@SGAWrites Suggestions to @CopyrightOffice on MLC Operations Part 2

The US Copyright Office solicited comments from the public about the operations of the Mechanical Licensing Collective.  Those first round of those comments (called “initial comments”) were due in November and the second round of those comments (which are called “reply comments” because they essentially comment on the initial comments) were due December 20.

The Songwriters Guild of America filed initial comments and also filed reply comments.  We’re going to post SGA’s reply comments in three parts and then we’ll post other commenters who we think made really good points (like CISAC and BIEM among others).  This is Part 2 and you can read Part 1 here.  Note that SGA’s comment includes a post by Chris Castle, but we are going to link to that post rather than reproduce it as you may have already read it.

All the comments focus on some central themes that seem to be on everyone’s mind which can be boiled down to oversight, oversight and more oversight.  While the DLC controls the MLC’s purse strings, the MLC has been given largely uncontrolled power over songwriters that needs to be checked by the government on behalf of the governed.  SGA’s comment can be boiled down to its motto:  Protect Songwriters.

Reply Comments of the Songwriters Guild of America, Inc.
Re: Notice of Inquiry Issued by the United States Copyright Office Concerning the Orrin
G. Hatch-Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act of 2018 Titled “Blanket License
Implementation Regulations”

B. Copyright Office Review and Oversight of Controversial Activities By the MLC As
Denoted By David Lowery and Others

It is well beyond the scope of these comments to delve into the details and individual
administrative issues with which the MLC must deal, such as formulating contractual
arrangements with outside vendors in order to effectively accomplish its statutory duties.

Nevertheless, as noted above, according to independent press reports recently published by sources including former MLC Committee Member David Lowery (“MLC Selects As Digital Services Provider the Company That Sent Fraudulent License Notices to Songwriters”), certain activities of the MLC have aroused legitimate concerns in the independent music creator community that conflicts of interest are already influencing MLC decision-making (see article citations below). As SGA has urged in prior submissions, the USCO and the Librarian of Congress have been empowered under the MMA to monitor, oversee and review MLC activities, and should utilize such authority at the very least to question on an ongoing basis whether the MLC is being managed by its board members in ways consistent with such members’ fiduciary and other duties and responsibilities.

In that regard, SGA believes it is imperative to include for the record citations to three such recent publications concerning MLC activities, in order to call specific attention to the need for robust USCO oversight of issues that rise to the level of potential conflicts of interest such as self-dealing. It is, of course, up to the USCO and the Librarian of Congress to determine the criteria for its active intervention in such potentially problematic MLC matters, consistent with the statutory authority assigned to them under the law. Again, however, SGA urges that strict scrutiny of such issues, once brought to their attention by interested and informed members of the press and public, should at the very least be carefully reviewed and if necessary, investigated and acted upon. Moreover, as some commentators have suggested, the mandating of adoption by the MLC of conflict of interest policies in coordination with the USCO and the Librarian of Congress would likewise be a wise and welcome development.

The three recent, independent articles electronically appended to these Reply Comments for the review and records of the USCO and the Librarian of Congress are as follows (see Attachments C-E):

https://thetrichordist.com/2019/11/27/mlc-selects-as-digital-services-provider-thecompany-that-sent-fraudulent-license-notices-to-songwriters/

https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2019/11/27/hfa-mechanical-licensing-collectivecontract/

https://www.hypebot.com/hypebot/2019/12/copyright-office-should-establishconflict-
of-interest-policy-for-the-mma-musical-works-database-op-ed.html

C. Failure to Disclose Amounts of Unmatched Royalties Being Held By Digital Distributors

On December 6, 2019, the USCO held a full day MMA symposium in Washington, DC billed as the “Unclaimed Royalties Study Kickoff.” The event was attended by several dozen copyright experts and other interested parties, some of whom represented the MLC and the DLC, and many of whom participated on one or more of several organized discussion panels. At the end of the event, a representative of SGA took the opportunity to note from the podium that in the approximately seven hours of discussion, not one panelist or participant had raised a single question concerning the aggregate size of the unmatched royalty pool being held by the major digital distributors of music (the very subject of the event). The answer to that question, SGA noted, is certainly a key factor in determining the best practices for scoping the size of the problem, and for identifying and distributing such monies to their proper owners. Or it is concerning why this question was not proactively addressed during any of the day’s panels, otherwise asked, SGA asserted, let alone not answered.

SGA has time and again over the past several years posed this same question to representatives of both digital distributors and music publishers (including in private discussions that took place at the Kickoff event), and even to the USCO. Not once has the question of aggregate unmatched amounts been answered, generally because the information appears to be either willfully undetermined or is purposely being withheld by the digital distributors. Estimates have ranged from several hundred million dollars (based upon extrapolations derived from the past experiences of organizations such as SoundExchange) to a high of $1.6 billion discussed at an Austin, Texas SXSW panel in 2017 that featured representatives of NMPA and a legal representative of one of its affiliated creator groups, who appeared to quote that number.

As the MLC and DLC are well aware, the MMA requires demonstrative actions by each that will “ensure that the policies and practices of the collective are transparent and accountable.” See, Section 102(d)(3)(D)(ix)(I)(aa). SGA suggests that consistent with this requirement, the time has come to at last address the issue of how much money in unmatched royalties is being held by the digital distributors, so that the scope of this daunting problem is publicly disclosed and can be fully and effectively addressed. The community of songwriters and composers has the right to know this information, and a USCO regulation requiring its public disclosure by a date certain in the very near future is clearly warranted. SGA respectfully requests that the USCO issue such a regulation as soon as possible concerning this most basic issue of transparency and accountability as required under the MMA, regarding disclosure of unmatched withholdings both now and in the future.

D. Budgetary Earmarks in Support of Bona Fide Efforts to Identify Unmatched Royalties by the MLC

In its Initial Comments, SGA described in some detail its experience as a participant before the United States Copyright Royalty Judges of the Library of Congress’ Copyright Royalty Board (“CRB”) regarding the Determination and Allocation of Initial Administrative Assessment to Fund Mechanical Licensing Collective, CRB Docket No. 19-CRB-0009–AA. Following both SGA’s withdrawal as a participant in those proceedings, and its subsequent submission of its Initial Comments to the USCO, on December 12, 2019 the CRB issued an order (“Order”) approving the settlement negotiated between the MLC and the DLC concerning the issue of Administrative Assessments.

In that Order, the CRB judges interestingly took note of their receipt and rejection of several comments concerning the proceedings submitted by non-parties:

The Judges have been advised by their staff that some members of the public sent emails to the Copyright Royalty Board seeking to comment on the proposed settlement agreement. Neither the Copyright Act, nor the regulations adopted thereunder, provide for submission or consideration of comments on a proposed settlement by nonparticipants in an administrative assessment proceeding. Consequently, as a matter of law, the Judges could not, and did not, consider these ex parte communications in deciding whether to approve the proposed settlement. Additionally, the Judges’ non-consideration of these exparte communications does not: (i) imply any opinion by the Judges as to the substantive merits of any statements contained in such communications; or (ii) reflect any inability of the Judges to question, sua sponte, whether good cause exists to adopt a settlement and to then utilize all express or reasonably implied statutory authority granted to them to make a determination as to the existence, vel non, of good cause.

The above CRB statement omits, quite unfortunately, the fact that while still a participant in the proceeding, SGA (despite its withdrawal) did indeed file a motion with the CRB that included specific comments applicable to any proposed settlement negotiated between the MLC and the DLC. The September 12, 2019, SGA filing included the following clear statement by SGA on behalf of US and global independent music creators, concerning their desire to ensure justice in the eventual distribution of currently unmatched royalties:

[E]ven as it seeks to withdraw its Petition to Participate in this Proceeding, SGA respectfully implores the Judges…to make the proper funding for MLC activities specifically designed to identify the proper owners of unmatched musical compositions [and royalties] wherever they may reside in the world… one of the highest priorities of these Proceedings…. It further, respectfully requests that the Judges undertake whenever appropriate, to emphasize their intention and expectation that certain resources have been specifically provided for and must therefore be devoted to use in identifying the proper owners of such unmatched compositions and royalties by the MLC…. The clear articulation of such judicial intent, if the Judges deem it appropriate, will be enormously helpful in ensuring transparency, fairness and hopefully success in the carrying out by the MLC of its duties, a result that will be appreciated by every music creator not only in the United States, but throughout the world.” Motion to Withdraw Petition to Participate filed by SGA with CRB, September 12, 2019, Docket No. 19-CRB-0009–AA.

The decision by the CRB judges to put aside SGA’s requests, presumably on the grounds that SGA’s withdrawal (the reasons for which are explained in SGA’s Initial Comments) negated the ability of the CRB to consider such comments, is disappointing at best. SGA, however, is appreciative for being enabled to make the same requests of the USCO, for the same reasons articulated in its motion to the CRB and in its Initial Comments. As SGA stated:

[I]n a situation in which those who control the MLC will likely benefit from not identifying the proper owners of unmatched works (by reason of the fact that potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties pertaining to ‘permanently’ unmatched works will eventually be distributed on a market share basis), every effort must be made to ensure that the search process for those rightful owners be a bona fide and sufficiently financed global effort. (emphasis added)…. Moreover, despite contrary assertions by the MLC, SGA remains unconvinced that the presence on the MLC board of a small minority of music creators (no matter how diligent and well-meaning they may be) will be able to prevent the major music publishing corporations from attempting to successfully exert undue influence. SGA is highly concerned that such multi-national conglomerates may already be seeking to diminish the MLC’s ability to secure proper financing specifically earmarked for designing and carrying out a global program to identify the proper owners of the musical compositions connected to the huge, above-referenced cache of unmatched royalties. SGA similarly doubts that the independent music publishers on the MLC board, many of whom are contractually and/or commercially tied to the major music publishers, will be sufficiently motivated to join with those few MLC songwriter board members to ensure that the rights and interests of such yet-to-be identified music creators and small publishers are properly respected.

In consideration of the foregoing, SGA once again respectfully requests that the USCO and the Librarian of Congress promulgate regulations that make clear to the MLC the expectation that a certain, adequate percentage of the MLC’s Administrative Assessment shall be devoted to undertaking a bona fide and reasonably exhaustive, global search for the rightful owners of currently unmatched royalties, as explicitly intended by Congress under the MMA.

To be continued in Part 3.

@SGAWrites Suggestions to @CopyrightOffice on MLC Operations Part 1

The US Copyright Office solicited comments from the public about the operations of the Mechanical Licensing Collective.  Those first round of those comments (called “initial comments”) were due in November and the second round of those comments (which are called “reply comments” because they essentially comment on the initial comments) were due December 20.

The Songwriters Guild of America filed initial comments and also filed reply comments.  We’re going to post SGA’s reply comments in three parts and then we’ll post other commenters who we think made really good points (like CISAC and BIEM among others).  Note that SGA’s comment includes a post by Chris Castle, but we are going to link to that post rather than reproduce it as you may have already read it.

All the comments focus on some central themes that seem to be on everyone’s mind which can be boiled down to oversight, oversight and more oversight.  While the DLC controls the MLC’s purse strings, the MLC has been given largely uncontrolled power over songwriters that needs to be checked by the government on behalf of the governed.  SGA’s comment can be boiled down to its motto:  Protect Songwriters.

Reply Comments of the Songwriters Guild of America, Inc.
Re: Notice of Inquiry Issued by the United States Copyright Office Concerning the Orrin
G. Hatch-Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act of 2018 Titled “Blanket License
Implementation Regulations”

I. Introduction and Statement of Interest

These Reply Comments are respectfully submitted by the Songwriters Guild of America, Inc. (“SGA”), 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 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 88 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, and through its affiliations with both Music Creators North America, Inc. (MCNA) (of which it is a founding member) and the International Council of Music Creators (CIAM) (of which MCNA is a key Continental Alliance Member), SGA is part of a global coalition of music creators and heirs numbering in the millions. Of particular relevance to these comments, SGA is also a founding member of the international organization Fair Trade Music, which is the leading US and international advocacy group for the principles of transparency, equitable treatment, and financial sustainability for all songwriters and composers.

These Reply Comments are meant to supplement the initial comments (“Initial Comments”) filed by SGA in its submission dated November 8, 2019 (see Attachment A), the full content of which is hereby repeated and reconfirmed.

The two most important points stressed by SGA in those Initial Comments were as follows:

1. The obvious and overwhelming necessity for inclusion of music creator information in
the Mechanical Licensing Collective’s (“MLC”) musical works database; and,

2. The equally imperative necessity for robust US Copyright Office oversight of the MLC’s
carrying out of its statutory duties, commitments and activities, especially regarding the
identification of unmatched works and royalties.

It was originally anticipated that SGA’s Reply Comments would focus chiefly on the recommendations submitted by other individuals and organizations as part of the initial round of inquiry. Intervening events concerning the activities of the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) since SGA’s initial submission, however, have caused SGA to recalibrate its focus. Due to the importance of conveying to the US Copyright Office (“USCO”) and the Librarian of Congress some of the very concerning information that has come to light over the past several weeks, SGA believes its Reply Comments must now of necessity deal principally and forthrightly with those issues rather than with the critiquing of submissions filed by its colleagues.

II. Additional, Recent Developments Illustrating the Necessity for Close Scrutiny and Oversight of the MLC by the USCO and the Library of Congress

A. The Resignation of Recording Artist/Songwriter/Music Creator Activist David Lowery from the MLC, and the Process of Replacing Music Creator Members on the MLC Board and Committees Prior to its designation by the USCO and the Librarian of Congress as the organization that would serve as the MLC, the entity established principally by the major music publishing conglomerates and known as the NMPA/MLC conducted an extensive campaign aimed at gaining industry support for its MLC candidacy.

As part of that campaign, it and its affiliated music creator and publisher organizations frequently raised the participation of recording artist/songwriter/music creator activist David Lowery on the Unclaimed Royalties Oversight Committee (“URO Committee”) as potentially the most compelling proof of the entity’s commitment to ensuring that the voice of the independent music creator would always be heard.

Throughout his career, Mr. Lowery has been an outspoken advocate for the rights and interests of musical artists and creators. His mere presence within the NMPA/MLC’s proposed Committee structure legitimized for many the group’s candidacy among independent songwriter and composer groups. Those organizations might otherwise have objected more strenuously to an entity controlled in large part by the multi-national music publishing conglomerates being designated to serve as the MLC.

On July 5, 2019, the NMPA/MLC was indeed selected as the official MLC, and Mr. Lowery was simultaneously approved to serve on its URO Committee. Within a few short weeks after that announcement, however, Mr. Lowery resigned from the URO Committee and disassociated himself from the MLC with the statement that he “lacked the bandwidth” to carry out the watchdog role he had hoped to fill. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Lowery began to publish commentaries highly critical of certain decisions and activities being carried out by the MLC (and highly revealing of his apparent reasons for resigning), the gravity of which issues will be discussed further, below.

Mr. Lowery’s sudden and unexpected departure from the MLC and the URO Committee,
however, has raised even more immediate concerns within the independent music creator community, not only as to the reasons why he might have resigned, but also over the process by which he will be replaced. It is the position of SGA that a system which would allow the MLC board of directors (consisting of ten music publisher representatives and just four music creators) to select and/or approve replacement directors and committee members on behalf of the creative community, without meaningful input from creators or approval by the Librarian of Congress and the Register of Copyrights, is an absurdity. Such an unbalanced, unchecked process would virtually guarantee the removal of what little influence actual music creators have over future MLC activities and decision-making—a result wholly inconsistent with Congressional and Executive intent (especially as regards the crucial work of the URO Committee).

As SGA pointed out in its comments to the US Copyright Office dated April 22, 2019 concerning the original designation of the MLC (see Attachment B):
With the knowledge that ‘permanently’ unmatched royalties will eventually be
distributed on a market share basis to them, [the] largest music publishers will almost certainly do all they can to influence, hamstring and obscure the search process…. It will take highly experienced, non-conflicted and strongly independent-minded board members of the Mechanical [Licensing] Collective to resist this pressure, and to act in ways that fulfill their duties up to the mandated standards of fairness, transparency and accountability set forth in the Act.

The necessity for those characteristics in board members is amplified by the fact that the Mechanical Collective board may even override the recommendations of its own, statutorily established Unclaimed Royalties Oversight Committee if it sees fit to do so. It thus falls to the Register of Copyrights to serve as investigator, analyst and arbiter concerning this crucial, threshold issue of appropriate board and committee member selection as part of its evaluation of the competing candidates for designation as Mechanical Collective.

In honing in on its concerns regarding that specialized duty of the Register, members of Congress took the opportunity in both the Senate and House Reports to elaborate on their expectations regarding the qualifications of board and committee members proposed for service by any Mechanical Collective candidate, and the obligation of the Copyright Office under the direction of the Register to use its own, appropriate judgement in independently evaluating and verifying the credentials of those directors and committee members proposed. That Congressional posture was undoubtedly taken to ensure that all board and committee members of the Mechanical Collective possess the proper background and abilities to execute their duties to protect the rights of creators and other interested parties without conflict, pursuant to the terms of the Act.

Specifically, the applicable section of the Senate Report reads:

The Board of Directors of the new collective is required to be composed of individuals matching specific criteria. The detailed requirements concerning the overall framework of the Board of Directors of the collective and its three committees, the criteria used to select individuals to serve on them, and the advance publication of their names and affiliations all highlight the importance of selecting the appropriate individuals. Service on the Board or its committees is not a reward for past actions, but is instead a serious responsibility that must not be underestimated. With the advance notification requirement, the Register is expected to allow the public to submit comments on whether the individuals and their affiliations meet the criteria specified in the legislation; make some effort of its own as it deems appropriate to verify that the individuals and their affiliations actually meet the criteria specified in the legislation; and allow the public to submit comments on whether they support such individuals being appointed for these positions. It has been agreed to by all parties that songwriters should be responsible for identifying and choosing representatives that faithfully reflect the entire songwriting community on the Board.” (emphasis added) S. Rept. 115-339 at 4-5.

The otherwise identical section of the House Report concludes on the following note:

During the entire discussion of the legislation, it has been agreed to by all parties that songwriters should be responsible for identifying and choosing the songwriter representatives on the Board. The Committee strongly agrees with such an approach. (emphasis added) H. Rept 115-651 at 5.

Further, it seems of particular importance that the Executive Branch also regards the careful, post-designation oversight of the Mechanical Collective board and committee members by the Librarian of Congress and the Register as a crucial prerequisite to ensuring that conflicts of interest and bias among such members not poison the ability of the Collective to fulfill its statutory obligations for fairness, transparency and accountability. The Presidential Signing Statement, in fact, asserts unequivocally that ‘I expect that the Register of Copyrights will work with the collective, once it has been designated, to ensure that the Librarian retains the ultimate authority, as required by the Constitution, to appoint and remove all directors.’ (emphasis added)

Pursuant to such clear guidance from both Congress and the White House concerning the selection and replacement of music creator board and committee members, SGA urges the adoption by the USCO of regulations mandating inclusion in the MLC by-laws of a process that includes meaningful music creator participation in the selection process without music publisher interference, with further review and approval by the USCO and the Librarian of Congress of all music creator candidates for MLC board and committee service. To do otherwise would be akin to empowering the wolves to select the watchdogs that purportedly guard the sheep. And that is a result that is not only emphatically in conflict with Congressional intent, but one that is also guaranteed to produce exactly the opposite, long-term results Congress and the Executive Branchwere seeking by passage of the Music Modernization Act (“MMA”): remunerative fairness and justice for creators consistent with the principles set down in Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution.

To be continued in Part 2.

Press Release: Songwriters Guild Of America Files Reply Comments With Us Copyright Office Again Urging Stringent Oversight Of Music Licensing Collective

We wanted to post this press release from the Songwriters Guild regarding its reply comments to the Copyright Office public consultation on regulating the Mechanical Licensing Collective.

The Guild generously raises some very helpful issues and also is concerned about David’s departure from the MLC.  Unfortunately, the Guild’s comment is still not available on the Regulations.gov website, so Artist Rights Watch linked to a copy of it.  We’re not quite sure why the Copyright Office hasn’t gotten around to posting the Guild’s comment (or David’s yet for that matter) along with the 32 others they have posted before the Christmas break, but we’ll keep you informed on their progress.  Hopefully that’s just an oversight that we noticed because we’re back to work now.

Here’s the press release.

New York, December 20, 2019–  The Songwriters Guild of America (SGA), 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, has submitted a series of comments and requests to the US Copyright Office regarding oversight of the newly-formed Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC).  Its comments were filed on December 20, 2019 at the invitation of the Register of Copyrights, pursuant to the duties assigned to the Librarian of Congress and the Copyright Office under the Music Modernization Act of 2018 (MMA).  SGA’s comment is here.

“Due to the inherent and sometimes unavoidable conflicts of interest surrounding the formation and activities of the MLC under the law,” states SGA president and songwriter Rick Carnes, “the music creator community believes that the highest degree of scrutiny must be applied by the US Government in overseeing MLC activities.  Hundreds of millions of dollars in songwriter and composer royalties will be at stake on an annual basis, and to protect us from conflicts of interest within the MLC in regard to such issues as matching currently unclaimed royalties to their proper owners, Congress wisely placed the responsibility of evaluating MLC  activities for fairness, transparency and accuracy to the US Copyright Office.  SGA fully supports the efforts of the Register of Copyrights to formulate regulations that protect the rights of music creators as Congress intends, and will work with the Office to help ensure it is enabled to vigorously and effectively perform its oversight functions.”

Specifically, the comments filed by SGA include requests for regulations governing the MLC that mandate:

  1. Recognition of the obvious and overwhelming necessity for inclusion of songwriter and composer information in the MLC Musical Works Database;
  2. Adoption of internal MLC rules requiring adherence by board and committee members to strict conflict of interest policies;
  3. Inclusion in the MLC by-laws of a process for replacing music creator board and committee members that includes meaningful music creator community participation in the selection process without music publisher interference, and review and approval by the USCO and the Librarian of Congress of all such music creator candidates and appointees. (“To do otherwise,” states Carnes, “would be akin to empowering the wolves to select the watchdogs that purportedly guard the sheep”);
  4. The immediate compilation, calculation and publication of the aggregate amounts of unmatched royalties being held or already transferred to the MLC by digital music distributors, and to update such information on an ongoing basis;
  5. The allocation of sufficient funds specifically enumerated in the MLC budget to be utilized solely for mounting a bona fide, global effort to identify unmatched royalties.

SGA also applauded the recent appointment of Maria Strong to serve as Acting US Register of Copyrights, and urged the Librarian of Congress to select as permanent Register a person  especially knowledgeable about and sympathetic to the rights and needs of the creator and author community, and without conflicts of interest in regard to prior affiliation with digital distributors, big tech, and/or corporate copyright owners (and their respective trade associations).

Finally, SGA suggested that the Copyright Office exercise diligent oversight in reviewing certain recent MLC initiatives, including the awarding of contracts to potentially controversial third parties such as The Harry Fox Agency and ConsenSys, and in investigating the sudden withdrawal from participation on the MLC  Unclaimed Royalties Oversight Committee of songwriter, recording artist and music creator rights activist David Lowery.

“SGA’s intended role in this process,” concludes Carnes “is to serve as an independent monitor of MLC activities, working with the US Copyright Office and other US Government agencies in ensuring that the rights and interests of music creators under the MMA are fully observed.  We have operated as an organization for over 85 years with a two-word mission statement: Protect Songwriters. And that is exactly what we intend to do in this case.”

 

 

Simplify Registration and Costs for MLC

As the clock ticks down for the MLC under the Music Modernization Act, the Copyright Office oversight role may require some innovation on the global rights database mandated by the MMA.  One way would be to harmonize copyright registrations with registrations for the Mechanical Licensing Collective.  (Songwriters outside the US may be puzzled by all this registering due to the prohibition on formalities in the Berne Convention, but right or wrong that MMA requires songwriters to register with the MLC if they want to get paid under the blanket license.)

Remember that you don’t have to register your songs to get copyright protection, but a lot of people do.  Here’s what the Copyright Office says about registration:

Do I have to register with your office to be protected?

No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration.”
Why should I register my work if copyright protection is automatic?

Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within five years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration” and Circular 38b, Highlights of Copyright Amendments Contained in the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), on non-U.S. works.

So while you don’t have to register to get copyright protection, you will have to somehow get into the MLC’s database if you want to get paid by the MLC (and file an IRS Form W-9, etc.).  But–if you are going to register your song for copyright, why should you have to start over again to register for the MLC?

It seems like a simple solution for the Copyright Office to harmonize these separate but related registrations would be to have the Copyright Office online registration system have a check box to allow you to sign up with the MLC.  Simply a box to check that would autopopulate your MLC registration along with other docs you might need for the MLC (like the W-9 the MLC will no doubt have to get for every songwriter they pay.)

If there’s a cost for this extra IT, that cost could easily be charged back to the services to be paid through the “administrative assessment”.  The first assessment is currently being litigated, so there’s no time like the present to get this issue in front of the Copyright Royalty Judges.  Plus, there’s no reason for the MLC registration to be delayed while the copyright registration is processed since the right to get paid under the blanket license is not contingent on the copyright registration.  Songwriters wouldn’t be charged to register with the MLC because the copyright registration fee is already established for the copyright registration alone.

And of course, the MLC could have a reciprocal sign up for copyright registration as part of the MLC registration process for songwriters who start there first.  Again, all that IT cost should be paid by the services.

Seems like a no brainer.

The Countdown to Modernity: Copyright Royalty Board Posts Notices and Rules for MLC Assessment Proceeding–Artist Rights Watch

Since there was no advance commitment or agreement on the budget for the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) under Title I  of the Music Modernization Act, it appears that the clock is ticking on an agreement before the parties have to go before the Copyright Royalty Judges to be told what the budget (or the “assessment”) is to be.  The Copyright Royalty Board has beat the July 8 deadline for noticing the proceeding and has posted the notice and the rules for the hearing.

The “Notice announcing commencement of Initial Administrative Assessment proceeding and requesting Petitions to Participate” can be found here:

The regulations require the participation of the MLC and the Digital Licensee Coordinator (DLC) in the proceeding and permit the participation of copyright owners, digital music providers, and significant nonblanket licensees. 37 CFR 355.2(c)–(d).

The Judges hereby announce commencement of the proceeding, direct the MLC and the DLC to file Petitions to Participate, and request Petitions to Participate from any other eligible participant with a significant interest in the determination of the Initial Administrative Assessment…

Any participant that is an individual may represent herself or himself. All other participants must be represented by counsel….

Petitions to Participate and the filing fee are due on or before July 23, 2019.

The CRJ’s rules relating to the proceeding can be found here and have some relevant language relating to who can participate in addition to the MLC and DLC:

[T]he Judges believe that the views of other participants may be helpful, and perhaps essential, for the Judges to determine whether good cause exists to exercise their discretion to reject a settlement. The Judges, therefore, have modified [the regulations for the settlement negotiations and proceeding] to clarify that participants other than the MLC and DLC may participate in settlement negotiations and may comment on any resulting settlement.

MLC Candidates Agree to Hold Black Box Until 2023, Copyright Office to review unmatched distribution practices — Artist Rights Watch

[Editor Charlie sez:  It appears that the pressure on the Copyright Office to supervise black box distribution practices by the conflict-ridden Mechanical Licensing Collective procedures has resulted in a commitment to hold the initial distribution until 2023.  It is unclear if this also means that the designated MLC cannot offset its startup costs against the black box.  As Ed Christman reported in Billboard on June 26, 2019 (“House Judiciary Hearing on Copyright Office Reviews Music Modernization Act, Black Box Royalty Concerns”) the Copyright Office intends to commence their best practices study after designating the MLC on July 8, which should give everyone an opportunity to weigh in on how the MLC should operate.  Commenters could include the digital services who could voluntarily disclose the efforts that they and their outside vendors had in place during the period that the black box accrued.]

 

[U.S. Register of Copyrights Karen A.] Temple repeatedly assured the committee that the MMA gives the Copyright Office responsibility to distribute the black box money appropriately, noting that in addition to the agreement not to distribute before 2023, the Copyright Office has the responsibility to review the processes that the MLC is engaging to reduce black box money.

Read the post on Billboard

 

[Here is the code section from MMA about the Copyright Office study that appears to be the basis for regulations on the MLC’s distribution of unmatched funds, a study that may be the only time in a generation that songwriters get to be heard about these unmatched payments.]

UNCLAIMED ROYALTIES STUDY AND RECOMMENDATIONS.— (1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 2 years after the date on which the Register of Copyrights initially designates the mechanical licensing collective under section 115(d)(3)(B)(i) of title 17, United States Code, as added by subsection (a)(4), the Register, in consultation with the Comptroller General of the United States, and after soliciting and reviewing comments and relevant information from music industry participants and other interested parties, shall submit to the Committee on the Judiciary of the Senate and the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives a report that recommends best practices that the collective may implement in order to— (A) identify and locate musical work copyright owners with unclaimed accrued royalties held by the collective; (B) encourage musical work copyright owners to claim the royalties of those owners; and (C) reduce the incidence of unclaimed royalties.

 

via MLC Candidates Agree to Hold Black Box Until 2023, Copyright Office to review unmatched distribution practices — Artist Rights Watch

Guest Post @musictechpolicy: Using Forks and Knives to Eat Their Bacon: More Misdirection and Dodgeball from SiriusXM

By Chris Castle

Right on cue, SiriusXM attacks the Music Modernization Act at the 11th hour with a frothy op-ed in Billboard stringing together what I would argue are a lot of half-truths and misrepresentations in a desperate effort to fool both artists and the Congress into preserving the Sirius crony insider deal on subsidized royalty rates.

Sirius’s whingey Billboard post is a failed dezinformatsiya campaign focusing on a feigned concern for artist welfare that’s about as convincing as an ivory poacher joining PETA.  Sirius then makes mysterious assertions about how artists have given up getting a broad performance royalty for terrestrial radio which Sirius surely knows is false as negotiations continue between MusicFirst and the National Association of Broadcasters, and for a big finish adds some rhetorical bobbing and weaving that seems to boil down to kvetching about why can’t Sirius get recordings and songs for free.

Only a monopolist could pull off this kind of rhetorical thimblerig with a straight face and only a media consolidator like Sirius’s and Pandora’s owner Liberty Media could feel entitled to do so.  Sirius is getting bad advice–yet again.

The Charade of Horribles Begins Here

Sirius starts off with a blatant misdirection–somehow the monopolist satellite radio operator is oh so very concerned about how artists are paid under Sirius’s “licenses” for pre-72 works.  According to Sirius, “The Company wants to make sure that a fair share of the monies it has paid, and will pay, under these licenses gets to performers.”  Sounds good, right?

Wrong.  The statement is pure deception.  Sirius leaves important facts out of the argument: the only reason that Sirius is paying anything at all on pre-72 artists is because The Turtles and the major labels each sued Sirius in litigation that Sirius fought for years with all the wrath of big law firms trying to crush uppity artists.

The Sirius post in Billboard addresses the major label settlement of that lawsuit which itself had two components–a lump sum payment of $210 million that the labels have distributed or have committed to distributing to artists, and also a go-forward license.  (The Turtles got even more for the class action settlement–check here to see if you’re in the class.)

When Sirius refers to a “license” without also referring to the lawsuit that produced the license, it sounds like the “license” is just normal course business.  Not true–Sirius had to be dragged kicking and screaming through courts in California, Florida and New York to get to any conclusion at all.  So pretending there was a license without the lawsuits that drove Sirius to the table is quite the equivocation.

And frankly if it weren’t for The Turtles there probably would be no solution at all.  It sounds quite different to say that Sirius is so concerned about artists that they allowed themselves to be sued and are cheesed that artists still mistrust them as royalty deadbeats, right?

Not to mention–it’s unclear that there actually are any licenses to pay on in the first place if you think a license should actually have like, you know, terms and stuff.   Sirius evidently is taking extreme positions in a negotiation with the major labels that is very contentious according to the New York Times.  So the reality doesn’t exactly comport with the Sirius fantasy.   Shocking, I know.

Now Sirius wants to run to Congress at the 11th hour to use the MMA to amend a private settlement agreement because they are so concerned about payments to artists under private contracts?  Sorry, that dog won’t hunt.  If there’s a royalty dispute between artists and labels, it’s not going to get fixed by either SiriusXM or the U.S. Congress.  It will get fixed by artists, their managers and lawyers just like always.

What Sirius want to do is gin up a fake 11th hour issue to try to derail the MMA altogether.  Why?  They’re doing it partly because it looks like MMA is going to limp across the finish line in the coming weeks, but they’re doing it mostly because they think we’re all idiots.

So don’t come crying to me about how much Sirius care about artists when they would be happily stiffing artists to this day if the artists hadn’t sued them into submission.  (Safe harbor fans take note.)

My, What Big Teeth You Have 

Sirius then goes on to spread squid ink about the Congress getting out of the free market by ending the Sirius subsidized royalty rate–subsidized by the very artists who they profess to care about so much–in favor of the “willing buyer/willing seller” standard which tries to approximate a free market negotiation.   You have to love the irony in this line from the Sirius op-ed:

The willing buyer/willing seller standard functions well in competitive markets. In fact, it would work great if there were 100 labels to buy music from, but there isn’t — in an overwhelming majority of cases there are only three.

Actually–there are well over 100 labels to “buy music from”, and saying otherwise is an insult to independent labels around the country and all over the world.  But…there’s only one monopoly satellite radio carrier–SiriusXM,  which itself is a combination by takeover of Sirius’s competitor XM Radio which we remember fondly as the brainchild of one of the greats, Lee Abrams.

Sirius’s point is exceptionally ironic and some might say entirely disingenuous when you consider the company’s control over Pandora acquired as a result of corporate hard ball in its head fake merger negotiations with Pandora–which strangely enough also took the Sirius position on stiffing pre-72 artists and got sued right along side the satellite monopolist.

And of course it must be said that all of these machinations are orchestrated by media consolidator Liberty Media, the massive conglomerate whose CEO Greg Maffei “…is chairman of Sirius-XM, Pandora Media, Live Nation Entertainment (which owns Ticketmaster), Liberty TripAdvisor and Qurate Retail — the recently rebranded owner of QVC, HSN and Zulily. He’s a director of Charter Communications, the No. 2 cable operator (Liberty is the largest stockholder), and online real estate service Zillow” according to Variety.  “[Maffei] last year made $19.8 million — up 17% over 2016 and equal to 223 times the $88,786 that the average Liberty Media employee collected.”

And then there’s the persistent story about Liberty Media acquiring iHeart (see term sheet here).  So that’s all pretty cozy cronyism.

It will come as no surprise to Sirius that when you ask someone to invest in your company, that usually results in that investor getting shares of stock–like when an artist subsidizes the Sirius royalty rate.  I see no shares of Sirius on offer here, and it’s just the usual drivel that is based solely on “I don’t wanna goo goo goo.”  The free ride is over (hopefully).

IRFA Much?

As if the trip to Sirius’s alternate universe weren’t weird enough, we now have this nonsense statement that requires a trip back to messaging for the failed Internet Radio Fairness Act supported by Pandora, SiriusXM and Google Shill Listersthe Electronic Frontier Foundation:

SiriusXM is asking the simple question: “Why are we changing the rate court evidence standard for musical compositions in this legislation?” So, artists have agreed that they do not want to fight for terrestrial radio to pay sound recording royalties, SiriusXM has accepted that decision. But why is terrestrial radio given another break in rate court for the musical composition rights?

Let’s disabuse Sirius of the idea that artists have given up anything on the fight for artist pay for radio play.  Those negotiations are on-going and last time I looked the #irespectmusic campaign was alive and kicking.  It’s a marathon not a sprint.

I can understand that Sirius is envious that Big Radio has succeeded in administering an ass kicking to artists for a long time, but those days are ending.  Thanks to Ranking Member Jerry Nadler and his “Fair Play Fair Pay” bill, radio may soon be paying their fair share in the new Congress.  And remember–for quite some time, Sirius has not wanted broadcast radio to be royalty-paying like Sirius, instead Sirius wanted to be royalty-free like broadcast radio.  Sorry, the answer is artists have not given up anything on fairness.

The change to the rate court evidence standard for songs is hardly a break for terrestrial radio given the package of rate court relief in MMA–if anything, it allows songwriters a greater opportunity to argue for higher rates.  More rhetorical magic tricks at the thimblerig table.

Let’s be clear–Sirius is using rhetorical tricks and sleight of hand to draw artists’ attention away from the prize.  Whatever problems we may have in the family, we’re not going to take advice from them in their starched white shirts using forks and knives to eat their bacon.

Are Data Centers The New Cornhusker Kickback and the Facebook Fakeout? — Music Technology Policy

In case you were scratching your head about why Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse decided to stick his beak into trying to continue discrimination against recording artists who had the misfortune to record before 1972–here’s a possible explanation.  Maybe he was just getting his beak wet?

Remember, Senator Sasse introduced an amendment to the Music Modernization Act in the dead of night the day before the markup of MMA in the Senate Judiciary Committee. While Senator Ron Wyden–another data center beneficiary of Amazon, Facebook and Google–was at least trying to dress up his complicity in a Chanel suit and Louboutin shoes.  Senator Sasse went the more direct route:

Now why might Senator Sasse be so interested, particularly given Nebraska’s musical history?  It turns out that there is quite the competition between Nebraska and Iowa for Silicon Valley’s data center business, particularly given the renewable energy profile of each state (wind is 37% of Iowa’s electricity production and about 20% of Nebraska (including hydro).  That checks the box for Silicon Valley.

Of course, as we see from Senator Sasse’s tone deaf foray into copyright lobbying, Silicon Valley thinks they can play the rubes in return for building data centers in their state, just like they did with Senator Ron Wyden and the people of Oregon.  What does stiffing pre-72 artists have to do with data centers?  Nothing.  What does it have to do with playing footsie with royalty deadbeats like Google and Facebook?

Everything.

And rumor has it that there is a deal in the wings for a new Google data center in Nebraska.  Which also explains a lot.

But somehow, Facebook knows that its Silicon Valleyness may not be that popular with the rubes.

According to the Data Center Dynamics site, Facebook has been going to great lengths to hide its involvement in massive data centers being built in Nebraska, which gives “Cornhusker Kickback” (or Facebook Fakeout) a whole new meaning:

Operating under the alias Raven Northbrook, Facebook has its eyes on Nebraska, DCD can exclusively reveal.

Late last year, local council officials granted approval for a large data center project in Sarpy County, Nebraska, but the company behind the huge facility was kept a secret.

Now, DCD can confirm that the corporation hoping to build four 610,000 square foot (56,670 sq m) data center halls at the Sarpy Power Park is Facebook.

You can run servers, but you cannot hide them

SHOW FULLSCREEN

Raven Northbrook, certificate of authority, Facebook

Source: Nebraska Secretary of State

Sarpy County documents reveal that the company, which is publicly represented by infrastructure engineering and design solutions company Olsson Associates, goes by the name Raven Northbrook.

So maybe the Sasse sledgehammer amendment to discriminate against pre-72 artists is easily explained–just another swamp dweller swamping up the cash.

Read the post on Data Center Dynamics

 

Here Comes the Shiv: Sen. Sasse to Move to Strike the CLASSICS Act and Screw Pre-72 Artists With the MMA Bait and Switch— Music Technology Policy

Trichordist readers will not be surprised to learn that Senator Sasse is circulating an amendment to strike the CLASSICS Act from the Senate version of the Music Modernization Act. The amendment appears to have been drafted by the Google Shills at Public Knowledge–bringing the bait and switch right on cue.

This is, of course, the classic back stabbing we have come to expect from Public Knowledge, so is par for the course.  What that means, of course, is that Google gets to screw the pre-72 artists and get their new reachback safe harbor that the songwriters and publishers gave up.

We need to move on this quickly.  If you can call your Senator and ask them to oppose the Sasse amendment to the Music Modernization Act (bill number S. 2823), that would be great.  You can look up your Senator’s information on Phone Congress at this link.  Choose “Any Other Topic Not Listed Here” on the pull down “Topic” menu.

via Here Comes the Shiv: Sen. Sasse to Move to Strike the CLASSICS Act and Screw Pre-72 Artists — Music Technology Policy

Let’s Not Miss An Opportunity to Include Startups in the Music Modernization Act–MusicTechSolutions

By Chris Castle
(musictech.solutions)

Who took on the Standard Oil men
And whipped their ass
Just like he promised he’d do?
Ain’t no Standard Oil men gonna run this state
Gonna be run by folks like me and you

Kingfish, written by Randy Newman

If you’re one of the small group that has actually read the Music Modernization Act, I think you’d have to come away with the idea that this is legislation by the big boys for the big boys.  Nowhere is this unfortunate flaw more apparent than in the way that digital media companies “modernize” the way they treat themselves.  No wonder Digital Media Association (Amazon, Apple, Google, Pandora, Spotify) and the Internet Association (Amazon, Facebook, Google, Pandora, Spotify) love it so much–it’s just the same old story from Standard Oil or United Fruit.

But is MMA really intended for the biggest corporations in commercial history playing footsie or should we believe the sales pitch that it is intended for the innovative startups and new entrants?

It is not surprising that startups were apparently excluded from the legislative process that created MMA and are themselves silent–or silenced–observers.  Given that Google, Amazon, Apple and Spotify are on the other side, startups know which side butters their bread and what will happen if they voice any criticisms.  Like the python in the chandelier, nothing really need be said; startups know what happens if they challenge the big boys, particularly Google and Amazon who probably host their companies, serve their advertising or drive traffic to them.

The MMA permits these massive and aggressive incumbents to ultimately decide how much startups pay for access to the blanket license that we are told by DiMA’s CEO will unleash innovation and “fuel the next wave of creativity“.  Yet–if startups can’t afford to buy in to the license, it won’t do them much good, and as drafted the MMA allows their incumbent competitors to decide how much that buy-in will cost any startups or other of the much ballyhooed new entrants.  This all before a startup has to pay royalties to the collective–and in addition to any royalties.

How can this be fair?  It’s easy when your lobbyists write the rules.

The Congress delegates the government’s authority under the Music Modernization Act by creating two main bodies around the new government-mandated blanket license:  The “mechanical licensing collective” which is to represent those with songs to be licensed and the “digital licensee coordinator” which is to represent music users wishing to license those songs under the new blanket mechanical license.  Music users will answer to the “digital licensee coordinator,” presumably under some membership agreement yet to be drafted.

Both these bodies are supposedly approved by the Register of Copyrights (the head of the U.S. Copyright Office), but the Register has the unenviable position of being constrained to appoint certain types of entities or people by statutory criteria in the MMA.

One of those criteria is very majoritarian, if not downright oligopolistic–and I would suggest that for both the collective and the digital licensee coordinator the math alone limits the Register’s choice to one entity.  Here’s the relevant language for how the Register selects the collective:

“[The Register must choose an entity that] is endorsed by and enjoys substantial support from copyright owners of musical works that together represent the greatest share of the licensor market for uses of such works in covered activities, as measured over the preceding 3 full calendar years;”

And here’s the mirror version of the relevant language for how the Register selects the “digital licensee coordinator” (or “DLC”):

“[The Register must choose an entity that] is endorsed by and enjoys substantial support from digital music providers and significant nonblanket licensees that together represent the greatest share of the licensee market for uses of musical works in covered activities, as measured over the preceding 3 full calendar years”

So one thing seems true for both the collective and the coordinator:  They can only be entities enjoying “substantial support” by at least a plurality if not a majority of their respective markets on either side of the same coin.  I’m not quite sure how that definition presents a choice to the Register–more like it allows the biggest players to dictate the Register’s choice.  (How can there be two pluralities much less two or more?)

I would submit that this structure is a long-term recipe for disaster.

Others have and are writing about the conflict-ridden aspects of the collective, so I will focus here on the digital licensee coordinator which is equally, if not more, conflict-ridden than the collective.

By definition then, startups–who are potential music users most in need of the blanket license without having to pay minimum guarantees–are evidently excluded from any possibility of becoming the digital licensee coordinator.  The Congress effectively prohibits the Register from appointing one of them as the DLC, even if they were brave enough to raise their hand (see Yelp in the EU antitrust ruling against Google).

And don’t forget a main selling point of the MMA:  The music users (i.e., the “licensees”) pay an “administrative assessment” to cover the costs of running the mechanical licensing collective.  (An inherent conflict?)  The MMA authorizes the DLC to “equitably allocate the collective total costs across digital music providers…but shall include as a component a minimum fee for all digital music providers.”  (Although note that the assessment as a whole and perhaps the allocation ultimately has to be approved by the Copyright Royalty Judges–and good luck to startups being able to afford to appeal to the CRJs or a higher court.)

Plus the MMA authorizes the DLC to “[e]ngage in efforts to enforce notice and payment obligations with respect to the administrative assessment….”  AND the DLC also gets to set the “dues” payment for each “member.”

So if a startup wants the blanket licence, they have to pay a share of the assessment apparently determined by a representative of their biggest competitors PLUS a membership fee.  And then they get to pay royalties to the collective.  Note that this is a radical departure from the current law and adds another gatekeeper in between songwriters and their money.

If a startup fails to make all these payments, they can lose the blanket license even if they have paid all royalties on time.  No one can tell you what the minimum fee will be or the startup’s share of the assessment.  In fact, as new startups will likely enter the allocation for “membership” all the time, a real time percentage allocation for each “member” of the DLC will likely change pretty much constantly.  Plus the collective can enforce the blanket license royalties and the DLC can enforce the assessment payments and membership “dues” (aka rents).

“Modernization” legislation is an excellent opportunity to level the playing field for these companies that are no doubt afraid to challenge the incumbents like Google (known for being specially vindictive to any startup that challenges them–see Foundem and the European Union’s multi-billion euro antitrust litigation against Google).

It’s also important to realize that there is an exponential difference between the group of companies that the Register takes instruction from on the MLC compared to the group instructing the Register for the DLC.  Candidates for the DLC include Amazon, Apple, Google and Spotify–three of the biggest companies in commercial history plus the streaming platform that is easily the dominant actor in its relevant market both in the U.S. and many other countries.  This basically assures that no startup will ever be included as the DLC absent a government-mandated rotation.

The Music Modernization Act is a great opportunity to do something positive for the market rather than continue to reenforce the most dominant incumbents in history (see 60 Minutes, “The Power of Google“).  After all, it was their own carelessness and “permissionless innovation” that got us to this point.

Here’s some free advice to Congress:  Go wild.  Require appointing a startup or two or three as the DLC from time to time.  And since you’re dictating many attributes of the MLC’s board, if you really want to go truly off the reservation, require one of those startups to be from some place like Austin, Athens, Northern Virginia or Salt Lake–anywhere but Silicon Valley.  Wouldn’t that be real modernization rather than real entrenchment?

As a wise old Member of the Texas Congressional delegation once told me, they get to climb the ladder to the American Dream like everyone else.  What they don’t get to do is pull the ladder up behind them once they get to the top.

By limiting the choices of who can be the DLC, the government is mandating control to only the biggest of the big.  And giving them an antitrust exemption as the cherry at the top of the ladder.