decline to adopt the agreement as a basis for statutory terms and rates for participants that are not parties to the agreement,” or to reject it altogether.  We prefer the latter, but respectfully suggest that it should most certainly do one or the other.

Moreover, the assertion by the Major Music Conglomerates that the CRB lacks sufficient reason or authority to review the Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”)[7] negotiated and agreed upon concurrently with the Frozen Rate Proposal for its effect on that rate proposal, is equally without merit.  In their submission of August 10, 2021, the Conglomerates go so far as to claim that they “did not present the MOU to the Judges because they viewed it as routine, and irrelevant to the Judges’ decision-making concerning the Settlement.”  To put it mildly, the Songwriter and Composer community views this statement with uneasiness as it pertains to the general issues of fairness and transparency in the Phonorecord IV proceeding, and hopes the CRB shares our concerns.

It suffices to say that two agreements –negotiated side by side with one another at the same time by the same parties regarding details of the same general matter—inarguably stand a substantial chance of being inter-related through both their content and potential quid pro quos.   We therefore believe it obvious that in evaluating the fairness and reasonableness of one, the terms and scope of the other should be considered as a matter of course for reasons of both best practices and common sense. 


[1] As stated in our Comments of July 26, 2021, it is by no means clear that the “negotiations” which took place among the vertically integrated participants in developing the frozen mechanical royalty rate proposal were at arm’s length.  “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[1] upon whom “those rates and terms [will be] binding.”  See, Comments of July 26, 2021 at 8-9.  

[2]  https://app.crb.gov/document/download/25577

[3] https://app.crb.gov/document/download/25577 at 4-5.

[4] See, e.g., https://thetrichordist.com/2021/07/27/frozen-mechanicals-crisis-davidpoemusics-comment-to-the-copyright-royalty-board/ and https://thetrichordist.com/category/frozen-mechanicals/.

[5] See, https://app.crb.gov/case/detail/21-CRB-0001-PR%20%282023-2027%29 for comments filed between dates July 19 and August 2, 2021.

[6] Phonorecords III at 15298.

[7] According to the Major Music Conglomerates: “Specifically, this memorandum of understanding (“MOU”) provides for (1) participating record companies and music publishers to work collaboratively on licensing processes to improve clearance of new releases, (2) a procedure for bulk distribution of mechanical royalties accrued by participating record companies that are not otherwise payable, and (3) late fee waivers when participating record companies follow specified clearance procedures for new releases.” See, https://app.crb.gov/document/download/25577 at 6.

[Read the entire comment here]

Frozen Mechanicals Crisis: 2nd Comment of @helienne @davidclowery @theblakemorgan Opposing Conflict of Interest in Frozen Mechanicals–‘Let the future have a vote’

SECOND REOPENING PERIOD COMMENTS OF HELIENNE LINDVALL, DAVID LOWERY AND BLAKE MORGAN 

            Helienne Lindvall, David Lowery and Blake Morgan (collectively, the “Writers”) thank the Judges for the opportunity and respectfully submit the following comments responding to the Copyright Royalty Judges’ notice (“Second Notice”) soliciting comments on additional materials (“Reply”) received by the Judges[1] from the National Music Publishers Association, Nashville Songwriters Association International, Sony Music Entertainment, UMG Recordings, Inc. and Warner Music Group Corp. (collectively, the “Majors”)[2] regarding the so-called [frozen] “Subpart B” statutory rates and terms[3] relating to the making and distribution of physical or digital phonorecords of nondramatic musical works in the docket referenced above (“Proceeding”). 

The Writers previously submitted comments[4] (“Prior Comment”) responding to the Judges’ notice[5] (“First Notice”) soliciting comments on the Major’s proposed purported settlement (the “Proposed Settlement”)[6] of the Subpart B rates.  The Writers along with attorney Gwendolyn Seale[7] attempted to submit additional comments in response to the Majors’ filing but were not able to timely file that response.[8]  The Writers appreciate the Judges’ decision to reopen the comment period in order to afford the public, and those that would be bound by the rates and terms set by the Proposed Settlement,[9] an opportunity to comment on those additional materials filed by the Majors and to further participate in the rulemaking.[10]

I.  SUMMARY
            As a general comment on the record to date in Phonorecords IV, the Writers are mystified by the histrionics that have become associated with this Proceeding both on the record and in the press. A voluntary negotiation is just a deal, often made by people who are paid to always be closing. The Writers believe that Congress intended that voluntary negotiation produce a fair result on a reasonable timetable.  

 While not directly at issue in the reopened comment period, what is clearly the case is that the settlement of the Subpart B rates has unnecessarily become a major gating item for the streaming side of this Proceeding, geese and ganders being what they are.  Despite the extensive voluntary negotiation period for the Subpart B rates by the Majors, the Judges—and, frankly, songwriters around the world–are presented instead with a cornucopia of chaos across the board; the cherry on top is the frozen mechanicals crisis.  However, in this season of hope the Writers are confident that the Judges will lead us all out of this daunting situation.

The Writers are not interested in the personalities, the arm-waving or the finger-pointing.  They are interested in the results, particularly because neither they nor anyone they authorized had input into the negotiation that produced either the Proposed Settlement or the impasse.

There is at least one easy way to fix this and recognize the intrinsic value of songs:  Raise the statutory rate proposal for Subpart B configurations in at least some relation to the streaming rate increase.  A song is no less valuable because of the medium in which it is exploited.[11] 

As the Writers will argue, just like the voluntary agreement on Subpart B that led to this impasse was reached by the Majors, those same parties can go back to the drawing board to reach an appropriate conclusion with a higher Subpart B rate.  

Neither the public nor the songwriters are well served (and frankly neither are the Judges) by thrashing about and waiving arms. This may serve well the people who are paid by the hour but it hasn’t served people who are paid by the song.  At all.  “Victory” without winning may pass for success in Washington, but it does not in the writer room or at a songwriter’s kitchen table.

            The Proposed Settlement is a crystallization of everything that is wrong with the licensing and payment practices that have arisen under the compulsory license regime where no is yes, more is less and the Kool-Aid whispers “Drink Me.”  

While the Writers will focus in this comment on the frozen mechanicals issue that has become emblematic of the current crisis, it must be said that the decade-plus MOU [black box] agreements are a backward looking and inequitable insider arrangement that permits a mindset of sloppiness and a “kick the can down the road” mentality that debilitates the entire music publishing business.[12]  It’s no accident that the Mechanical Licensing Collective—run by largely the same cast of characters under a jaw-dropping Congressional governance mandate—has been sitting on $424,000,000 of other peoples’ money for nine months during a pandemic with no visible compliance with another Congressional mandate of paying songwriters correctly in Title I of the Music Modernization Act.[13]  

            The MLC and the sequence of MOUs are both descended from the same ancestors a generation ago.  Each have essentially the same business model and each are somehow inexplicably viewed as a “win” for the songwriters.  The irony of splicing the genetic code of the ancien régime MOU [black box insider settlements] to the future is not lost on anyone.  If the failure to match money and songs in the MOU process is still a problem after fifteen years as well as the much-trumpeted Title I of the Music Modernization Act, it’s not the horse’s fault.  It’s the rider’s.

            It would be a real pity for the CRB to perpetuate this unfairness by adopting the Proposed Settlement.  With respect, it is bad law, bad policy, and a failure to even try to bend the arc of the moral universe.  Conversely, rejecting the Proposed Settlement would provide the kind of steely oversight tragically lacking in the current regime.  Please let the future have a vote, just once.

            The Writers object to the Proposed Settlement 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 and extending the freeze another five years is unjust; (2) no evidence has been publicly produced in the Proceeding that justifies or even explains extending the proposed freeze aside from the connection to the memorandum of understanding in the MOU4 late fee waiver (“MOU”), a document that the Majors only recently disclosed in their Reply; (3) very large numbers of songwriters and copyright owners of various domiciles around the world and national origins are unlikely to even know this Proceeding is happening and there still is no evidence that the unrepresented have appointed any of the participants to act on their behalf or were asked to consent to the purported settlement before the fact even if they were members of these organizations aside from the respective board of directors; (4) physical sales are still a vital part of songwriter revenue (which the Writers documented in the Prior Comment[14]); and (5) there are many just alternatives available to the Judges without applying an unjust settlement to the world’s songwriters who are strangers to the Proposed Settlement and in particular the MOU component (as the MOU will likely require membership in the NMPA to benefit consistent with prior MOUs).

[Read the full-length original filing here.]


[1] 86 FR 58626.

            [2] NMPA, NSAI, Sony Music Entertainment, UMG Recordings, Inc. and Warner Music Group Comments in Further Support of the Settlement of Statutory Royalty Rates and Terms for Subpart B Configurations, Determination of Royalty Rates and Terms for Making and Distributing Phonorecords (Phonorecords IV), Copyright Royalty Board (Aug. 10, 2021).

            [3] 37 C.F.R. §385.11(a).

            [4] Comments of Helienne Lindvall, David Lowery and Blake Morgan, Determination of Rates and Terms for Making and Distributing Phonorecords (Phonorecords IV) (July 26, 2021) available at https://app.crb.gov/document/download/25533.

[5] 86 FR 33601.

            [6] Motion To Adopt Settlement of Statutory Royalty Rates and Terms for Subpart B Configurations, Docket No. 21-CRB-0001-PR (2023-2027).

            [7]  Ms. Seale does not otherwise join in this comment.  We understand she is filing a separate comment regarding the additional materials.

            [8] The Writers’ reply was posted on The Trichordist website available at https://thetrichordist.com/2021/08/16/frozenmechanicals-crisis-unfiled-supplemental-comments-of-helienne-lindvall-davidclowery-theblakemorgan-and-sealeinthedeal/.  Parts of that unfiled comment are included in this comment.

[9] See 17 USC 801(b)(7)(a)(i).

                  [10]  As with the Writers prior submission in response to the First Notice, the Writers focus in this comment almost entirely on the Subpart B rates applicable to physical carriers under 37 C.F.R. §385.11(a).  

            [11] The Judges no doubt will be told many stories about how Subpart B configurations are not meaningful sales compared to streaming so rates deserve to be frozen.  This is a novel copyright argument without a statutory basis.  The theory is also not based on accurate facts as the Writers discuss extensively in the Prior Comment at paragraph 5 and will not repeat here.

            [12] There is a growing backlash to decades of delaying definitive action on song metadata and songwriter payments such as Credits Due campaign of the Ivors Academy and Abba’s Björn Ulvaeus.  See generally Chris Cooke, PPL Backs Björn Ulvaeus’s Credits Due Campaign, Complete Music Update (Oct. 4, 2021) available at https://completemusicupdate.com/article/ppl-backs-bjorn-ulvaeuss-credits-due-campaign/

            [13] See, e.g., H. Rep. 115-651 (115th Cong. 2nd Sess. April 25, 2018) at 5; S. Rep. 115-339 (115th Cong. 2nd Sess. Sept. 17, 2018) at 5 (“The Committee welcomes the creation of a new musical works database that is mandated by the legislation….Music metadata has more often been seen as a competitive advantage for the party that controls the database, rather than as a resource for building an industry on.” (emphasis added)).

            [14] See Prior Comment at 16.

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

Honorable Judges:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes, 

Monica Corton CEO & Founder

Go to Eleven Entertainment

[Read the original comment here]

Frozen Mechanicals Crisis: Independent Publisher Lynn Robin Green Tells Copyright Royalty Judges how they threaten Survival

President Lynn Robin Green
LANSDOWNE MUSIC-WINSTON MUSIC PUBLISHERS
BLOOR MUSIC-HOFFMAN HOUSE MUSIC

PO BOX 1415 BURBANK, CA 91507

I have been a Music Publisher 45 years and the FREEZING of the statutory mechanical rate which hasn’t been raised in many many years CAUSES us undue continual financial hardship.

The low streaming rates have decimated our earnings for my Writers and Administrated Publisher Clients for the last six years and have have forced us into a corner financially to try to make up for this deep loss of revenue. I administrate also 39 Publishing firms here and these streaming losses are continual.

The Mechanical sales and Sync licensing fees are our only solid source of revenue to try to compensate for these deep losses. Its imperative that THE MECHANICAL RATES BE unfrozen asap and REMADE for REALISTIC FACTUAL inflation considerations of 2021 and for a willing seller/buyer in todays actual market.

We can’t survive if this RATE of 9.1 cts IS NOT raised and adjusted FAIRLY by the CRB for these very urgently important considerations. The Parties who are trying to freeze the rates here are highly conflicted and their sole interests are purely as Parties to Technology deals- and are self projected- and they SIMPLY violate any FAIRNESS OF MECH RATES FOR ALL PUBLISHERS AND SONGWRITERS concerned.

Please listen, please consider the Creators and the Independent Music Publishers who would suffer undue catastrophe level FURTHER financial loss if that RATE is DEEMED frozen for any more additional years whatsoever. WE absolutely URGENTLY need this rate increase NOW, its beyond crucial to our way of business and I implore the CRB to listen to the Independents and Creators and KNOW the truth and hard reality of what THIS important decision represents for our future. 

WE MUST RAISE the mechanical rates, and help save this business of publishing from being plundered for large Corporate interests, WITHOUT FAIR or competitive compensation for small independent businesses.

Sincerely 

LR Green

[Read original comment as filed]

Sneaky Services Use Frozen Mechanicals Public Comments by Songwriters and Independent Publishers–to LOWER Streaming Mechanicals

Only drug dealers and Big Tech refer to their “customers” as “users.”

We really appreciate how Trichordist readers have stuck with the story we have been telling about the treachery afoot at the Copyright Royalty Board in the current review of statutory mechanical royalty rates. This is kind of dry stuff but it sure has resulted in a lot of passion from the songwriting community.

That passion is directed at the frozen mechanical–the collaboration between the big publishers and big record companies to “freeze” the statutory mechanical royalty for physical goods at 2006 levels despite the current inflationary crises and debasement of the value of even the frozen rate itself. We will have more to publish on that subject to call your attention to the voices of songwriters and publishers opposing the freeze.

Ask yourself this question: Is there any reason that a songwriter who opposes a freeze on mechanicals–the only question they were asked to respond to by the Copyright Royalty Board–would ever support a reduction in the streaming mechanical? Would anyone say, oh, well if Spotify is asking for a reduction, then by all means? If you thought the passion against frozen mechanicals ran high, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

But in one of the great acts of self-sabatoge that they are so good at, that passion is currently being hijacked by some of the biggest companies in commercial history to somehow convince us that less is more. Remember–these are the same people who benefit from the sick mass manipulation and addiction practiced and normalized by the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab.

And now they are trying to use that trickery and psychology on songwriters to gaslight them into ignoring reality and supporting the chaos at the Copyright Royalty Board.

We will be posting a series of excerpts from public filings in coming days. If you want to skip ahead, you can read this letter from Chris Castle to the Copyright Royalty Board roasting the services for twisting the words of Helienne Lindvall, David Lowery and Blake Morgan.

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

By Chris Castle

[This post first appeared on ArtistRightsWatch.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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