Must See Documentary: The Way the Music Died: Why You Should #DitchSpotify

Big thanks to Jon at Camden Live for posting about this really important documentary about the deep, down and dirty effects of Spotify on music, musicians and the creative process.

It’s always been a hard road for musicians to make money from their songs. Nonetheless, selling tons of singles and albums was at least a target and something bands could dream about.  Of course, there were many ways the labels could work the sales figures to get their shares out first, and only then the bands might see something. Despite the conflict between the often industrial-strength labels and the upcoming artists, there was at least hope that money was flowing back to the content creators.  Now though in the age of streaming music, the connection between making music and making a living is profoundly broken.

This schism is the subject matter for Lightbringer Production’s documentary film “The Way The Music Died” featuring insights from musicians and industry pros, including Mishkin Fitzgerald from Birdeatsbaby.  The film probes the spirit of artists determined to keep writing songs in the face of the meager payouts from the giant and ever-growing music stream service Spotify. Find out why this is ripping-out the heart and soul of new music.

Spotify’s ESG fail: Governance

This is the third of a three part post on Spotify’s failure to qualify as an “ESG” stock. 

[This is an extension of Spotify’s ESG Fail: Environment and Spotify’s ESG Fail: Social. “ESG” is a Wall Street acronym often attributed to Larry Finkat Blackrock that designates a company as suitable for socially conscious investing based on its “Environmental, Social and Governance” business practices. See the Upright Net Impact data model on Spotify’s sustainability score. As of this writing, the last update of Spotify’s Net Impact score was before the Neil Young scandal.]

Spotify has one big governance problem that permeates its governance like a putrid miasma in the abattoir: “Dual-class stock” sometimes referred to as “supervoting” stock. If you’ve never heard the term, buckle up. I wrote an extensive post on this subject for the New York Daily News that you may find interesting.

Dual class stock allows the holders of those shares–invariably the founders of the public company when it was a private company–to control all votes and control all board seats. Frequently this is accomplished by giving the founders a special class of stock that provides 10 votes for every share or something along those lines. The intention is to give the founders dead hand control over their startup in a kind of corporate reproductive right so that no one can interfere with their vision as envoys of innovation sent by the Gods of the Transhuman Singularity. You know, because technology.

Google was one of the first Silicon Valley startups to adopt this capitalization structure and it is consistent with the Silicon Valley venture capital investor belief in infitilism and the Peter Pan syndrome so that the little children may guide us. The problem is that supervoting stock is forever, well after the founders are bald and porky despite their at-home beach volleyball courts and warmed bidets.

Spotify, Facebook and Google each have a problem with “dual class” stock capitalizations.  Because regulators allow these companies to operate with this structure favoring insiders, the already concentrated streaming music industry is largely controlled by Daniel Ek, Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg.  (While Amazon and Apple lack the dual class stock structure, Jeff Bezos has an outsized influence over both streaming and physical carriers.  Apple’s influence is far more muted given their refusal to implement payola-driven algorithmic enterprise playlist placement for selection and rotation of music and their concentration on music playback hardware.)

The voting power of Ek, Brin, Page and Zuckerberg in their respective companies makes shareholder votes candidates for the least suspenseful events in commercial history.  However, based on market share, Spotify essentially controls the music streaming business.  Let’s consider some of the  implications for competition of this disfavored capitalization technique.

Commissioner Robert Jackson, formerly of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, summed up the problem:

“[D]ual class” voting typically involves capitalization structures that contain two or more classes of shares—one of which has significantly more voting power than the other. That’s distinct from the more common single-class structure, which gives shareholders equal equity and voting power. In a dual-class structure, public shareholders receive shares with one vote per share, while insiders receive shares that empower them with multiple votes. And some firms [Snap, Inc. and Google Class B shares] have recently issued shares that give ordinary public investors no vote at all.

For most of the modern history of American equity markets, the New York Stock Exchange did not list companies with dual-class voting. That’s because the Exchange’s commitment to corporate democracy and accountability dates back to before the Great Depression. But in the midst of the takeover battles of the 1980s, corporate insiders “who saw their firms as being vulnerable to takeovers began lobbying [the exchanges] to liberalize their rules on shareholder voting rights.”  Facing pressure from corporate management and fellow exchanges, the NYSE reversed course, and today permits firms to go public with structures that were once prohibited.

Spotify is the dominant streaming firm and the voting power of Spotify stockholders is concentrated in two men:  Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon.  Transitively, those two men literally control the music streaming sector through their voting shares, are extending their horizontal reach into the rapidly consolidating podcasting business and aspire soon to enter the audiobooks vertical.  Where do they get the money is a question on every artists lips after hearing the Spotify poormouthing and seeing their royalty statements.

The effects of that control may be subtle; for example, Spotify engages in multi-billion dollar stock buybacks and debt offerings, but has yet makes ever more spectacular losses while refusing to exercise pricing power.  

So yes, Spotify is starting to look like the kind of Potemkin Village that investment bankers love because they see oodles of the one thing that matters: Fees.

On the political side, let’s see what the company’s campaign contributions tell us:

Spotify has also made a habit out of hiring away government regulators like Regan Smith, the former General Counsel and Associate Register of the US Copyright Office who joined Spotify as head of US public policy (a euphemism for bag person) after drafting all of the regulations for the Mechanical Licensing Collective;

Whether this is enough to trip Spotify up on the abuse of political contributions I don’t know, but the revolving door part certainly does call into question Spotify’s ethics.

It does seem that these are the kinds of facts that should be taken into account when determining Spotify’s ESG score. At this point, it looks like Spotify is an ESG fail–which may require divesting by some of the over 600 mutual funds that hold shares.

Spotify’s ESG Fail: Social

By Chris Castle

[This post first appeared on MusicTechSolutions.]

Investopedia ESG criteria

[This post is Part 2 of a three part post on Spotify’s ESG Fail, and is an extension of Spotify’s ESG Fail: Environment. “ESG” is a Wall Street acronym often attributed to Larry Fink at Blackrock that designates a company as suitable for socially conscious investing based on its “Environmental, Social and Governance” business practices. See the Upright Net Impact data model on Spotify’s sustainability score. As of this writing, the last update of Spotify’s Net Impact score was before the Neil Young scandal.]

I started to write this post in the pre-Neil Young era and I almost feel like I could stop with the title. But there’s a lot more to it, so let’s look at the many ways Spotify is a fail on the Social part of ESG.

Before Spotify’s Joe Rogan problem, Spotify had both an ethical supply chain problem and a “fair wage” problem on the music side of its business, which for this post we will limit to fair compensation to its ultimate vendors being artists and songwriters. In fact, Spotify is an example to music-tech entrepreneurs of how not to conduct their business.

Treatment of Songwriters

On the songwriter side of the house, let’s not fall into the mudslinging that is going on over the appeal by Spotify (among others) of the Copyright Royalty Board’s ruling in the mechanical royalty rate setting proceeding known as Phonorecords III. Yes, it’s true that streaming screws songwriters even worse that artists, but not only because Spotify exercised its right of appeal of the Phonorecords III case that was pending during the extensive negotiations of Title I of the Music Modernization Act. (Title I is the whole debacle of the Mechanical Licensing Collective scam and the retroactive copyright infringement safe harbor currently being litigated on Constitutional grounds.)

The main reason that Spotify had the right to appeal available to it after passing the MMA was because the negotiators of Title I didn’t get all of the services to give up their appeal right (called a “waiver”) as a condition of getting the substantial giveaways in the MMA. A waiver would have been entirely appropriate given all the goodies that songwriters gave away in the MMA. When did Noah build the Ark?  Before the rain. The negotiators might have gotten that message if they had opened the negotiations to a broader group, but they didn’t so now they’ve got the hot potato no matter how much whinging they do.

Having said that, you will notice that Apple took pity on this egregious oversight and did not appeal the Phonorecords III ruling. You don’t always have to take advantage of your vendor’s negotiating failures, particularly when you are printing money and when being generous would help your vendor keep providing songs. And Mom always told me not to mock the afflicted. Plus it’s good business–take Walmart as an example. Walmart drives a hard bargain, but they leave the vendor enough margin to keep making goods, otherwise the vendor will go under soon or run a business solely to service debt only to go under later. And realize that the decision to be generous is pretty much entirely up to Walmart. Spotify could do the same.

Is being cheap unethical? Is leveraging stupidity unethical? Is trying to recover the costs of the MLC by heavily litigating streaming mechanicals unethical (or unexpected)? Maybe. A great man once said failing to be generous is the most expensive mistake you’ll ever make. So yes, I do think it is unethical although that’s a debatable point. Spotify has not made themselves many friends by taking that course. But what is not debatable is Spotify’s unethical treatment of artists.

Treatment of Artists

The entire streaming royalty model confirms what I call “Ek’s Law” which is related to “Moore’s Law”. Instead of chip speed doubling every 18 months in Moore’s Law, royalties are cut in half every 18 months with Ek’s Law. This reduction over time is an inherent part of the algebra of the streaming business model as I’ve discussed in detail in Arithmetic on the Internet as well as the study I co-authored with Dr. Claudio Feijoo for the World Intellectual Property Organization. These writings have caused a good deal of discussion along with the work of Sharky Laguana about the “Big Pool” or what’s come to be called the “market centric” royalty model.

Dissatisfaction with the market centric model has led to a discussion of the “user-centric” model as an alternative so that fans don’t pay for music they don’t listen to. But it’s also possible that there is no solution to the streaming model because everybody whose getting rich (essentially all Spotify employees and owners of big catalogs) has no intention of changing anything voluntarily. 

It would be easy to say “fair is where we end up” and write off Ek’s Law as just a function of the free market. But the market centric model was designed to reward a small number of artists and big catalog owners without letting consumers know what was happening to the money they thought they spent to support the music they loved. As Glenn Peoples wrote last year (Fare Play: Could SoundCloud’s User-Centric Streaming Payouts Catch On?

When Spotify first negotiated its initial licensing deals with labels in the late 2000s, both sides focused more on how much money the service would take in than the best way to divide it. The idea they settled on, which divides artist payouts based on the overall popularity of recordings, regardless of how they map to individuals’ listening habits, was ‘the simplest system to put together at the time,’ recalls Thomas Hesse, a former Sony Music executive who was involved in those conversations.

In other words, the market centric model was designed behind closed doors and then presented to the world’s artists and musicians as a take it or leave it with an overhyped helping of FOMO.

As we wrote in the WIPO study, the market centric model excludes nonfeatured musicians altogether. These studio musicians and vocalists are cut out of the Spotify streaming riches made off their backs except in two countries and then only because their unions fought like dogs to enforce national laws that require streaming platforms to pay nonfeatured performers.

The other Spotify problem is its global dominance and imposition of largely Anglo-American repertoire in other countries. The company does this for one big reason–they tell a growth story to Wall Street to juice their stock price. In fact, Daniel Ek just did this last week on his Groundhog Day earnings call with stock analysts. For example he said:

The number one thing that we’re stretched for at the moment is more inventory. And that’s why you see us introducing things such as fan and other things. And then long-term with a little bit more horizon, it’s obviously international.

Both user-centric and market-centric are focused on allocating a theoretical revenue “pie” which is so tiny for any one artist (or songwriter) who is not in the top 1 or 5 percent this week that it’s obvious the entire model is bankrupt until it includes the value that makes Daniel Ek into a digital munitions investor–the stock.

Debt and Stock Buybacks

Spotify has taken on substantial levels of debt for a company that makes a profit so infrequently you can say Spotify is unprofitable–which it is on a fully diluted basis in any event. According to its most recent balance sheet, Spotify owes approximately $1.3 billion in long term–secured–debt. 

You might ask how a company that has never made a profit qualifies to borrow $1.3 billion and you’d have a point there. But understand this: If Spotify should ever go bankrupt, which in their case would probably be a reorganization bankruptcy, those lenders are going to stand in the secured creditors line and they will get paid in full or nearly in full well before Spotify meets any of its obligations to artists, songwriters, labels and music publishers, aka unsecured creditors.

Did Title I of the Music Modernization Act take care of this exposure for songwriters who are forced to license but have virtually no recourse if the licensee fails to pay and goes bankrupt? Apparently not–but then the lobbyists would say if they’d insisted on actual protection and reform there would have been no bill (pka no bonus). 

Right. Because “modernization” (whatever that means).

But to our question here–is it ethical for a company that is totally dependent on creator output to be able to take on debt that pushes the royalties owed to those creators to the back of the bankruptcy lines? I think the answer is no.

Spotify has also engaged in a practice that has become increasingly popular in the era of zero interest rates (or lower bound rates anyway) and quantitative easing: stock buy backs.

Stock buy backs were illegal until the Securities and Exchange Commission changed the law in 1982 with the safe harbor Rule 10b-18. (A prime example of unelected bureaucrats creating major changes in the economy, but that’s a story for another day.) 

Stock buy backs are when a company uses the shareholders money to buy outstanding shares of their company and reduce the number of shares trading (aka “the float”). Stock buy backs can be accomplished a few ways such as through a tender offer (a public announcement that the company will buy back x shares at $y for z period of time); open market purchases on the exchange; or buying the shares through direct negotiations, usually with holders of larger blocks of stock. 

Vox’s Matt Yglesias sums it up nicely:

A stock buyback is basically a secondary offering in reverse — instead of selling new shares of stock to the public to put more cash on the corporate balance sheet, a cash-rich company expends some of its own funds on buying shares of stock from the public.

Why do companies buy back their own stock? To juice their financials by artificially increasing earnings per share.

Spotify has announced two different repurchase programs since going public according to their annual report for 12/31/21:

Share Repurchase Program On August 20, 2021, [Spotify] announced that the board of directors [controlled by Daniel Ek] had approved a program to repurchase up to $1.0 billion of the Company’s ordinary shares. Repurchases of up to 10,000,000 of the Company’s ordinary shares were authorized at the Company’s general meeting of shareholders on April 21, 2021. The repurchase program will expire on April 21, 2026. The timing and actual number of shares repurchased depends on a variety of factors, including price, general business and market conditions, and alternative investment opportunities. The repurchase program is executed consistent with the Company’s capital allocation strategy of prioritizing investment to grow the business over the long term. The repurchase program does not obligate the Company to acquire any particular amount of ordinary shares, and the repurchase program may be suspended or discontinued at any time at the Company’s discretion. The Company uses current cash and cash equivalents and the cash flow it generates from operations to fund the share repurchase program.

The authorization of the previous share repurchase program, announced on November 5, 2018, expired on April 21, 2021. The total aggregate amount of repurchased shares under that program was 4,366,427 for a total of approximately $572 million.

Is it ethical to take a billion dollars and buy back shares to juice the stock price while fighting over royalties every chance they get and crying poor? I think not. 

I think there’s clearly a legitimate question of whether Spotify fails on the environmental and social prongs of ESG. In Part 3 we will consider “governance.”

Spotify’s ESG Fail: Environment

Bu Chris Castle

[This is the first in a series of three short posts examining how Spotify scores as an Environmental, Social and Governance (or “ESG”) investment. “ESG” is a Wall Street acronym often attributed to Larry Fink at Blackrock that designates a company as suitable for socially conscious investing based on its “Environmental, Social and Governance” business practices, that is “ESG”. See the Upright Net Impact data model on Spotify’s sustainability score. As of this writing, the last update of Spotify’s Net Impact score was before the Neil Young scandal and, of course, rocketing energy prices that compound the environmental impact of streaming. These posts first appeared on MusicTechSolutions]

Spotify has an ESG problem, and a closer look may offer insights into a wider problem in the tech industry as a whole. If a decade of destroying artist and songwriter revenues isn’t enough to get your attention, maybe the Neil Young and Joe Rogan imbroglio will. But a minute’s analysis shows you that Spotify was already an ESG fail well before Neil Young’s ultimatum.

Streaming is an Environmental Fail

I first began posting about streaming as an environmental fail years ago in the YouTube and Google world. Like so many other ways that the BIg Tech PR machine glosses over their dependence on cheap energy right through their supply chain from electric cars to cat videos, YouTube did not want to discuss the company as a climate disaster zone. To hear them tell it, YouTube, and indeed the entire Google megalopolis right down to the Google Street View surveillance team was powered by magic elves running on appropriate golden flywheels with suitable work rules. Or other culturally appropriate spin from Google’s ham handed PR teams.

Mission creepy meets the Sound of Music

Greenpeace first wrote about “dirty data” in 2011–the year Spotify launched in the US. Too bad Spotify ignored the warnings.  Harvard Business Review also tells us that 2011 was a demarcation point for environmental issues at Microsoft following that Greenpeace report:

In 2011, Microsoft’s top environmental and sustainability executive, Rob Bernard, asked the company’s risk-assessment team to evaluate the firm’s exposure. It soon concluded that evolving carbon regulations and fluctuating energy costs and availability were significant sources of risk. In response, Microsoft formed a centralized senior energy team to address this newly elevated strategic issue and develop a comprehensive plan to mitigate risk. The team, comprising 14 experts in electricity markets, renewable energy, battery storage, and local generation (or “distributed energy”), was charged by corporate senior leadership with developing and executing the firm’s energy strategy. “Energy has become a C-suite issue,” Bernard says. “The CFO and president are now actively involved in our energy road map.”

If environment is a C-suite issue at Spotify, there’s no real evidence of it in Spotify’s annual report (but then there isn’t at the Mechanical Licensing Collective, either). “Environment” word search reveals that at Spotify, the environment is “economic”, “credit”, and above all “rapidly changing.” Not “dirty”–or “clean” for that matter.

The fact appears to be that Spotify isn’t doing anything special and nobody seems to want to talk about it. But wait, you say–what about the sainted Music Climate Pact? (Increasingly looking like a PR effort worthy of Edward Bernays.) Guess who hasn’t signed up to the MCP? Any streaming service as far as I can tell. There is a “Standard Commitment Letter” that participants are supposed to sign up to but I wasn’t able to read it. Want to guess why?

That’s right. You know who wants to know what you’re up to.

If you haven’t heard much about streaming’s negative effects on the environment, don’t be surprised. It’s not a topic that’s a great conversation starter and very few journalists seem to have any interest in the subject at all. I wonder why.

But if you’re an artist who is concerned about the impact of streaming your music on the environment or an investor trying to see your way through the ESG investment, this should give you a few questions to ask about Spotify’s ESG score. And if that slipped by you, don’t feel bad–Blackrock reportedly holds 3.8 million shares of Spotify that are worth less all the time, so they didn’t catch it either. And Blackrock coined the phrase.

Next: Spotify’s “Social” Fail: Rogan, Royalties and The Uyghurs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            The Writers object to the Proposed Settlement for the following reasons and respectfully suggest constructive alternatives.  The gravamen of our objection is that (1) the Subpart B rates have already been frozen since 2006 and extending the freeze another five years is unjust; (2) no evidence has been publicly produced in the Proceeding that justifies or even explains extending the proposed freeze aside from the connection to the memorandum of understanding in the MOU4 late fee waiver (“MOU”), a document that the Majors only recently disclosed in their Reply; (3) very large numbers of songwriters and copyright owners of various domiciles around the world and national origins are unlikely to even know this Proceeding is happening and there still is no evidence that the unrepresented have appointed any of the participants to act on their behalf or were asked to consent to the purported settlement before the fact even if they were members of these organizations aside from the respective board of directors; (4) physical sales are still a vital part of songwriter revenue (which the Writers documented in the Prior Comment[14]); and (5) there are many just alternatives available to the Judges without applying an unjust settlement to the world’s songwriters who are strangers to the Proposed Settlement and in particular the MOU component (as the MOU will likely require membership in the NMPA to benefit consistent with prior MOUs).

[Read the full-length original filing here.]


[1] 86 FR 58626.

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

            [3] 37 C.F.R. §385.11(a).

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

[5] 86 FR 33601.

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

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

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

[9] See 17 USC 801(b)(7)(a)(i).

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

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

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

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

            [14] See Prior Comment at 16.

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

Honorable Judges:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best wishes, 

Monica Corton CEO & Founder

Go to Eleven Entertainment

[Read the original comment here]

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

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

PO BOX 1415 BURBANK, CA 91507

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely 

LR Green

[Read original comment as filed]

Press Release: House of Commons, Digital Culture Media and Sport Committee: New Report: Economics of music streaming

MPs call for a ‘complete reset’ of music streaming to fairly reward performers and creators 

Successful artists see ‘pitiful returns’ from streaming while some performers are frozen out of payments altogether 

Artists must be given a legal right to a fairer share of revenues from streaming, the DCMS Committee concludes, following a wide-ranging inquiry that calls for a complete reset of the market. 

The Report into the Economics of music streaming finds that comprehensive reform of legislation and further regulation is needed, not only to redress the balance for songwriters, performers and composers, but to tackle fundamental problems within the recorded music industry. 

Services that host user-generated content gain significant advantage on copyright say MPs, with YouTube emerging as a dominant player. The Report warns of ‘deep concerns’ about the unassailable position of the major music companies with a call for the Competition and Markets Authority to examine whether competition in the recorded music market is being distorted. 

Though consumers enjoy music that is historically cheap, more personalised and more readily available than ever before, streaming’s short-term pricing structure puts music at risk in the long-term, say MPs. 

Chair of the DCMS Committee Julian Knight MP said: 

“While streaming has brought significant profits to the recorded music industry, the talent behind it – performers, songwriters and composers – are losing out. 

“Only a complete reset of streaming that enshrines in law their rights to a fair share of the earnings will do. 

“However, the issues we’ve examined reflect much deeper and more fundamental problems within the structuring of the recorded music industry itself. 

“We have real concerns about the way the market is operating, with platforms like YouTube able to gain an unfair advantage over competitors and the independent music sector struggling to compete against the dominance of the major labels. 

“We’ve heard of witnesses being afraid to speak out in case they lose favour with record labels or streaming services. It’s time for the Government to order an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority on the distortions and disparities we’ve uncovered.” 

ENDS 

Key findings and recommendations: 

Government to legislate so that performers enjoy the right to equitable remuneration for streaming income 

Government to refer case to the Competition and Markets Authority to undertake full market study into the economic impact of the major music groups’ dominance 

Government should introduce robust and legally enforceable obligations to normalise licensing arrangements for UGC-hosting services, to address the market distortions and the music streaming ‘value gap’ 

A full list of conclusions and recommendations can be found in the attached report 

‘Pitiful returns’ from streaming 

Performers, songwriters and composers receive only a small portion of streaming revenue due to poor royalty rates and because of the lower valuation of song-writing and composition, compared to the value of a song’s recording. Evidence from artists and songwriters who enjoy critical success described earnings from streaming as insufficient to ‘keep the wolf from the door’ or to live off, a position magnified by the loss of income from live performances. Such ‘pitiful returns’ from music streaming are found to impact the entire creative ecosystem with session musicians frozen out altogether. 

The Report notes that several performers who gave evidence claimed that they and many of their peers were afraid of speaking out against the status quo for fear of losing favour with major record labels and streaming services. 

Equitable remuneration 

MPs call on the Government to introduce a right to equitable digital music remuneration. Though performers have a right to equitable remuneration where a commercially published sound recording is rented (broadcast via the radio, or played in public), streaming exploits the ‘making available’ right for recordings under UK copyright law. The Report says the right to equitable remuneration should be applied to the ‘making available’ right, drawing on the precedent of how the right to equitable remuneration applies to rental, as a simple yet effective solution to the problems caused by poor remuneration as it is a right already established within UK law, and applied to streaming elsewhere in the world. It also argues that this would address the inconsistency whereby equitable remuneration already applies to songwriters and composers. The Government should also consider how to increase the value of a song to give parity with a recording to support songwriters and composers. 

Case for CMA to examine Universal, Sony and Warner market dominance’ 

The Report finds a case for a full study by the CMA into the economic impact of the dominance by major music companies Universal, Sony and Warner of the UK’s music recording industry, and to a lesser extent in publishing. Further, the Government must make sure that UK law is not enabling market dominance. It should support independent labels to challenge the majors’ dominance, with creators empowered to offset the disparity in negotiating power when signing with music companies. 

Further evidence to support a referral to the CMA comes from ongoing concerns about the majors’ position in direct licensing negotiations with streaming services which allows them to benefit at the expense of independent labels and self-releasing artists, particularly regarding playlisting. 

MPs question whether with the major record labels’ market dominance on song rights, a song would be fairly valued and urge consideration by the CMA of the majors’ dominance in recording and publishing on this point. 

‘Safe harbour’ 

‘Safe harbour’ gives services that host user-generated content (UGC) such as YouTube a competitive advantage over other services, exempting them from legal liability for copyright infringement unless and until they obtain “actual knowledge” of infringing activity, in which case they must remove or to disable access to it. The Report finds these exemptions, now transposed into UK law, have had a profound impact on the market, with UCG-hosting services gaining broad limitations of liability that undermine the music industry’s leverage in licensing negotiations. It recommends the CMA examine YouTube’s dominance of the music streaming market and take steps to encourage competition. To prevent market distortion, the Government should introduce obligations enforceable in law that would ‘normalise’ licensing arrangements for UCG-hosting services. 

Legacy contracts and recoupment 

To address a wider imbalance, the Report recommends a right to recapture the rights to works after a period of time from record labels, and a right to contract adjustment if an artist’s work was successful beyond the remuneration they received. 

Performers, signed to a record deal, are paid according to the terms of their contract with their record label from streaming revenue after production costs are recouped. Many labels do not write off debts meaning that deals signed decades ago can still recoup against initial production and distribution costs. Following an appearance before the Committee, Sony announced it would “pay through on existing unrecouped balances to increase the ability of those who qualify to receive more money from uses of their music” for deals before 2000. MPs call for Universal and Warner to look again at the issue of unrecouped balances with a view to enabling more of their legacy artists to receive payments when their music is streamed. 

User-centric model 

MPs heard evidence of different models to distribute streaming revenues, either the predominant pro-rata payment model or alternatives such as user-centric. They welcome the consideration by new services of ways to address fairness and transparency in remuneration. However, are concerned that current contractual agreements between the major music companies and streaming services could stifle further innovation if misused and recommend consideration by the CMA. 

The Report also make recommendations on licensing and royalty chains to increase transparency to creators. 

Further information: 

The inquiry into the Economics of music streaming was launched in October 2020. It received more than 300 pieces of written evidence. Among artists and performers who gave evidence, songwriter and producer Nile Rodgers, Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien, Elbow’s Guy Garvey and soloist Nadine Shah. It took evidence from the UK’s independent music sector, as well as major record labels Sony Music, Warner Music and Universal Music. Spotify, Amazon, Apple and YouTube also gave evidence. 

Committee membership: 

Julian Knight MP (Chair) (Conservative, Solihull); Kevin Brennan MP (Labour, Cardiff West); Steve Brine MP (Conservative, Winchester); Alex Davies-Jones MP (Labour, Pontypridd); Clive Efford MP (Labour, Eltham); Julie Elliott MP (Labour, Sunderland Central); Rt Hon Damian Green MP (Conservative, Ashford); Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP (Conservative, East Hampshire); John Nicolson MP (Scottish National Party, Ochil and South Perthshire); Giles Watling MP (Conservative, Clacton); Heather Wheeler (Conservative, South Derbyshire). 

Media queries to Anne Peacock peacocka@parliament.uk / 07753 101 017; Gina Degtyareva degtyarevae@parliament.uk / 07548 146 012. 

Visit the DCMS Committee website 

Committee Twitter: @CommonsDCMS 

Specific Committee Information: cmscom@parliament.uk / 020 7219 6188 

Data protection: The personal information you supply will be processed in accordance with the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018. Full details of how your data will be used can be found here. You may unsubscribe from this mailing list at any time. 

International Federation of Musicians Statement on Streaming Royalties (Or lack thereof)

Since the 2000s, the development of download platforms, then streaming services, has both contracted and expanded the music market. However, despite recently accelerating growth, the value thus created is not shared fairly. Indeed, the performers whose music creates this value receive little or no revenue when their recordings are used online with relatively few exceptions.

The implementation of the fundamental principles set out below is essential to, at last, guarantee the payment of a fair remuneration to music performers for the value transfer from their work. Such implementation must, in particular, rely on the proven mechanisms of collective management or collective bargaining.

1. Right to a fair remuneration

All music performers, whether featured or non-featured, should receive fair remuneration for each online use of their recordings, regardless of the technology used to access or distribute them.

Any act that does not meet the conditions for a download (choice of track + choice of time + choice of location) should not be covered by the right of Article 10

2. Scope of the right of making available on demand

The right of making available on-demand (article 10 of the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty) provides performers with “the exclusive right of authorizing the making available to the public of their performances fixed in phonograms, by wire or wireless means, in such a way that members of the public may access them from a place and at a time individually chosen by them”.

This right was formulated at the time of the transition from physical to digital distribution by download. The technological evolution that has allowed the development of streaming offers since 2008 was in no way anticipated when the WPPT was adopted in 1996. Article 10 could never have been the subject of a consensus if the community of performers had measured the risk of its erroneous application to all the uses offered by streaming platforms.

The right of making available on-demand is designed for cases where end-users choose what music they want to listen to, when to listen to it and where to listen to it. Thus, any act that does not meet the conditions for a download (choice of track + choice of time + choice of location) should not be covered by the right of Article 10.

In particular, it should not apply when a selection of tracks made by a third party (a natural person or an algorithm) is offered for listening to the consumer, following a personalization based on the choice of a style, an atmosphere, an artist or any other criterion leading to a limited and pre-established “playlist”.

3. Adaptation of remuneration schemes

Performers’ economic precariousness – highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic – demonstrates that the exclusive right of making available on-demand (art. 10 of the WPPT), which can be assigned individually without any real compensation, is in itself unfit for embracing the current technological environment. The unilateral choice of platforms and the phonographic industry to apply this right to all forms of streaming, regardless of their level of interactivity or personalization, obviously serves the interests of these industries.

Non-featured performers generally receive a one-time, often purely symbolic, lump-sum payment in return for the transfer of their exclusive rights to the producer. Such unfair practices deprives them of a fair share of the revenue and value generated by their creative contribution. This structurally unbalanced contractual relationship can be corrected by resorting to collective bargaining.

More generally, collective bargaining constitutes a legitimate and effective means of improving the conditions for the transfer of a performer’s exclusive rights and their remuneration once assigned to the producer.

As grassroots protests by performers illustrate, the status quo is untenable. The streaming economy must switch paradigms to ensure fair remuneration for all performers and all types of online uses. Concerning non-interactive or partially interactive uses (playlists), the right to remuneration under Article 15, WPPT, which leads to an equal split of the equitable remuneration received from broadcasters and other users, constitutes a relevant reference model and precedent.

4. Transparency and access to information

All performers must receive and be able to access detailed information concerning the use of their recordings and the payments to which they are entitled. Payment of sums due to the artist must occur on the dates specified, must be subject to a compliance examination of platforms by performers to help assure correct payments, and must be accounted for regardless of the amount and without payment thresholds. National laws must include provisions guaranteeing the exercise of these rights.

5. Value of Music

Price competition between platforms and the priority they give to enterprise market valuation (as reflected in share price) over revenue may induce a devaluation of music in a race to the bottom on royalty payments while share price is booming. Access to a repertoire through output licenses set to grow endlessly for a flat-rate subscription – which has remained at the essentially same price point for more than ten years – does not seem capable of providing long-term sustainability for the creative sector given the dominant pro-rata royalty model.

6. User-centric model

In the vast number of cases, the pro-rata distribution of streaming revenues does not remunerate the featured artists’ right of making available, even when their contract provides (after the transfer of this right) for the payment of royalties. Instead, it creates a hyper-efficient market share distribution of revenue. This is not acceptable. It is also not acceptable for end-users to pay for music that they do not listen to, or that the music they listen to does not generate commensurate income for the artists concerned. This lack of direct correlation between listening and payment is a fundamental problem. Only the universal adoption of the “user-centric” distribution model can redress this injustice to both the fan and the performers. By allowing “niche” recordings, works or styles to generate remuneration, it also supports diversity and promotes local cultures. It should therefore be implemented, and the economic models adapted accordingly.

7. Duration of reference for the count of plays

The length of the tracks varies considerably according to the genre of music. Durations can range from less than two minutes for a variety track to several tens of minutes for a jazz or classical music track. The count of plays entitled to payment should take these differences into account by introducing a dose of proportionality. A longer track should trigger several payments as listening reaches certain thresholds to be negotiated.

By limiting the economic return on very short tracks, such an adaptation would avoid an excessively uniform offer. It would also positively affect diversity by partly redirecting payments towards less popular musical genres such as jazz or classical music. More generally, artistic creativity could be expressed more freely, without time constraints motivated by profitability objectives.