Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers To the Right: When Will the MLC Show Us the Money?

If you’ve received one of these emails from the MLC about having to recast their monthly statement inside of a single month, when you’re eying that $500,000,000 of supposedly unmatched money that’s sitting in the MLC, Inc.’s bank account (maybe?), or if you’re trying to figure out when they are launching the vastly overdue claiming portal, you’re probably wondering–who’s in the clown car today? Bozo or Pennywise?

But maybe they’re smarter than they look. Because all they have to do to distribute that $500,000,000 on a market share basis is keep you looking at the bright and shiny object while they run out the clock.

And if you’re waiting for the Copyright Office to save you because they have “oversight”, you’re going to be waiting for a long time. Here’s the reality–nobody is minding the store. There’s a difference between “oversight” and “overwatch.” In Washington, “oversight” means finding someone else to blame and from the very beginning it has been clear who the MLC intends to blame–you. Because you didn’t “play your part” or sufficiently “connect to collect”.

The Copyright Office has done a couple things while under the supervision of the current head lobbyist for Spotify. They’re good at studies, terrible at oversight, so let’s give credit where it’s due. But also realize that’s where it stops because they have about as much moxie as a starfish. (And if you think the NMPA is going to save you, take a look at the frozen mechanicals debacle and ask yourself if a rational person could really take that seriously.)

At the core of the MLC’s business model is the ability to match. Matching is kind of a “See Spot run” building block. If you can’t match, it’s very close to saying you can’t count. Because it depends on what the definition of “match” is.

So what is a match? Or as the Bard might say, how can I screw thee? Let me count the ways. The Copyright Office produced the Unclaimed Royalties Best Practices study partly on this very topic. Notice the difference between “best practices” and “rules.” “Best practices” is not the same as “rule”. If you violate a best practice, nothing happens to you, so therefore perfect for Washington. If you violate a rule, bad things happen to you. The connective tissue is enforcement. If you violate a rule at the Securities and Exchange Commission, you wear stripes. If you violate a rule at the Environmental Protection Agency, you will pay a fine, for sure. If you violate a rule at the MLC? There really aren’t any so it can’t happen. In other words, it’s just like the Harry Fox Agency.

But that’s what we have so let’s look at one passage in particular from the Best Practice Study because that’s the closest we have to a rule book.

The Office recommends that the MLC make all [matching] metrics publicly available, except to the extent it would cause confidential or business sensitive information to be improperly disclosed. [God forbid.] Specifically regarding match rates, the Office acknowledges the MLC’s point that “vendors can easily increase their claimed ‘match percentage’ by simply dropping the confidence level at which they call something a match.” For that reason, the Office recommends that the MLC provide appropriate context for its metrics, including information surrounding how it defines a match, relevant confidence levels, and how confidence levels are tuned. Additionally, so that they are clear and precise, and to avoid possible confusion, the Office recommends that all royalty figures be provided both with and without accrued interest. [How about a best practice of how they are practicing complying with best practices best?

The Office recommends that in addition to providing annual statistics in its annual report, the MLC also have a dedicated public webpage displaying all of these metrics in a clear, well-organized, user-friendly, and accessible manner. The webpage should be interactive and allow users to search, sort, and break down the data so it may be more easily reviewed and analyzed. The webpage should also have an export or download feature, including bulk exporting/downloading, to aid public consumption and dissemination. The Office recommends that the webpage be updated monthly after each batch of new reports of usage arrive and go through initial matching processes. All metrics should be retained and made available online indefinitely (though the MLC could distinguish between current and historic metrics in the future) so long-term trends can be assessed and to ensure the public and the Office have access to them in connection with the review of the MLC’s designation every five years. The MLC should also be very clear about how applicable metrics may change in response to DMP reporting adjustments and the reconciliation of any related royalty underpayments or overpayments permitted by the Office’s regulations. Relatedly, the Office also recommends that the MLC make publicly available relevant metrics about DMP reported usage that the MLC determines is not subject to blanket licenses (e.g., where it is subject to a voluntary license instead, public domain musical works, etc.), such that any related paid royalties have been credited or refunded back to the DMP.

What would also be nice is to tell you how much of your money they are holding and how you get it back. Maybe they could practice the best out of that.

There’s nothing particularly insightful about any of that, right? It’s the kind of thing that any songwriter giving the subject a moment or two of thought could have figured out at any point in the last 100 years. It’s also the kind of thing that you would have expected to have been built into the MLC’s system–which is essentially the HFA system–from the beginning.

It doesn’t matter what they say they aspire to do. Naturally they have to say they aspire to get it 100% correct–because otherwise that raises some interesting questions about intent, right?

Will they ever be called to account for their failures? Doubtful. The only business in the world where you can get the government to let you hold $500,000,000 of other people’s money and then keep it because paying it out was just too hard for you.

Do you think this mess is what Congress had in mind after they were fed a bunch of crap by the know-nothing lobbyists?

So let’s ask again–Bozo or Pennywise?

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

By Gwendolyn Seale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The problem is this: Spotify was created to solve a problem. The problem was this: piracy and music distribution. The problem was to get artists’ music out there. The problem was not to pay people money.”  (See here: https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2021/06/29/spotify-executive-entitled-pay-penny-per-stream/)

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

Awesome.

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

Frozen Mechanicals Crisis: 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.

Songwriters and Publishers Ask the MLC: Where’s my money?–MusicTechPolicy

By Chris Castle

If anyone connected to The Mechanical Licensing Collective, Inc. quango brings up the $424,000,000 black box payment that the MLC received in February as part of services claiming their safe harbor under the Music Modernization Act Title I giveaway, it’s usually in the context of claiming credit for the payment as in “Aren’t we great, we got the services to pay $424,000,000 of black box money owed to songwriters.” (Followed shortly by so where’s my bonus?)

Notice what’s not mentioned in that sentence? True, some services paid some money to the MLC which was required by Title I in order for the major infringers like Spotify to enjoy yet another safe harbor. But the payment was not made to songwriters or publishers–it was made to the MLC quango, which is where it sits today, seven months later

How could this be, you say? Very simple. Nobody made sure that the MLC was in a position to pay the money out before they took the money in. This is the kind of thing that you would make sure is tied down in the two-plus years the MLC was operational before they got the money. You know, like when did Noah build the Ark?  Before the rain.

This is the kind of thing you might expect to be mentioned in the MLC’s annual report which was due June 30 but seems to have been delayed. What should have happened, of course, is that the Copyright Office in its supposed oversight role for the MLC quango should be closely reviewing MLC’s progress with paying out a half billion of other people’s money. This is what you would expect from a bit-in-the mouth hard-driving approach to oversight of hundreds of millions that Congress tasked to the Copyright Office. 

Ask yourself (or maybe the Library of Congress Inspector General) whether you think that a pre-New Deal federal agency that has never had enforcement powers is culturally suited to the kind of rigorous prosecution that the oversight role requires? Having created the MLC self-licking ice cream cone, does anyone seriously think that the Copyright Office will rock the boat, particularly when the lawyers seem very interested in landing a job at Spotify (regulated by the Copyright Office) or the National Association of Broadcasters both of which have an ontologically hostile relationship with songwriters? Do you think anyone at the MLC is looking over their shoulder because they’re afraid of the Copyright Office? And if they don’t fear the oversight, what incentive do they have? Nobody else will be twisting their arms.

So should it come as a surprise to anyone that people are asking “where’s my money?” Or that no one is answering?

Guest Post: Honesty In Our Favor: HFA Loses Attempt To Exit Eight Mile Style Case–What Implications For MLC?

Guest post by Chris Castle

The Uniform Commercial Code defines “good faith” as “honesty in fact and the observance of reasonable commercial standards of fair dealing.”

Spotify was sued by Eight Mile Style and Martin Affiliated, two publishers that control rights in some of the early Eminem repertoire, including Lose Yourself. Remember that earlier this year, Spotify announced with great fanfare that Lose Yourself was streamed over 1 billion times on the platform. That’s just one measurement of Eminem’s dominance on Spotify. Turns out that Spotify had failed to license a good chunk of Eminem’s catalog.

The publishers eventually joined the Harry Fox Agency to the lawsuit as participating in the situation, adding claims of vicarious and contributory copyright infringement against the long-time publishing administrator to the industry. In fact, the Harry Fox Agency gave some people the impression that when it came to Section 115 of the Copyright Act, HFA thought they were the government. What ever is this venerable organization doing getting sued for copyright infringement instead of leading the charge against the infringer?

At one point a few years ago, quite a few years ago now, HFA decided to jump up on top of the wall. They started working for tech companies like Spotify and also administering publishing rights. That’s right–both sides. What could possibly go wrong?

Let me illustrate with an anecdote (one that does not involve HFA, or MRI for that matter). A highly ethical licensing administrator interviewed for a job handling music licensing for a big tech company. After several rounds of interviews, the administrator was told they weren’t getting the job. Asking for a reason, the tech company told the administrator that the company thought the administrator were likely going to flag and at least try to fix any problems they found in the tech company’s reporting. The administrator didn’t find this remarkable as this was the honest thing to do. The company said, we don’t want honesty when it’s not in our favor. The company hired someone else because they did not want “honesty in fact”.

There are serious allegations against the Harry Fox Agency in the Eight Mile Case. Remember, this is a defense motion to dismiss, so the plaintiff largely gets the benefit of the doubt in their favor. You may ask yourself what possible motivation could Spotify have for engaging in such risky behavior. In her order denying in part and granting in part HFA’s motion to dismiss, Judge Trauger puts her finger right on the most plausible explanation:

[I]t is undisputed that [Eminem, aka Marshall] Mathers is an artist who has enjoyed extraordinary commercial success and has built a large, dedicated fanbase, such that his omission from a major streaming platform might discourage some meaningful number of potential users from subscribing

In other words, they did it for the subscribers, they did it for the growth and they did it for the money.

While Eight Mile alleged both vicarious and contributory infringement, Judge Trauger dismissed the claim for vicarious infringement on technical grounds (with leave to amend). Not so with the claim for contributory infringement, however:

HFA objects that it was under no obligation to police Spotify’s in-house decisions regarding infringement. Whether that is true or not, the plaintiffs have not merely alleged that HFA failed to affirmatively police Spotify’s conduct; they have alleged both that HFA knew and, through the ordinary fulfillment of its duties, should have known that the infringement was occurring and that HFA was helping to conceal it.…There is little doubt, moreover, that those allegations of knowledge were pleaded sufficiently. Even when a claim is governed by the heightened pleading requirements of Rule 9(b), “[m]alice, intent, knowledge, and other conditions of a person’s mind may be alleged generally.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b). The Supreme Court, moreover, has recognized a party’s “aiming to satisfy a known source of demand for copyright infringement” as evidence of an improper purpose in the contributory infringement analysis. Grokster, 545 U.S. at 939. That circumstantial evidence is only heightened when the defendant, knowing of the capacity for infringement, fails to take steps to avoid it. See id. (citing Groskter’s lack of “attempt[s] to develop filtering tools or other mechanisms to diminish the infringing activity using their software”).

The plaintiffs have plausibly alleged that HFA became aware of Spotify’s licensing predicament and offered services that directly filled its need to maintain an illusion of lawfulness while continuing to infringe. 

If these allegations turn out to be proven true, songwriters (and the Copyright Office for that matter) may well ask themselves if there are implications for HFA’s continued role as a vendor for The MLC, if not why they were selected in the first place.

This post first appeared in MusicTechPolicy

Will the @CommonsDCMS Committee Ask How Apple and Spotify Got Away With Hundreds of Millions in Black Box for So Many Years?

One of the questions that immediately comes to mind with the announcement of the MLC’s $424 million black box payment is how did they get away with owing so much money to so many people for so long? Tough question to get an answer to for the average songwriter, but good news: The UK Parliament’s inqiury into the economics of streaming is meeting on February 23 and will have before it senior representatives of Amazon, Apple and Spotify! Great timing! These three companies alone account for $350,000,000 in black box, or 82% of the total.

MLC Payments

So not only can the Committee inquire into how long the companies got away with it and the justification for holding onto so much of other people’s money for so long, but the Committee could also inquire as to whether there are any UK songwriters included in the respective companies black box payments for exploitations in the US during the worst pandemic in living memory.

Remember, these services are required by law to obtain a license to exploit all these songs. This was always the deal and they knew going into business what was expected of them. The law requires them to find the songwriter or not use the song. It doesn’t require them to not find the songwriter but use the song anyway.

MediaNet Trying to Cut Off Black Box Payments

You can’t say these people aren’t cagey. Remember that one of the big selling points for the Music Modernization Act was that in return for the under-reported reach back safe harbor, songwriters would get paid on “black box” income by each digital music service dating back to the inception of each service. This is what the Copyright Office wants, too, unsurprisingly since that was the deal.

The reach back safe harbor was used as a scare tactic to keep songwriters from filing infringement lawsuits against these services and the MMA’s promoters went right along with it.

But–now that the bill is about to come due, guess who wants to change the deal? Services are beginning to threaten to decline the reach back safe harbor (and with it the blanket license, presumably) if they have to treat songwriters fairly on the black box. Instead of the MMA free ride that was handed to them on a silver platter, they now want to leverage the scare tactic and run out the clock on the statute of limitations that they will no doubt say had been running. That way they’d create their own safe harbor and never pay the black box but still try to use the blanket license.

So everyone should sue all of these loathsome people today and toll that statute. If enough of these services want to play hardball, there’s a real question of why bother having the blanket license at all.

Here’s an excerpt from MediaNet’s “ex parte” letter posted today:

We understand that the Office is contemplating that the cumulative report will provide data on unmatched usage back to the launch of the service. MediaNet, however, launched its service nearly 20 years ago. In light of that, and the change in vendors, we are requesting the Office adopt a narrow exception in the cumulative reporting regulations. We think such a regulation would be consistent with the overall statutory scheme. Notably, the statute references reporting pursuant to the “applicable regulations,” when discussing the information that must be provided to the MLC. That is a reference to the pre-existing reporting regulations. Significantly, those regulations provided that documentation related to royalties and usage for a particular period of time needed to be preserved only for a period of five years.

To be clear, MediaNet is not asking the Office adopt a regulation that allows a digital music provider to exclude all data from periods of time more than five years prior to license availability date (though such a rule would be consistent with the statute). Instead it is seeking a narrower provision that will provides all available data to the MLC. This would be in the form of a new paragraph in 37 C.F.R. § 210.20(c)(4) of the proposed rule:

(iii) The digital music provider shall be excused from providing the information set forth in paragraphs (i) and (ii) where the usage is from a period of time more than five years prior to license availability date, and the digital music provider certifies the following: that the information was solely held by a vendor with whom the digital music provider no longer has a business relationship, the digital music provider has requested that information from such vendor, and the vendor has informed the digital music provider that it cannot or will not provide that information.

Absent this narrow exception, MediaNet may decline to take advantage of the limitation on liability, which may deprive copyright owners of additional accrued royalties.