Senator Leahy Says Show Me the Money on the MLC’s Black Box

Readers will recall that the Mechanical Licensing Collective, Inc. aka the MLC, is sitting on a pile of other peoples money (remember that the Mechanical Licensing Collective is the digital music services’ one-of-a-kind joint venture quango mandated by the good folks from Washington who are here to help). We estimate that the MLC has got at least $500 million socked away at City National Bank in Nashville collecting dust–or interest. More on that later. This would include current black box accruing since January 1, 2021 plus $424 million or so in historical black box that was voluntarily paid to the MLC by the DSPs in February 2021–an inexplicably large sum given all the DSP audits over the years. 

And the clock is ticking, tick tock, tick tock.

Readers will also recall that the U.S. Copyright Office is responsible for the operations of the MLC, or as they say in Washington where all the children are above average and no one is responsible for anything, “has oversight” which usually means “gets to blame somebody else” when the fan takes over. And of course the Congress has oversight of the Copyright Office. Every so often, the head of the Copyright Office gets the rare joy of attending an oversight hearing at the Congress which happened recently and resulted in certain follow up “questions for the record” that get answered in writing. 

The MLC and its employees should get one thing straight–they are about to be blamed for some grubby practices when Congress wants you to show them the money. And you will be thrown under the bus, count on it. Just think–you could have stolen the money the old fashioned way. In the dark. But no, you wanted the government to force songwriters to deal with you and you could not stop congratulating yourselves about how smart you were. Well, you wanted it, and now you’ve gotten it.

Senator Patrick Leahy, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, submitted some rather pointed questions about the MLC black box which drew a rather pointed response:

Question: The Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC), the organization created under the Music Modernization Act to collect mechanical royalties for songwriters and publishers, also has an obligation to identify the owners of musical works that have accrued royalties when the owners are not known. The major publishers who largely control the MLC keep the royalties from unidentified works if the owners cannot be found. Over the past year, the MLC has identified only a tiny fraction of the rightful owners. [You were warned.] The major publishers stand to gain hundreds of millions of dollars from that failure to find rightful owners. We did not intend to create a disincentive for the MLC and major publishers to find the rightful owners of music works.

What can the Copyright Office do to help ensure that the MLC is working to make sure that rightful owners of music works are identified and paid?

Response: The Mechanical Licensing Collective (“MLC”) should make every reasonable effort to ensure that royalties are paid to the rightful owners of musical works. According to the MLC’s first annual report, it has distributed over $420 million under the new blanket license for uses reported in 2021, with a steadily improving match rate reported to be approximately 88% of all royalties. With respect to the historical, pre-2021, unmatched royalties, which were reported to be about $426 million, the annual report says that the MLC recently started distributing those that it has been able to match. It also says that the MLC has begun making associated usage data for historical unmatched royalties available to copyright owners, which will facilitate further claiming and matching. Notably, the MLC plans to wait to process historical unmatched royalties from the Phonorecords III rate period until the Copyright Royalty Judges finalize those rates in the ongoing remand proceeding and digital music providers provide adjusted reports of usage and royalty payments. It is the Office’s understanding that the bulk of historical unmatched royalties come from that period. [More on this PR III issue below]

The Copyright Office has been active on the issue of matching musical works to accurately pay copyright owners. Last year, we issued a report recommending best practices for the MLC to consider to reduce the incidence of unclaimed royalties. The report’s comprehensive recommendations ranged from high-level concepts to detailed suggestions across seven areas: (1) education and outreach; (2) usability of the MLC’s systems, including the public musical works database and claiming portal; (3) data quality; (4) matching practices; (5) holding and distributing unclaimed accrued royalties; (6) measuring success; and (7) transparency. One of the report’s most significant recommendations was that the MLC should hold unclaimed royalties for longer than the statutory minimum period, to maximize its matching efforts and the ability of copyright owners to make claims before any market-share-based distributions are made. We recommended that the MLC should wait to make such distributions of unclaimed royalties based on the evaluation of various objective criteria, like match rates and engagement metrics.

Additionally, the Office and the MLC are each involved in substantial education and outreach efforts to help ensure that publishers and songwriters, especially self-published songwriters, are aware of the Music Modernization Act (“MMA”), understand their rights under the new system, know that they can register their works with the MLC and claim royalties, and know that royalties for unclaimed works will be equitably distributed to known copyright owners.

[Here comes the bus.]. The Office is continuing to engage with the MLC and other industry stakeholders, including digital services and songwriters, to monitor the MLC’s progress as it continues to ramp up operations. While the MLC has not indicated that it plans to make a distribution of unclaimed royalties anytime soon, the Office possesses broad regulatory authority to act if necessary to prevent a premature distribution. The statute requires the MLC to give ninety days’ notice before any distribution. We have previously cautioned that making a premature distribution of unclaimed royalties could jeopardize the continuation of the MLC’s designation. 84 Fed. Reg. 32,274, 32,283 (July 8, 2019) (“[I]f the designated entity were to make unreasonable distributions of unclaimed royalties, that could be grounds for concern and may call into question whether the entity has the ‘administrative and technological capabilities to perform the required functions of the [MLC].’”) (quoting 17 U.S.C. § 115(d)(3)(A)(iii)).

One issue that is not discussed in the QFR or anywhere else for that matter is what is happening to the hundreds of millions that the MLC is sitting on. Remember that the MLC is required to pay a government interest rate on black box, and that interest rate has been steadily increasing this year thanks to the Federal Reserve. That interest payment is presumably covered under the MLC’s administrative assessment and government fees charged to music users for the privilege of using the compulsory blanket license.

But wait–there’s more. According to the MLC’s annual report (at p. 4), the MLC invests the black box according to its internal “Investment Policy” established by its board of directors.

Investment Policy: This policy covers the investment of royalty and assessmentfunds, respectively, and sets forth The MLC’s goals and objectives in establishing policies to implement The MLC’s investment strategy. The anti-comingling policy required by 17 U.S.C. § 115(d)(3)(D)(ix)(I)(cc) is contained in The MLC’s Investment Policy. The Investment Policy was approved by the Board in January 2021.

This raises some interesting points. First and foremost, it is unclear where any trading profits reside. Realize that every CMO is confronted with the decision about what to do with the royalty float and black box, but not every CMO decides to invest these funds in the market. If they do invest the funds, it is generally the case that any trading profits, dividends or interest goes to offset the CMO’s administrative costs that otherwise would be deducted from collected royalties.

However, the MLC’s administrative costs are paid by the users of the blanket license (making the United States, I believe, the only country in history or the world that charges for the use of a statutory license). Therefore, the return on the MLC’s investment of the songwriters’ money would not be used for the same purpose as all the world’s CMOs that follow a similar practice. 

Whether the ROI is returned to songwriters or to the users or retained by the MLC is unclear to me from the MLC’s annual report. It is also unclear as to the authority that the MLC’s board (or the Copyright Office for that matter) would have to put the songwriters’ money at risk in the market, what record keeping is made or required of the investments and ROI, or really much of anything at all, aside from the quoted statement above. 

It is also unclear how, if at all, the MLC distinguishes between ROI on royalty or the administrative assessment. It would make sense for trading profits on received but unspent administrative assessment funds to offset current or future assessments, but it’s not clear if that is done.

Assuming there are any. Profits, that is.

I was hoping that this topic would be addressed in the oversight hearing, but maybe next time.

Trickle-Down Streaming Mechanical Royalties Will be Be Up for Discussion

You may have noticed that a cost of living adjustment for statutory royalties was front and center in the recent (and still ongoing) physical mechanicals rate setting. Unfortunately, the idea of a COLA seems to have disappeared in the streaming mechanicals proceeding.

Note that it’s different music users on the physical mechanicals than on streaming. The physical mechanicals are paid by record companies and streaming mechanicals are paid by some of the biggest corporations in history, namely Amazon, Apple and Google and other wealthy public companies like Spotify and Pandora/SiriusXM. All these companies have market capitalizations greater than the gross national product of some countries. 

You may have also noticed that after years of frozen subscription rates, Apple is the first of the streaming subscription services to raise rates by $1 on several of its services including Apple Music. Tim Ingham is asking if Spotify will follow (you know, one of those price fixing agreements inferred from conduct). Who knows, but what’s interesting about this is the effect it will have on streaming mechanical rates, or more pointedly the effect that the Big Tech cartel would like you to think it will have.

The calculation for streaming mechanicals is absurdly complicated. You do have to wonder which of the genii came up with that one. About the only thing that is certain is that the negotiation of that rate every five years (and judicial appeals occasionally) guarantees employment for lots of lawyers and lobbyists on both sides, although definitely skewed toward Big Tech’s share of the 46 lawyers on the docket.

The streaming rates are so bizarre that the Copyright Royalty Judges seem to have lost trust in the process and have issued two separate orders instructing the participants in the streaming mechanical proceedings to either disclose or “certify” that they have come clean with the Judges as to any side deals that may have artificially lowered the rates–the second order makes for interesting reading.

Unlike the physical mechanical, the settling parties rejected a cost of living adjustment in these historically inflationary times. Why they rejected a COLA is hard to understand aside from the fact that they thought they could get away with it.

One thing that is clear, however, is that any argument that a COLA is not necessary with streaming mechanicals because the rate is theoretically based on increases or decreases in revenue is a particularly insulting form of trickle down gaslighting. 

It must be said that the record company group of music users that pays the physical mechanical rate voluntarily agreed a COLA on their rates that is currently pending approval by the Judges. There really is no excuse for the streaming services to rely on the discredited trickle down theory to pawn off their Rube Goldberg royalty structure on songwriters for streaming mechanicals.

Will the Copyright Royalty Board approve Big Tech’s attempted cover-up? 

By Chris Castle

[This MusicTechPolicy post appeared on Hypebot]

There’s an old saying among sailors that water always wins. Sunlight does, too. It may take a while, but time reveals all things in the cold light of dawn. So when you are free riding on huge blocks of aged government cheese like the digital music services do with the compulsory mechanical license, the question you should ask yourself is why hide from the sunlight? It just makes songwriters even more suspicious. 

This melodrama just played out at the Copyright Royalty Board with the frozen mechanicals proceeding. Right on cue, the digital services and their legions of lawyers proved they hadn’t learned a damn thing from that exercise. They turned right around and tried to jam a secret deal through the Copyright Royalty Board on the streaming mechanicals piece of Phonorecords IV. 

To their great credit, the labels handled frozen physical mechanicals quite differently. They voluntarily disclosed the side deal they made with virtually no redactions and certainly didn’t try to file it “under seal” like the services did. Filing “under seal” hides the major moving parts of a voluntary settlement from the world’s songwriters. Songwriters, of course, are the ones most affected by the settlement–which the services want the CRB to approve–some might say “rubber stamp”–and make law.

To fully appreciate the absolute lunacy of the services attempt at filing the purported settlement document under seal, you have to remember that the Copyright Royalty Judges spilled considerable ink in the frozen mechanicals piece of Phonorecords IV telling those participants how important transparency was when they rejected the initial Subpart B settlement.  

This happened mere weeks ago in the SAME PHONORECORDS IV PROCEEDING.

Were the services expecting the Judges to say “Just kidding”? What in the world were they thinking? Realize that filing the settlement–which IF ACCEPTED is then published by the Judges for public comment under the applicable rules established long ago by Congress–is quite different than filing confidential commercial information. You might expect redactions or filings under seal, “attorneys eyes only,” etc., in direct written statements, expert testimony or the other reams of paper all designed to help the Judges guess what rate a willing buyer would pay a willing seller. That rate to be applied to the world under a compulsory license which precludes willing buyers and willing sellers, thank you Franz Kafka. 

When you file the settlement, that document is the end product of all those tens of millions of dollars in legal fees that buy houses in the Hamptons and Martha’s Vinyard as well as send children to prep school, college and graduate school. Not the songwriters’ children, mind you, oh no. 

The final settlement is, in fact, the one document that should NEVER be redacted or secret. How else will the public–who may not get a vote but does get their say–even know what it is the law is based on assuming the Judges approve the otherwise secret deal. It’s asking the Judges to tell the public, the Copyright Office, their colleagues in the appeals courts and ultimately the Congress, sorry, our version of the law is based on secret information.

Does that even scan? I mean, seriously, what kind of buffoons come up with this stuff?  Of course the Judges will question the bona fides and provenance of the settlement. Do you think any other federal agency could get away with actually doing this? The lawlessness of the very idea is breathtaking and demonstrates conclusively in my view that these services like Google are the most dangerous corporations in the world. The one thing that gives solace after this display of arrogance is that some of them may get broken up before they render too many mechanical royalty accounting statements.

To their credit, after receiving the very thin initial filing the Judges instructed the services to do better–to be kind. The Judges issued an order that stated:

The Judges now ORDER the Settling Parties to certify, no later than five days from the date of this order, that the Motion and the Proposed Regulations annexed to the Motion represent the full agreement of the Settling Parties, i.e., that there are no other related agrements and no other clauses. If such other agreements or clauses exist, the Settling Parties shall file them no later than five days from the date of this order.

Just a tip to any younger lawyers reading this post–you really, really, really do not want to be on the receiving end of this kind of order.

Reading between the lines (and not very far) the Judges are telling the parties to come clean. Either “certify” to the Judges “that there are no other related agreements and no other clauses” or produce them. This use of the term “certify” means all the lawyers promise to the Judges as officers of the court that their clients have come clean, or alternatively file the actual documents.

That produced the absurd filing under seal, and that then produced the blowback that led to the filing of the unsealed and unreacted documents. But–wait, there’s more.

Take a close look at what the Judges asked for and what they received. The Judges asked for certification “that there are no other related agrements and no other clauses. If such other agreements or clauses exist, the Settling Parties shall file them no later than five days from the date of this order.”

What the Judges received is described in the purportedly responsive filing by the services:

The Settling Participants [aka the insiders] have provided all of the settlement documentsand, with this public filing, every interested party can fully evaluate and comment upon the settlement. The Settling Participants thus believe that the Judges have everything necessary to “publish the settlement in the Federal Register for notice and comment from those bound by the terms, rates, or other determination set by the” Settlement Agreement, as required under 37 C.F.R. 351.2(b)(2). The Settling Participants respectfully request that the Judges inform them if there is any further information that they require.

Notice that the Judges asked for evidence of the “full agreement of the Settling Parties”, meaning all side deals or other vigorish exchanged between the parties including the DSPs that control vast riches larger than most countries and are super-conflicted with the publishers due to their joint venture investment in the MLC quango.

The response is limited to “the settlement documents” and then cites to what the services no doubt think they can argue limits their disclosure obligations to what is necessary to “publish the settlement”. And then the services have the brass to add “The Settling Participants respectfully request that the Judges inform them if there is any further information that they require.” Just how are the Judges supposed to know if the services complied with the order? Is this candor?

It must also be noted that Google and the NMPA have “lodged” certain documents relating to YouTube’s direct agreements which they claim are not related to the settlement to be published for public comment. These documents are, of course, secret:

[And] are not part of the settlement agreement or understanding of the settling participants concerning the subject matter of the settlement agreement, and do not supersede any part of the settlement agreement with respect to the settling participants’ proposed Phonorecords IV rates and terms. Further, the letter agreements do not change or modify application of the terms to be codified at 37 C.F.R. 385 Subparts C and D, including as they apply to any participant. Rather, the letter agreements simply concern Google’s current allocation practices to avoid the double payment of royalties arising from YouTube’s having entered into direct agreements with certain music publishers while simultaneously operating under the Section 115 statutory license.

You’ll note that there are a number of declarative statements that lets the hoi polloi know that the Data Lords and Kings of the Internet Realms have determined some information involving their royalties is none of their concern. How do you know that you shouldn’t worry your pretty little head about some things? Because the Data Lords tell you so. And now, back to sleep you Epsilons.

So you see that despite the statements in the group filing to the CRB that the “Settling Participants” (i.e., the insiders) claim to have provided all of the settlement documents required by the Judges, Google turns right around and “lodges” this separate filing of still other documents that they think might be related documents with some bearing on the settlement that should be disclosed to the public but they apparently will not be disclosing without a fight. How do we know this? Because they pretty much say so:

Because the letter agreements are subject to confidentiality restrictions and have each only been disclosed to their individual signatories, each such music publisher having an extant direct license agreement with Google, Google and NMPA are lodging the letter agreements directly with the Copyright Royalty Judges, who may then make a determination as to whether the letter agreements are relevant and what, if anything, should be disclosed notwithstanding the confidentiality restrictions in each of the letter agreements.

Ah yes, the old “nondisclosure” clause. You couldn’t ask for a better example of how NDAs are used to hide information from songwriters about their own money.

The Judges noted when rejecting the similar initial frozen mechanical regulations that:

Parties have an undeniable right of contract. The Judges, however, are not required to adopt the terms of any contract, particularly when the contract at issue relates in part, albeit by reference, to additional unknown terms that indicate additional unrevealed consideration passing between the parties, which consideration might have an impact on effective royalty rates. 

So there’s that.

What this all boils down to is that the richest and most dangerous corporations in commercial history are accustomed to algorithmically duping consumers, vendors and even governments in the dark and getting away with it. The question is, if you believe that sunlight always wins, do they still want to hide as long as they can and then look stupid, or do they want to come clean to begin with and be honest brokers.

As Willie Stark famously said in All the King’s Men, “Time reveals all things, I trust it so.”

Thinking Outside the Pie: @legrandnetwork Study for GESAC Highlights Streaming Impact on Choking Diversity and Songwriter Royalties

By Chris Castle

[This post first appeared in MusicTech.Solutions]

Emmanuel Legrand prepared an excellent and important study for the European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Composers (GESAC) that identifies crucial effects of streaming on culture, creatives and especially songwriters. The study highlights the cultural effects of streaming on the European markets, but it would be easy to extend these harms globally as Emmanuel observes.

For example, consider the core pitch of streaming services that started long ago with the commercial Napster 2.0 pitch of “Own Nothing, Have Everything”. This call-to-serfdom slogan may sound good but having infinite shelf space with no cutouts or localized offering creates its own cultural imperative. And that’s even if you accept the premise the algorithmically programed enterprise playlists on streaming services should not be subject to the same cultural protections for performers and songwriters as broadcast radio–its main competitor.

[This] massive availability of content on [streaming] platforms is overshadowed by the fact that these services are under no positive obligations to ensure visibility and discoverability of more diverse repertoires, particularly European works….[plus]  the initial individual subscription fee of 9.99 (in Euros, US dollars, or British pound) set in 2006, has never increased, despite the exponential growth in the quality, amount of songs, and user-friendliness of music streaming services.

Artists working new recordings, especially in a language other than English, are forced to fight for “shelf space” and “mindshare”–that is, recognition–against every recording ever released. While this was always true theoretically; you never had that same fight the same way at Tower Records.

This is not theoretically true on streaming platforms–it is actually true because these tens of millions of historical recordings are the competition on streaming services. When you look at the global 100 charts for streaming services, almost all of the titles are in English and are largely Anglo-American releases. Yes, we know–Bad Bunny. But this year’s exception proves the rule.

And then Emmanuel notes that it is the back room algorithms–the terribly modern version of the $50 handshake–that support various payola schemes:

The use of algorithms, as well as bottleneck represented by the most popular playlists, exacerbates this. Furthermore, long-standing flaws in the operations of music streaming platforms, such as “streaming fraud”, “ghost/fake artists”, “payola schemes”, “royalty free content” and other coercive practices [not to mention YouTube withholding access to Content ID] worsen the impact on many professional creators….

This report suggests solutions to bring greater transparency in the use of algorithms and invites stakeholders to undertake a review of the economic models of streaming services and evaluate how they currently affect cultural diversity which should be promoted in its various forms — music genres, languages, origin of performers and songwriters, in particular through policy actions.

Trichordist readers will recall my extensive dives into the hyperefficient market share distribution of streaming royalties known as the “big pool” compared to my “ethical pool” proposal and the “user centric” alternative. As Emmanuel points out, the big pool royalty model belies a cultural imperative–if you are counting streams on a market share basis that results in the rich getting richer based on “stream share” that same stream share almost guarantees that Anglo American repertoire will dominate in every market the big streamers operate.

Emmanuel uses French-Canadian repertoire as an example (a subject I know a fair amount about since I performed and recorded with many vedettes before Quebecoise was cool).

A lot of research has been made in Canada with regards to discoverability, in particular in the context of French-Canadian music, which is subject to quotas for over the air broadcasters which however do not apply to music streaming services. The research shows that while the lists of new releases from Québec studied are present in a large proportion on streaming platforms, they are “not very visible and very little recommended.” 

It further shows that the situation is even worse when it is not about new releases, including hit music, when the presence of titles “drops radically.” It is not very difficult to imagine that if we were to swap Québec in the above sentence with the name of any country from the European Union [or any non-Anglo American country], and even with music from the European Union as a whole, we could find similar results.

In other words, there may be aggregators with repertoire in languages other than English that deliver tracks to streamers in their countries, but–absent localized airplay rules–a Spotify user might never know the tracks were there unless the user already knew about the recording, artist or songwriter. (Speaking of Canada, check the MAPL system.)

This is a prime example of why Professor Feijoo and I proposed streaming remuneration in our WIPO study to allow performers to capture the uncompensated capital markets value to the enterprise driven by these performers. Because of the market share royalty system, revenues and royalties do not compensate all performers, particularly regional or non-featured performers (i.e., session players and singers) who essentially get zero compensation for streaming.

Emmanuel also comments on the imbalance in song royalty payments and invites a re-look at how the streaming system biases against songwriters. I would encourage everyone to stop thinking of a pie to be shared or that Johnny has more apples–when the services refuse to raise prices in order to tell a growth story to Wall Street or The City, measuring royalties by a share of some mythical royalty pie is not ever going to get it done. It will just perpetuate a discriminatory system that fails to value the very people on whose backs it was built be they songwriters or session players.

We must think outside the pie.

@MMercuriadis on the @CMAgovUK’s Whiff on the Streaming Report

Hipgnosis CEO Merck Mercuriadis had a strong statement in Music Week about the Competition and Markets Authority’s swing and a miss at the obviously absurd music streaming system as it was clearly identified by the groundbreaking report from the Digital Culture Media and Sport Select Committee of the UK Parliament. Given the good work done by the DCMS committee, the CMA report is simply insulting to those Members of Parliament.

Bob Welch and Reggie Jackson, Game 2 1978 World Series

Unfortunately the CMA report reads like a lobbyist’s press release and Mercuriadis lays it down and calls them out. Even though this is a little inside baseball in the UK, Trichordist readers understand that the underlying issues involve every songwriter and involve every artist regardless of where you live and regardless of where you claim as home. Mercuriadis is exactly right, the money is there it’s just not getting to the right people.

The battle continues.

“[Hipgnosis] would like to thank the Competition and Markets Authority for acknowledging in its report today the lack of transparency in the music streaming market, and for highlighting the continued dominance of the market by the major labels and recorded music, along with the severely adverse impact this is having on songwriters’ ability to earn a living,” he said. “However, with 70% of all those responding to the CMA consultation calling for reform, it is regrettable that the CMA is not minded to investigate and address the clear failures its study identified.

“The Digital Culture Media and Sport select committee in its July 2021 report on the economics of music streaming – ‘Music streaming must modernize. Is anybody listening?’ – called for the CMA to address the economic impact of the music majors’ dominance.

“Today the CMA has not acted to address the impact on the creative songwriting community, and this is a missed opportunity to follow up on those concerns raised by Members of Parliament on the Digital Culture Media and Sport select committee. It is a disappointment for songwriters who earn pitiful returns from streaming, not because there is not enough to go round, but simply because it is not being shared fairly and equitably.”

Mercuriadis added: “Hipgnosis will continue to call for fundamental reform of a broken system which does not recognise the paramount role of the songwriter in the music ecosystem. We have always believed that the ultimate solution lies within the music industry itself and we will continue to advocate on behalf of songwriters with the major recorded music companies to push for a fair and equitable split. There would be no recorded music industry without songwriters.

“Legislative and government authorities have the power to redress the economic imbalance where major recorded music companies that own and control the major publishing companies are purposefully undervaluing the songwriter’s contribution. The Intellectual Property Office [UK’s Copyright Office] has a key role to play in redressing the imbalance and we will continue to support its work and efforts.

“Hipgnosis will continue to campaign for change at the highest levels, using our success to advocate and fight on behalf of the songwriting community and to take the songwriter from the bottom of the economic equation to the top.”

Save the date: A2IM Indie Week Panel with @musictechpolicy on the Impact on Indie Labels of Unfreezing Mechanicals

If you are coming to Indie Week, Trichordist readers might enjoy a panel Chris Castle is on to discuss the impact on indie labels of the Great Unfreeze! 

Entitled How the CRB’s Rejection of Frozen Mechanicals Will Affect Your Label?, the panel goes off at 10:30 am ET on Wednesday, June 15 at the New York Law School.

Speakers are Victor Zaraya: Concord (Moderator), Danielle Aguirre: NMPA (National Music Publishers’ Association), Glen Barros: Exceleration, and Chris.

If you want to read up on the issues that caused the Copyright Royalty Board to reject the failed settlement, here’s some background:

Copyright Royalty Board’s Rejection of NMPA, NSAI, Sony, Warner, Universal settlement

Copyright Royalty Board’s Reaction to Second Settlement Proposal by NMPA, NSAI, Sony, Warner and Universal

Survey Results from Songwriter Survey on Frozen Mechanicals

Comments:

Rosanne Cash

Helienne Lindvall, David Lowery, Blake Morgan

David Poe

Abby North, Erin McAnally, Chelsea Crowell

Kevin Casini

NMPA, NSAI, Sony, Warner, Universal Comment with Copy of MOU4

Chris will post about the panel afterward.

@DavidCLowery: Address on Acceptance of the American Eagle Award from the National Music Council

June 2nd 2022 Anaheim California

Hello and thank you. Thanks to the board for this award. President James Weaver. Chair Charlie Sanders. Thanks to David Sanders for help with logistics.

And while I have him here, special thanks to Rick Carnes for his help a few years ago with the University of Georgia Artists Rights Symposium.

I wanted to start out today, by saying it is a great honor to receive this award.

When I look at past recipients and see names like Odetta, Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Lena Horne, Hal David, Phil Ramon and Kris Kristofferson, I feel like the protagonist in the Talking Heads song:

“How did I get here?”

You see, my original claim to fame is the song Take The Skinheads Bowling. How did the guy that wrote that song end up amongst such musical luminaries?

By way of introduction and explanation:

The song Take the Skinheads Bowling is the first single from a band I started in 1983 in Santa Cruz California.

The band is called Camper Van Beethoven. And it’s still around after 39 years.

I would describe that band as a psychedelic folk-rock garage band but we didn’t have a garage. We actually rehearsed in an attic.

Three flights of stairs… SVT.

Go figure.

Around the same time I started an indie record label to promote and distribute the records of Camper Van Beethoven. We later signed to Virgin Records.

I then started another band called Cracker. This band went on to have platinum hits. You’ve probably heard a few.

I produced albums by groups like Counting Crows.

I ran a recording studio complex for many years.

And in 2012 I began to speak out on behalf of artists at various technology conferences.

In particular I wrote a rather long essay, quite controversial at the time, “Meet the New Boss, Worse Than the Old Boss?”

In this essay I argued that the emerging digital landscape for music was one in which the new bosses (mostly tech companies) would pay nothing up front for our work, and very little on the back-end. I predicted this would shift most of the financial burden and risk onto those who could least afford it, the working class artist.

Unfortunately, my predictions were correct.

Now, It is important to note I am not hostile to technology and technology companies per se. Indeed I graduated with a degree in mathematics from UC Santa Cruz, and before Camper Van Beethoven became my full time job I worked as a computer programmer.

In addition I have had some success as a seed investor in technology startups. Since we are at NAMM I assume you all have heard of Reverb.com?

Technology is important in my life. It’s important to how I make music. Most other artists I know feel the same way. I don’t think technology companies and artists should always be at odds.

So let’s rewind for a second…

“I started a band in my attic (not garage) and later a record label.”

The foundational myth of Silicon Valley is the garage startup that becomes a global brand.
(Think Apple).

Look at my own startup: Camper Van Beethoven. A few kids in a faded beach town start a band. With a small personal loan from a singing cowboy-true story- we made a record and went from the attic to competing on a global scale in a few short years.

In the 80’s and 90s, this story was replicated, to different degrees, by hundreds of indie rock bands all across The United States.

And this story is not unique to the US or rock music. In1990 while traveling around Morocco I met many musicians who sold their recordings on cassettes in souks all across North Africa, the Middle East and southern Europe.

In 2014 I toured China as a cultural and Intellectual property ambassador for the US State Department. I met a Mongolian folk-rock ensemble that was doing essentially the same thing across central Asia.

If Silicon Valley is widely hailed for its entrepreneurial energy and innovation shouldn’t artists and bands also be praised and seen in the same light? We are certainly as creative.

We generate jobs and substantial economic activity. Some political scientists even think it was really American Pop Music that ended the cold war.

It has always seemed like something worth protecting to me.

Turning our attention back to this room, I see a similar entrepreneurial spirit in the boutique amp, instrument, and music software makers represented here by the National Music Council.

Conversely the big manufacturers and major rights holders represented here have problems that will feel familiar to artists:

The unlicensed use of their intellectual property and designs.

We have a lot in common.

Now this award is ostensibly given to me for my work as an artists rights activist. But I want to put that in a bigger context.

Many of you may have first heard of my efforts on behalf of artists when I filed a class action lawsuit against Spotify for failing to pay self published songwriters.

This, indeed, was a milestone as it gave songwriters the first opportunity in the digital age to extract some concessions from digital services.

Also the 2018 Music Modernization Act may be understood as an unintended consequence of this lawsuit.

But in the big picture, this lawsuit was a minor skirmish in what I call “the long war” to protect the rights of the creators.

And In this long war, I submit, I am just a foot soldier.

I look at the members of the National Music Council, whether music creators, unions, manufacturers, music associations, labels, educators or performing rights organizations and I can think of many many times when I have been aided in my efforts by the good folks from these organizations.

Because ultimately, we have this in common:

We are all fighting to protect our intellectual property

our copyrights,
our neighboring rights,
our patents,
our trademarks
and our designs

We fight to protect them from freeloaders that too often convince policymakers and courts that in the name of “innovation” they should have access to our Intellectual Property without permission or payment.

Sadly this is nothing new. There have always been and there will always be unscrupulous schemers that claim their exploitative business model is somehow “the future.”

The problem is, that in their vision of “the future” they get rich while little of that money trickles down to us. Those that create the intellectual property.

To paraphrase Led Zeppelin: The scam remains the same.

But it is here that the National Music Council has always been helpful. The council and its members provide the long lasting intellectual infrastructure that allows individual artists like myself, to fight.

To fight Today.

To fight 5 years from now

and to fight into the foreseeable future.

I humbly accept this award as someone who has simply followed in the footsteps of other council members and award recipients.

Keep up the good fight my friends,

You are truly on the right side of history.

Series 3 of the @ArtistRights Watch Podcast is here! Nik Patel, @DavidCLowery, @MusicTechPolicy and @KCEsq Discuss The Future of Frozen Mechanicals — Artist Rights Watch

Series 3 of The Artist Rights Watch Podcast is here! Nik, David, and Chris are joined by attorney Kevin Casini to talk about the latest with the Copyright Royalty Board and mechanical rates in the Phonorecords IV proceeding and discuss alternatives so songwriters are better represented at the CRB compared to the status quo. 

Check out the podcast here!! Available on all platforms! 

ARW Podcast S3E1: Unfreezing Mechanicals show notes

On the this episode of the Artist Rights Watch, Nik, David, and Chris sit down to talk about the recent developments with the CRB and mechanicals with lawyer and advocate, Kevin Casini. The Copyright Royalty Board who herein will more than likely be referred to as the CRB, ‘is a US system of three copyright reality judges who determines rates and terms for copyright statutory licenses and make determinations on distribution of statutory license royalties collected by the US Copyright Office.’ The US mechanical royalties are determined by the CRB and they meet every 5 years to determine the rate. Songwriter groups argued for a higher rate, and the CRB agreed. On March 29, 2022 the CRB agreed to unfreeze the $0.091 mechanical royalty rate which would commence a fight for a new rate in the 2023-2027 period. Over the past few years, there has been numerous criticisms about the constant rule for freezing the mechanical royalty rate. The royalty rate currently is $0.091 which was set back in 2006, and frankly, songwriters are making less  money due to economic inflation.

Show Notes and Background Materials

Copyright Royalty Board’s Rejection of NMPA, NSAI, Sony, Warner, Universal settlement

Survey Results from Songwriter Survey on Frozen Mechanicals

Selected Frozen Mechanicals Comments:

Rosanne Cash

Helienne Lindvall, David Lowery, Blake Morgan

David Poe

Abby North, Erin McAnally, Chelsea Crowell

Kevin Casini

NMPA, NSAI, Sony, Warner, Universal Comment with Copy of MOU4

Below are some links about Guest Kevin Casini:

Tweets by KCEsq

https://kcesq.medium.com

Below are some links for further reading:

https://completemusicupdate.com/article/us-copyright-royalty-board-rejects-proposal-to-keep-mechanical-royalty-on-discs-and-downloads-unchanged/embed/#?secret=CDnkY1xuT7#?secret=GoUJkY3oLr

https://variety.com/2022/music/news/copyright-royalty-board-crb-rate-1235219872/

https://musictechpolicy.com

https://www.crb.gov

https://variety.com/2022/music/news/songwriters-win-copyright-royalty-board-mechanical-royalties-1235259518/ 

https://www.musicbusinessworldwide.com/record-labels-and-publishers-ink-major-settlement-moving-from-9-1-cents-to-12-cents-per-track-for-us-mechanical-royalties-on-physical-sales1/

Below are our social links and terms of use:

Chris: http://www.christiancastle.com/chris-castle

David: https://twitter.com/davidclowery?s=20

https://www.instagram.com/davidclowery/

Nik: https://www.instagram.com/nikpatelmusic/

www.nikpatelmusic.com

Website: https://artistrightswatch.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/artistrightswatch

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ArtistRights?s=20

Terms of Use: https://artistrightswatchdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2021/01/arw-podcast-terms-of-use-v-1-i-1.pdf

Intro/Outro song: “All My Years” by Nik Patel

More Bizarre Goings On At the Copyright Royalty Board, this time with additional Google, fava beans and a fine Chianti

[This post first appeared on MusicTechPolicy]

by Chris Castle

One of the main beefs I’ve had with the Copyright Royalty Board is the secrecy in plain sight. Very few people follow what’s going on there, yet every time you move a rock, another toad hops out. Now that we are turning our attention to the streaming mechanical proceeding–which as we were told ad nauseam is the important one, don’t you know–the first thing we find is the shameful antics of Google on full display.

Remember–the Copyright Royalty Board split the rate proceedings in two. One was for the physical and download mechanical (paid by record companies) and one for the streaming mechanical (paid by digital music services), all under the compulsory license which was adopted for the huge benefit of each music user. And of course if it’s compulsory it takes (there’s that word again) away the rights of songwriters to bargain and set their own price without government intervention. (There are alternative ways to do this such as the Nordic model of extended collective licensing that David Lowery discussed in an important blog post a few years ago.)

The Copyright Royalty Judges are given the unenviable task of divining what a willing buyer would pay a willing seller in the open market. Of course that willing/willing rate is a complete legal fiction because in the novella of statutory rates there hasn’t been an open market for over 100 years which for rate setting purposes means there has never been an open market for songwriters. Why? Not sure, really, but there must have been an original sin, the novella tells us so. We can only assume that when that writer room door closes, those pesky songwriters just naturally start colluding, unlike Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Spotify and especially Google. Google who have never been prosecuted for violating the Controlled Substances Act for which they paid a $500,000,000 fine and who we let take over our children like they were a trustworthy television network or something.

So since there’s never been an open market because the government took the songwriters’ rights back in 1909 in this case (and 1941 in the case of the ASCAP consent decree), you can well imagine that a cottage industry of executives, lawyers and lobbyists have grown up to service the bizarre rate setting process that has totally lost their way in my view. It’s hard to believe when we read the shenanigans going on in front of the Judges that this is all designed to determine the value of songs. There are 38 lawyers billing time in the streaming proceeding which will raise the transaction cost of the proceeding to an absurd and Kafka-esque level, but it does help you understand why the lobbyists think that proceeding is so important–it’s definitely more important to them.

Which leads us to the extremely Googley discovery request that Google has filed and the Judges appear to have approved. In a nutshell, Google has said that they only way that the rates can be set is if the Judges force the National Music Publishers Association and the Nashville Songwriters Association International to turn over all to Google of your accounting statements and licenses so Google can determine if the past earnings back up the NMPA and NSAI royalty claims made by their many Lecterian lawyers.

But don’t feel bad–it’s not like they will be turning over the data to the public, just to Google. What a relief, right?

Here’s what the order actually says:

That’s right–Google wants “Music Publishers” to produce all the royalty statements for the most successful songwriters in the world to “test” whether songwriters are struggling financially. Given that this will involve many, many statements which probably have to have personally identifiable information redacted, it’s going to take many hours which is great for those who get paid by the hour but not so great for those who get paid by the song.

Is there no other way to determine whether mechanical royalties have declined to subsistence levels? Surely there must be, and you know what else? There’s also a way to test whether mechanical royalties have declined to below subsistence levels which is really the point here, right?

Yes, I got your test right here, soulless Google lawyers.

But wait, there’s more. Google also wants to raise transaction costs on songwriters by forcing the production of all “free market” licenses. (“Free market” benchmarks are themselves a laughable concept in a hugely distorted market that still suffers from the governments negligent wage and price control of a 2¢ rate from 1909 to 1978).

And given the parameters of the Copyright Royalty Board, the Judges seem to have granted Google’s request in part for the statements and entirely for the licenses.

You do have to ask whether there’s anything songwriters can do to keep their confidential royalty statements and license agreements out of the hands of the Leviathan of Mountain View. It does seem that there could be a process to intervene in the Phonorecords IV case to stop this from happening. Just because Google is trying to prove that songwriter income has not been decimated when we all know it has been does not seem to require the humiliation of having your royalty statements put on display. This is definitely something to speak about to your lawyer and your publisher.

This entire exchange is exceptionally bizarre because the “Copyright Owners” are the NMPA and NSAI, neither of whom own copyrights, send statements or enter licenses. And yet there seems to be an assumption that some group of publishers are bound by the order. I can only assume that the publishers who are on the receiving end of this order are the music publisher affiliates of the CRB participants at the group level of Sony, Universal and Warner, although the order doesn’t really demonstrate that connective tissue because…well, it doesn’t. Publisher affiliates are not participating and if the principle and policy is that every stand alone affiliate of a corporate parent is participating and subject to discovery because the corporate parent is…well, that’s an interesting proposition.

Before you heave a sigh of relieve that only the songwriters signed to a major will have their privacy invaded by the greatest privacy invader of all time, that would be Google hands down, just realize the cost of what can happen if you were to have the temerity to think you could participate in the Copyright Royalty Board. 

You can have one of the biggest corporations in commercial history that rips you off every minute of every day and essentially prints money in the public market that they use to destroy your rights and creations sick their army of soul-crushing lawyers on you to prove that songwriters are dying penniless because of Google’s income transfer. And still pay you a number that starts many decimal places to the right and laugh about it over steaks at The Palm with fava beans and a fine Chianti.

Keeping the Songwriter Survey Open!!

Thanks for the HUGE response to the songwriter survey on what you think the new unfrozen mechanical rate should be!! The response has been so strong we’re going to keep the survey open so more of you can participate.

This Survey Monkey questionnaire is anonymous and easy to take–3 minutes to complete–and you could really help a lot by giving your opinions on what you think the rate should be! We will post the results so everyone can see.

You can start the survey at this link. Thank you!