[Editor Charlie sez: The U.S. Copyright Office is proposing many different ways to regulate The MLC, which is the government approved mechanical licensing collective under MMA authorized to collect and pay out “all streaming mechanicals for every song ever written or that ever may be written by any songwriter in the world that is exploited in the United States under the blanket license.” The Copyright Office is submitting these regulations to the public to comment on. The way it works is that the Copyright Office publishes a notice on the copyright.gov website that describes the rule they propose making and then they ask for public comments on that proposed rule. They then redraft that proposed rule into a final rule and tell you if they took your comments into account. They do read them all!
The Copyright Office has a boatload of new rules to make in order to regulate The MLC. (That’s not a typo by the way, the MLC styles itself as The MLC.) The comments are starting to be posted by the Copyright Office on the Regulations.gov website. “Comments” in this world are just your suggestions to the Copyright Office about how to make the rule better. We’re going to post a selection of the more interesting comments.
There is still an opportunity to comment on how the Copyright Office is to regulate The MLC’s handling of the “black box” or the “unclaimed” revenue. You can read about it here and also the description of the Copyright Office Unclaimed Royalties Study here. It’s a great thing that the Copyright Office is doing about the black box, but they need your participation!]
The launch of iTunes in 2001 began the democratization of music distribution: suddenly independent artists had a way to reach their fans without having to go through the traditional major label gatekeepers. Unfortunately most of those independent artists didn’t have a music business background to inform them about all of the various (and very arcane) royalty types and registrations that were required: and even if they did, Harry Fox didn’t let individual artists register for mechanicals until only recently.
The result? 19 years’ worth of unclaimed royalties by so many independent artists who have no idea how to access them.
We had hoped that the MMA would fix this, but the “black box” of unclaimed royalties is going to be distributed to the major publishers based on market share. We independent artists don’t have “market share” – but we do have sales and streams that are significant enough to make a difference to our own personal economies. A $500 unclaimed royalty check is to an independent musician what a $100,000 unclaimed royalty check is to a major publisher: it matters. Those smaller unclaimed royalty amounts are pocket change or just an inconsequential math error to the majors but they’re the world to an independent writer/publisher. And that aside, these royalties don’t belong to the majors: they belong to the creators whose work generated them.
Please, please, please: you have to make that database publicly accessible and searchable like Soundexchange does. There needs to be a destination where all of us can point our friends and social media followers to, to say “you may have unclaimed royalties here: go search your name.” They can’t remain in the black box and they can’t go to the major publishers. These royalties must remain in escrow and all means necessary should be used to contact the writers and publishers whose royalties are in that black box: absolute transparency is required here, as is a concentrated press push by the MLC to all of the music trades and music blogs (Digital Music News, Hypebot, et al) and social media platforms encouraging independent artists to go to the public-facing database and search their name, their publisher name, their band name, and by song title, for possible unclaimed royalties.
Please: the NMPA can’t be allowed to hijack royalties that do not belong to them. Publishers are fully aware of how complex royalty types and royalty collections are: they and the NMPA must make every effort here to ensure that unclaimed royalties reach their rightful legal and moral recipients.