Who Are These Law Clerks, Anyway?

[This post first appeared on Artist Rights Watch]

By Chris Castle

If you’re not a lawyer, you may not be that familiar with law clerks. The title sounds very…well, clerical. But make no mistake, they are very powerful people who are largely unknown to clients but who are in the room with their judges, often every step of the way. As Wikipedia tells us:

law clerk or a judicial clerk is an individual—generally an attorney—who provides direct assistance and counsel to a judge in making legal determinations and in writing opinions by researching issues before the court. Judicial clerks often play significant roles in the formation of case law through their influence upon judges’ decisions.

Yet, we know virtually nothing about them from the outside. If your case is heard, wouldn’t you want to know about everyone who was influencing the outcome of your case?

There are ethical rules that cover judicial clerks, such as Maintaining the Public Trust: Ethics For Federal Judicial Law Clerks issued by the Judicial Conference Committee on Codes of Conduct which admonishes clerks that the rules apply to them, too:

During your clerkship, you will provide valuable assistance as your judge resolves disputes that are of great importance to the parties, and often to the public. The parties and the public accept judges’ rulings because they trust the system to be fair and impartial. Maintaining this trust is crucial to the continued success of our courts. That’s why, although you have many responsibilities that demand your attention, you must never lose sight of your ethical obligations.

While that all sounds good, how would anyone ever know exactly what the story is with the clerks who are writing opinions with their judge or justice that directly affect the outcome of your case. As the ethical rules clearly state:

Although many of your obligations are the same as those of other federal judicial employees, certain restrictions are more stringent because of your special position in relation to the judge. Some obligations continue after your service to the court concludes.

But again–how would you ever know? If you go to the bible of the revolving door, Open Secrets, you’ll notice someone is missing…the entire judicial branch of our government.

Let’s take the easy one: Conflicts of interest. When does a law clerk have a conflict of interest? The rulebook tells us:

Canon 3F(1) of the Code of Conduct advises judicial employees, including law clerks, to avoid conflicts of interest. Conflicts arise when you—or your spouse or other close relative—might be so personally or financially affected by a matter that a reasonable person would question your impartiality. 

Note the disjunct: “personally or financially affected.” Either can give rise to a conflict or a question as to the clerk’s impartiality.

Conflicts come in several flavors, but two biggies are actual conflicts and potential conflicts, very routine inquiries in any conflict check. The ethical rules for clerks give examples of each: For example, an actual conflict is “The firm where you plan to work after your clerkship serves as counsel in a matter before your judge”. “Firm” in this case presumably applies to the situation where a company where the clerk plans to work appears before the judge.

A potential conflict includes “An attorney you met and talked with at a social function appears to argue a motion before your judge.” It’s not a far reach to think that the example would include a former professor, amicus, or author of an amicus brief filed or to be filed in a case before your judge.

But the point is, how would the litigants ever know any of these situations were an issue. Who keeps track of who knows whom among the clerks cloistered away in the ivory tower?

Let’s take a concrete example from the Above the Law Supreme Court Watch blog which handicaps U.S. Supreme Court clerk hires:

Joshua Revesz (Yale 2017/Garland) will be clerking for Justice Kagan in OT 2020. If his distinctive surname rings a bell, perhaps you’ve heard of his famous father: Professor Richard “Ricky” Revesz, former Dean of NYU Law School, and a former Supreme Court clerk (OT 1984/Marshall).

Readers of ARW may also recognize the name from a different place: The deep and abiding controversy over the American Law Institute’s failing Restatement of Copyright project. Professor Revesz joined the ALI in 2014 right after the noted Lowery insulter, Spotify lawyer, Lessig mentee and all round anti-copyright advocate Christopher Jon Sprigman joined the NYU faculty in 2013, presumably under then-Dean Richard Revesz.

Somehow–we don’t know exactly how–of all the lawyers in all the world, how ALI Director Revesz chose Professor Sprigman to run the Restatement of Copyright project, an undertaking that by all reports is devoted to weakening copyright and expanding loopholes for Big Tech. How do we know this? Because Sprigman pitched Revesz on the idea very soon after Revesz took over at ALI.

And the rest is history with everyone from authors to the Congress criticizing the very idea of a Restatement of Copyright; indeed, Professor Peter Menell of the UC Berkeley law school and Professor Shyamkrishna Balganesh of Columbia law school wrote an extensive critique that “explains why perfunctory extension of the common law Restatement model to copyright law produces incoherent, misleading and seemingly biased results that risks undermining the legitimacy of the eventual product.”  (“The Curious Case of the Restatement of Copyright“).  In other words–it’s bad.

It will come as no surprise that I would go further–I think that is exactly the purpose of the Restatement (and Professor Samuelson’s Copyright Principles Project it descends from).

Hold on, you say–what does this have to do with Clerk Revesz and his judge, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, the former Dean of Harvard Law School (whose remarks at the 10 year anniversary celebration of the Berkman Center are illuminating (home to both Lessig and poker aficionado and alleged counsel to copyright infringer Mr. Tennenbaum, Charles Nesson)).  Maybe nothing.

But isn’t it the kind of thing you might want to know about someone who was in close contact with someone who was deciding the outcome of your case?  Or was in close contact with other clerks who were deciding the outcome of your case?  How would you ever know what contacts the clerks had with anyone who might be influencing their case or who had donated money to an institution that benefited the family member of someone who had influence over your case?  Either directly, over cocktail party conversation or the dinner table?  I am not implying any skulduggery here, it could all have been very innocent or appear so as conflicts often do.  

Did it happen?  We don’t know, because when we go to Open Secrets there’s no judicial branch disclosure.  Now certainly judges have to file public financial disclosures.  (That’s how we knew about Judge Ware’s employment by Santa Clara Law School when he presided over the Google Buzz cy pres and ordered $500,000 be given to that university–“now-retired federal district judge James Ware rewrote the settlement to direct $500,000 to Santa Clara Law School, where he taught. The money went to fund a center for ethics.”)

While their judges are obligated to public financial disclosures, clerks do not have such obligations to litigants, much less to the public.  Disposition of conflicts disclosed by clerks seem to be handled in chambers without consulting the litigants.

Given the number of clerks in chambers across the country, the possibility for conflicts are significant.  When a lawyer has a conflict of interest that is waivable, she must give the client the option to waive the conflict with informed consent.  But if the conflict is not waivable or the client refuses to waive, the lawyer must decline the representation.  

Is there a corollary for law clerks?  There definitely are rules and there definitely are processes.  But are the litigants ever asked if they consent to a conflicted clerk working on their case?

I’ve never heard of it.  Maybe there should be such a process.

Open Letter: Dozens of Artists, Musicians and Songwriters Seek Referral to UK Regulators to Oversee Streaming Royalties

[A bit of context: With all the riches being made from streaming, session musicians and vocalists make zero. And don’t forget that music made Daniel Ek a billionaire.]

Broken Record Campaign

Ivors Academy

Musicians Union

April 20, 2021

The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP
Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
W1A 2AA

Dear Prime Minister,

We write to you on behalf of today’s generation of artists, musicians and songwriters here in the UK.

For too long, streaming platforms, record labels and other internet giants have exploited performers and creators without rewarding them fairly.  We must put the value of music back where it belongs – in the hands of music makers.

Streaming is quickly replacing radio as our main means of music communication. However, the law has not kept up with the pace of technological change and, as a result, performers and songwriters do not enjoy the same protections as they do in radio.

Today’s musicians receive very little income from their performances – most featured artists receive tiny fractions of a US cent per stream and session musicians receive nothing at all.

To remedy this, only two words need to change in the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. This will modernise the law so that today’s performers receive a share of revenues, just like they enjoy in radio. It won’t cost the taxpayer a penny but will put more money in the pockets of UK taxpayers and raise revenues for public services like the NHS.

There is evidence of multinational corporations wielding extraordinary power and songwriters struggling as a result. An immediate government referral to the Competition and Markets Authority is the first step to address this. Songwriters earn 50% of radio revenues, but only 15% in streaming. We believe that in a truly free market the song will achieve greater value.

Ultimately though, we need a regulator to ensure the lawful and fair treatment of music makers. The UK has a proud history of protecting its producers, entrepreneurs and inventors. We believe British creators deserve the same protections as other industries whose work is devalued when exploited as a loss-leader.

By addressing these problems, we will make the UK the best place in the world to be a musician or a songwriter, allow recording studios and the UK session scene to thrive once again, strengthen our world leading cultural sector, allow the market for recorded music to flourish for listeners and creators, and unearth a new generation of talent.

We urge you to take these forward and ensure the music industry is part of your levelling-up agenda as we kickstart the post-Covid economic recovery.

Yours Sincerely,

Damon Albarn OBE

Lily Allen

Wolf Alice

Marc Almond OBE

Joan Armatrading CBE

David Arnold

Massive Attack

Jazzie B OBE

Adam Bainbridge (Kindness)

Emily Barker

Gary Barlow OBE

Geoff Barrow

Django Bates

Brian Bennett OBE

Fiona Bevan

Aflie Boe OBE

Billy Bragg

The Chemical Brothers

Kate Bush CBE

Melanie C

Eliza Carthy MBE

Martin Carthy MBE

Celeste

Guy Chambers

Mike Batt LVO

Don Black OBE 

Badly Drawn Boy

Chrissy Boy

Tim Burgess

Mairéad Carlin

Laura-Mary Carter

Nicky Chinn

Dame Sarah Connolly DBE

Phil Coulter 

Roger Daltrey CBE

Catherine Anne Davies (The Anchoress)

Ian Devaney

Chris Difford

Al Doyle

Anne Dudley

Brian Eno

Self Esteem

James Fagan

Paloma Faith

Marianne Faithfull

George Fenton

Rebecca Ferguson

Robert Fripp

Shy FX

Gabrielle

Peter Gabriel

Noel Gallagher

Guy Garvey

Bob Geldof KBE

Boy George

David Gilmour CBE

Nigel Godrich

Howard Goodall CBE

Jimi Goodwin

Graham Gouldman 

Tom Gray

Roger Greenaway OBE

Will Gregory

Ed Harcourt

Tony Hatch OBE

Richard Hawley

Justin Hayward

Fran Healy

Orlando Higginbottom

Jools Holland OBE, DL

Mick Hucknall

Crispin Hunt

Shabaka Hutchings

Eric Idle

John Paul Jones

Julian Joseph OBE

Kano

Linton Kwesi Johnson

Gary Kemp

Nancy Kerr

Richard Kerr

Soweto Kinch

Beverley Knight MBE

Mark Knopfler OBE

Annie Lennox OBE

Shaznay Lewis

Gary Lightbody OBE

Tasmin Little OBE

Calum MacColl

Roots Manuva

Laura Marling

Johnny Marr

Chris Martin

Claire Martin OBE

Cerys Matthews MBE

Sir Paul McCartney CH MBE

Horse McDonald

Thurston Moore

Gary “Mani” Mounfield

Mitch Murray CBE 

Field Music

Frank Musker 

Laura Mvula

Kate Nash

Stevie Nicks

Orbital

Roland Orzabal

Gary Osborne 

Jimmy Page OBE

Hannah Peel

Daniel Pemberton

Yannis Philippakis

Anna Phoebe

Phil Pickett 

Robert Plant CBE

Karine Polwart

Emily Portman

Chris Rea

Eddi Reader MBE

Sir Tim Rice 

Orphy Robinson MBE

Matthew Rose

Nitin Sawhney CBE

Anil Sebastian

Peggy Seeger

Nadine Shah

Feargal Sharkey OBE

Shura

Labi Siffre

Martin Simpson

Skin

Mike Skinner

Curt Smith

Fraser T Smith

Robert Smith

Sharleen Spiteri

Lisa Stansfield

Sting CBE

Suggs

Tony Swain 

Heidi Talbot

John Taylor

Phil Thornalley 

KT Tunstall

Ruby Turner MBE

Becky Unthank

Norma Waterson MBE

Cleveland Watkiss MBE

Jessie Ware

Bruce Welch OBE

Kitty Whately

Ricky Wilde

Olivia Williams

Daniel “Woody” Woodgate

Midge Ure OBE

Nikki Yeoh

Save the Date! January 14 at Noon CST, Zoom Panel with @musictechpolicy @northmusicgroup @sealeinthedeal for Independent Songwriters

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By Chris Castle

I’m grateful to Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts, Austin Texas Musicians and the Austin Music Foundation for hosting an information webinar next week on the impact of the new blanket mechanical license under the Music Modernization Act on independent songwriters. We will also cover the nuts and bolts of dealing with The MLC, Inc. and a unit on the Digital Licensee Coordinator.

I couldn’t be happier to have two great panelists in music publisher and song data solver Abby North and my fellow Austin music lawyer Gwen Seale.

While this panel has an Austin origin, the topics are not Austin-centric and will apply to all songwriters in the world just like the MLC does.

Please RSVP to Eventbrite if you think you might attend at this link and also take a moment to complete the anonymous 10 question MLC Awareness Questionnaire on Survey Monkey at this link. The Zoom code to join will be posted through Eventbrite.

I’ll be posting some other materials, but for those who want the more nitty gritty background, you can read this package of documents at this link.

What’s Good for Google is Not What’s Good for the USA: Supreme Court Brief of @davidclowery, @helienne, @theblakemorgan and @sgawrites in Google v. Oracle, Part 6

Google’s appeal of its major loss to Oracle on fair use is shaping up to be the most important copyright case of the year, if not the decade.  It could set fair use standards for years to come.  We’re going to be posting installments from the friend of the court brief that David, Helienne, Blake and The Songwriters Guild filed in the U.S. Supreme Court supporting Oracle in the Google v. Oracle fair use case.  This is the last installment.  We decided to omit the footnotes for this posting, but you can read the whole brief here.

Cover Page

Moreover, Amici believe that Google’s fair use expansion campaigns are designed to serve as a honeypot for Google’s data scraping business model that feeds its outsized profits from ads. Google likewise seems to promote expansion of the fair use doctrine as way to easily keep more videos on YouTube, while providing material support to its partners that allows them to outlast any songwriter or artist in the game of whack-a-mole under its copyright strike policies. No one is giving creators a shadowy milliondollar fund to defend against the misapplication of fair use.

Amicus Mr. Lowery summed it up in his 2014 testimony to the House Judiciary Committee:

I am not concerned with parody, commentary, criticism, documentary filmmakers, or research. These are legitimate fair use categories. I am concerned with the illegal copy that masquerades as fair use, but is really just a copy. This masquerade trivializes legitimate fair use categories and creates conflict where there need be none.

Scope of Fair Use at 22.

Unfortunately, Google manipulates fair use to extract value by monetizing verbatim  copies to the great disadvantage of creators who can little afford to fight back against the multi-national, trillion dollar corporation, and usually do not. Thus, independents
are caught without leverage in cases that rarely get to court.

The end result is that even where its use is “free,” Google’s interests are steadfastly commercial. Accordingly, the Federal Circuit was correct in finding that the nature and purpose of Google’s use was entirely commercial in nature.

III. GOOGLE’S PRIVATE INTERESTS ARE
NOT THE PUBLIC INTEREST.

The ultimate question in a fair use analysis is “whether, and how powerfully, a finding of fair use would serve or disserve the objectives of the copyright.” Leval at 1110–1111; see also Harper & Row, 471 U.S. at 546 (noting purpose of copyright is to give creators
“a fair return for their labors”).

Google’s only response to whether its use furthers the public interest—i.e., in promoting an effective system of copyright—is that allowing it to copy verbatim Oracle’s declaring code and structure would be “promoting software innovation.” Such verbatim copying is a “facile use of the scissors.” Folsom v. Marsh, 9 F. Cas. 342, 345 (C.C.D. Mass 1841) (Story, J.).

Yet what is good for Google is not synonymous with what is good for the public—no more than “[w]hat’s good for General Bullmoose is good for the USA.” Johnny Mercer and Gene De Paul, Li’l Abner (1956).  In fact, a ruling for Google would be “promoting” software innovation only in that the purported “innovation” would be furthering Google’s private
interest—i.e., using works without permission or a license fee.

This case again appears to be the latest in Google’s long-term strategy to use its market dominance and overwhelming commercial power to continually distort copyright exceptions, thereby artificially depressing the market price of copyrighted works.  Google’s proposed outcome would be yet another distortion. Were Google to prevail here, Amici expect Google (and its proxies) to throw its full weight behind such a ruling, far beyond the confines of its text. This case would become another totemic faux license or safe harbor that Google could use as a cudgel against creators and copyright owners.

Left unchecked, eventually the copyright distortions they seek—including in the case at bar—could nullify copyright, particularly for those who cannot afford to fight back or fear retaliation for doing so. Under the Google anti-copyright regime, exceptions would devour the rules of protection in whole, digesting art and culture along with them.

CONCLUSION

Amici respectfully suggest that the Court should consider whether a decision in favor of Google would merely “unleash” yet another weapon for Google’s private benefit, and whether Google’s infringement of Oracle’s declaring code and structure constitutes
“simple piracy” for which the company should most certainly be held accountable.

This Court should affirm the decision of the Federal Circuit below.
Respectfully submitted,
CHARLES J. SANDERS
Counsel of Record
29 KINGS GRANT WAY
BRIARCLIFF, NEW YORK 10510
(914) 366-6642
cjs@csanderslaw.com

CHRISTIAN CASTLE
CHRISTIAN L. CASTLE, ATTORNEYS
9600 GREAT HILLS TRAIL
SUITE 150W
AUSTIN, TEXAS 78759
(512) 420-2200
asst1@christiancastle.com
Counsel for Amici Curiae

 

TikTok Gets an NMPA Special Out the Back Door as the FBI Comes in the Front Door

dogs-playing-poker

A Friend in Need

It’s becoming more apparent with each passing day that TikTok is about to get shut down by the U.S. Government for any one of a variety of crimes like it has been in India and other countries.  Which means that they are a perfect candidate for an “NMPA Special” which is where a handful of insiders decide on the terms and a pool of money is paid by the infringer to the NMPA for what amounts to a promise not to sue the infringer by the insiders and whatever useful idiots the NMPA can get to opt in to their deal.  (Or at least the deal they tell you about–and remember that some running dogs are more equal than others.)

Then some impenetrable claiming portal is set up for the average dog to “claim” a share of a revenue pool they had nothing to do with negotiating while being forced to give up any rights to sue (because the last thing that the NMPA wants is getting shown up again by a David Lowery, Melissa Ferrick, Randall Wixen or anyone represented by Richard Busch), and then the money just kind of disappears.  The amount of the pool is always so low it makes you wonder if that’s all there is, but in any event it has a distorting effect on the market place to drive down the rates paid to songwriters.

In a world where Cox Communications, a stupid but largely legitimate company, pays $1 billion for copyright infringement on a handful of copyrights, TikTok should pay $1 billion to get a meeting.  And if the FBI is right that TikTok is a front for the Chinese Communist Party, they could easily pay $1 billion for a meeting.  Anyone want to bet the over/under that the NMPA settlement is less than $1 billion?

How much the NMPA gets to keep out of the gross on the front end or the unclaimed after the claiming period expires is never disclosed and as you will see, the NMPA deal with TikTok, like all other NMPA deals, only applies to NMPA members.  So if you want to participate, you most likely will have to join the NMPA and pay a fee (sometimes based on market share).  And as came up in The MLC designation, The NMPA members may have a large market share of revenue but not necessarily on the number of songs.

Here’s the twist:  TikTok has no way to track what music has been used, much less account for it.   TikTok has no Content-ID type technology or control over what music is used so has no way to count or monitor what uses are made of which songs. So unless that gets fixed,  it’s a bit unclear exactly what you would be claiming from the NMPA’s claiming portal  Based on the NMPA’s YouTube and Spotify settlement portals, this one is almost certainly going to be absolute shite.

So what is the deal?  According to MusicAlly:

The deal “accounts for TikTok’s past use of musical works and sets up a forward-looking partnership” according to the announcement.

“This new partnership will give NMPA members the ability to opt-in to a licensing framework that allows them to benefit from their works included on TikTok and is effective retroactively as of May 1, 2020.

The deal comes a day after TikTok announced a licensing deal with independent distributor Believe, and its TuneCore subsidiary.

“We are pleased to find a way forward with TikTok which benefits songwriters and publishers and offers them critical compensation for their work,” said NMPA boss David Israelite.

“Music is an important part of apps like TikTok which merge songs with expression and popularise new music while also giving new life to classic songs. This agreement respects the work of creators and gives them a way to be paid for their essential contributions to the platform.”

That might be true–but remember, there’s nothing in it for anyone who is not an NMPA member.  And a lot of people are not NMPA members regardless of what they tell judges.  So what happens to the great unwashed who are not NMPA members?  Unclear, but NMPA has likely set the market rate for TikTok settlements, so unless you plan on suing, they’ll just jam that deal down your throat.  Which works out well for TikTok.

But some lobbyist at TikTok has a friend when they are in need.

Guest Post: Follow the Money: YouTube’s Failure to Pay Retroactively Gives “Conversion Rate” a Whole New Meaning

[Cross-posted from MusicTechPolicy]

by Chris Castle

Conversion

A performance metric one hears from the digerati is the term “conversion rate.”   “Conversion rate” for a streaming service usually means the rate at which users of an ad-supported free service are “converted” to paying users.  That motivation is usually because they are so fed up with the advertising they are willing to pay.  (This was one of the many failed pitches from Spotify before people stopped trying to justify hanging on until the IPO riches flowed in.)

YouTube, of course, has never been too terribly interested in anything that moves users away from advertising.  That resistance (and potential internal competition between the massive ad sales team and the ever changing YouTube managers), may explain the many failed efforts at launching a YouTube subscription service by a company that knows more about user behavior than anyone in history.  They just couldn’t seem to get it right for the longest time.  You don’t suppose that YouTube’s apparent lack of interest in getting large numbers of users to substitute away from free to subscription was because YouTube made a lot more money from the ads than they ever would from the subscriptions?

One of the ways that YouTube (and Google) makes money from advertising is by taking money that is not theirs to take (sometimes called “monetizing” content).  The civil law calls that act a claim of “conversion” and   the criminal law calls it the crime of “theft”.  Conversion and theft are two sides of the same coin and often one implies the other, albeit with different burdens of proof.

theft

YouTube’s Content ID tool is a way for copyright owners to block or permit advertising on user-generated content that includes their copyrights, often music.  Users of Content ID will tell you that it works just well enough that Google can say it is an effective tool, but even with Content ID music still gets through (and is often monetized by YouTube) for a variety of reasons.  This requires time consuming and costly manual searches.  Companies like AdRev make it a bit easier, but are essentially third party Content ID users.  These companies are compensated with a commission on infringing works they find on YouTube that they convert–there’s that word again–from infringing to monetized, which means that YouTube now splits the advertising revenue with the copyright owners who in turn split their share with an AdRev.

But see what happened there?  If you have Content ID, you can block on the upload some of the time, or you can do a search.  If you don’t have Content ID (see Maria Schneider’s class action) then you can’t block on the upload only chase the infringements manually.  But quite rightly from an economic perspective, companies like AdRev are not that interested in doing that work on a rev share basis if there’s no rev share when you block.

Here’s the point–you have a property right in your copyright.  You have a property right to license that copyright.  Any revenue derived from exploitations of that copyright is your money.  YouTube uses its monopoly power to impose a deal to monetize your copyright (under duress, of course, due to whack a mole DMCA).  That deal involves a revenue share.  (Let’s just assume you decide to take the King’s shilling and accept Google’s deal under duress which you shouldn’t have to do and which may not even be enforceable.)

The question is, when should that revenue share attach–when they start exploiting your copyright in violation of your property rights or when you catch them doing it.  And if (1) you catch them violating your property rights and (2) agree to monetize, when should they pay you your agreed upon share of the revenue from monetizing?  Should they pay retroactively to the first exploitation?  Or only prospectively after you catch them?

The correct answer is they should pay retroactively.  But they don’t.  They just keep the money.  For millions of infringements.  And they get away with it because of their monopoly power, which leaves one choice most artists won’t make, which is to sue them like Maria has.

Remember–Content ID operates largely like any other fingerprinting tool.  (Psychoacoustic fingerprinting is old technology–remember Jonesy in “The Hunt for Red October”?  That’s fingerprinting.  A “fingerprint” is simply a mathematical rendering of the waveform of an audio file.)

There is a reference databases of recordings that are “known knowns” (which is why it is important to be included in the Content ID database as Maria Schneider correctly points out in her class action.)  The fingerprinting tool encounters a new file, takes a fingerprint, then looks for a match in the reference database and reports a result that triggers an action.  Typically, fingerprinting tools are binary:  match or no match.  What happens after the tool finds a match is entirely in the control of the operator.  (So while the tool could have a match rate of 90%, the operator could report a random number of matches or a fixed number of matches, like one every ten, or one every 1000.  That means 90% accuracy could turn into a much lesser percentage of reported matches.  It’s important to know how many matches trigger an action.)

Having had some experience with audio fingerprints, I think you will find that once a fingerprint is in the reference database, the recognition tool (Content ID in this case) will spot the reference fingerprint a very, very high percentage of the time.  The fingerprinting tool I’m most aware of caught matches over 90% of the time.  I can’t imagine that a tool developed by the biggest technology company in commercial history would do less–unless they wanted it to.  Remember, this is not taking into account re-records unless the re-record is itself in the database, or pitch bends.  This is an exact match which is very common use of Content ID.  (See Maria’s class action complaint, and Kerry Muzzey has a great description of this in his recent Senate testimony.)

If Content ID is actually missing matches to known knowns on the upload (assuming exact matching is possible), I find it very odd that Content ID is missing much.  Maybe it’s not, but one way to find out is to force Google to reveal the inner workings through discovery in the class action case.

But if Content ID does miss exact matches, it would be interesting to know what percentage of those misses end up being monetized, and of those, what percentage end up getting caught later by a subsequent use of Content ID or a manual investigative process.  This will give an idea of the scale of the retroactive payment issue.

As Maria rightly points out, it is virtually impossible for an artist or film maker without Content ID to catch YouTube monetizing infringing works.  But I think the analysis has to go a step further–even if you have Content ID, at the moment you catch YouTube monetizing illegal versions, you are in no different position than the artist who lacks access to the Content ID tool.

Both have the same problem–YouTube is profiting from illegal copies.  If when you catch them you then elect to monetize, YouTube will pay you going forward, i.e., prospectively.  But I do not believe they will pay you retroactivelyfor the illegal use.  (There is a rumor that some music publishers do get paid retroactively under some settlement, but that needs to be confirmed.)

That means that YouTube is directly profiting from piracy for the retroactive views which could total into the hundreds of millions per day given the massive number of daily views on YouTube.  If you elect to monetize due to YouTube’s monopoly power, you are essentially releasing them from liability under duress.  If you catch them.

So YouTube takes your property, monetizes it, and refuses to pay you for how much they made before you caught them if you ever do catch them.  They dare you to sue them because you would be taking on the biggest company in commercial history that controls 90% of the access to information in the world and routinely defies governments.  Not everyone has the spine of Maria Schneider.

Failing to license at all or failing to pay retroactively means that YouTube profits from piracy by converting your property to their own.  And as Maria rightly points out, Google scrapes user data through non-display uses in the background even if YouTube is not monetizing overtly which they then use to compile user profiles in “millions of buckets” (which dribbled out before Judge Koh in the Gmail litigation (In Re: Google, Inc. Gmail Litigation,  Case No. 13-MD-02430-LHK, (U.S.D.C. N.D. California, San Jose Division, Sept. 26, 2013)).

In either case, the value of the amount converted or stolen should rightly include the value of these user profiles scraped in the background, as well as the advertising revenue.

And don’t forget that Google is controlled by Larry Page, Sergei Brin, and Eric Schmidt through their “supervoting” shares of stock.  It’s hard to believe that this YouTube policy was created without their blessing.

The simplest move for Google would be to simply pay both retroactively and (if the copyright owner elects to monetize) prospectively.  Otherwise, it seems like a huge number of crimes are going on in a very planned and organized way dreamed up by YouTube and Google employees.  “Dreamed up” is also called a conspiracy, and if there’s an actual conspiracy it’s not a theory (which came up in an interesting trade secret misappropriation RICO case against Google they managed to wriggle out of, at least for the moment).

The law has another word for organized theft at scale–we sometimes call it “racketeering.”

racketeering

 

Guest Post: The Royal Scam: Content ID and Google’s Massive Profits From Piracy and Crime

By Chris Castle

Google and YouTube have managed to create a scam that has gone both largely undetected and largely unpunished for a decade–illicit activity that can be both seen and quantified through the sale of advertising and is also unseen and unquantified through data scraping in the background.  (I leave it to you to speculate which is more valuable.)

It is rare for Google to get caught like they were with the massive multi-agency sting operation and grand jury investigation by the then-U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island that led to the $500,000,000 punishment and non prosecution agreement in 2011.  (Which led to a very expensive shareholder lawsuit against Google’s board of directors and bizarre settlement.  We’ll come back to the board of directors issue here.)

If you had to put your finger on a moment in time that Google began buying Washington in earnest, it was this sting.  It was also the closest that Larry Page ever came to going to prison with all its earthly delights.  That evidently got his attention.

Google has also faced down civil RICO claims for racketeering through the theft of intellectual property.  The last reported RICO case against Google offers a checklist for how to make a civil RICO claim stick against the Leviathan of Mountain View.  I like the YouTube case a lot better than the inventor’s case they beat back.

But most of the time Google just keeps the money when they get caught.  A prime example is YouTube’s standard practice of refusing to pay a revenue share retroactively after you catch them infringing your work using Content ID.  That unjust enrichment creates an incentive to sharply limit the number of artists or songwriters who get access to Content ID in the first place.  I think this is why Google massively overreacted to Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood’s Civil Investigate Demand and subpoena that they never did respond to.  Maybe they were covering up the same crimes that got them prosecuted in Rhode Island and they did not want to go through that again.

And therein lies the rub and our topic today:  If Google never gets caught, Google quietly keeps all the money.   For our world, this happens because they’ve artificially limited the tools that independent creators can use to catch the massive infringements.  And even if the majors and a handful of independents get the Content ID tool, YouTube still has the incentive to make Content ID just good enough that they can say it works, but not so good as to actually stop the infringement before it starts.

The majors using Content ID have to employ still other means to catch them, sometimes manually, at great cost.  In fact, you have to wonder if net-net the total costs of administering the YouTube deals actually exceeds the minimum guarantee and royalty payable.  Those tools are simply beyond the reach of the creators, even the few who YouTube grants access to Content ID.

And of course, any user of Content ID (big or small) has to sign up to the take-it or leave-it shakedown deal that limits what you can do about it when you catch them.  Which is just another form of the protection rackets.

This criminal enterprise comes in two flavors (at least):  Ad sales for illegal products (like the drugs, counterfeit tickets and the like), and selling legitimate advertising around content that Google knows or should have known was illegal (like YouTube’s monetization of infringing works).  And, of course, Google scrapes data in the background on all these criminal activities to its great–and secret–profit.

As we saw with the drugs case, Google knew exactly what it was doing, and I’m not willing to believe their rudderless ad sales teams don’t also know exactly what they are doing (remember Google’s ad sales team gave credit terms to infringers, and the drugs sting operation also shows that they brainstormed many criminal dodges to deceive Google’s own best practices team).

What little evidence we can lay hands on in the open source demonstrates that Google must know very well that it engages in criminal behavior–why else was Eric Schmidt advised by then-counsel David Drummond to refuse to answer Senator John Cornyn’s questions regarding the drugs case when Schmidt testified before a 2011 Senate Antitrust Subcommittee hearing?  (Also known as “taking the Fifth.”)  After engaging in a weak attempt at misdirection.  Did they think this question wouldn’t come up so didn’t prepare for it?  I doubt that very much.  (If they cooked up this story without the lawyers, this might well have been a conspiracy.  Attorneys take note:  Crime/fraud execution?)

schmidt senate

Eric Schmidt Takes the Fifth on drugs case to Senator John Cornyn: ” I have been advised — unfortunately, I’m not allowed to go into any of the details and I apologize, Senator”

Now that the U.S. Senate is investigating the effectiveness of the safe harbors under DMCA, this would be a good time for the Department of Justice to investigate Google’s business practices and potential criminal activities.  Smells like RICO to me.

As independent composer (and MTP guest poster) Kerry Muzzey highlighted in his recent testimony before the United States Senate regarding Content ID:

My name is Kerry Muzzey, and I am a film and television and modern classical composer.

I am one of the very few independent artists who has access to YouTube’s Content ID system; and most of my experience with notice and takedown has been on YouTube. Content ID has become a core piece of my licensing business: it is the x-ray that reveals the theft of my music to me. This is why I am also nervous about speaking out today – because I fear retaliation by YouTube and Google. I am concerned that they may take Content ID away from me for raising my concerns publicly. The technology behind Content ID is nothing short of brilliant, and I don’t want to lose access to it.

Growing up, my mom always said: “You’re not allowed to complain unless you’re gonna do something about it.” Senators, my being here today is my “doing something about it.” Today, I have the most unique opportunity I have ever had in my lifetime. I have the opportunity to ask Members of my United States Senate to fix a broken law.

Let’s also not forget the way Google is governed (as is Facebook, Spotify and many others).   Larry Page, Sergei Brin and Eric Schmidt hold a special class of  “supervoting” shares, what SEC Commissioner Robert Jackson has called “corporate royalty”.

These insiders get 10 votes for every one share they own of a special class of supervoting stock.  This means that the insiders control over 60% of the voting stock and win all shareholder votes—including votes to appoint the board of directors.

Supervoting shares give insiders absolute control of Google–one of the most successful public companies in commercial history.  Because they control every aspect of Google’s operations, Google truly is their “alter ego.”  One purpose of Google’s lobbying spend must be to keep the corporate royalty out of prison.

These supervoting Google Class B shares are not available to the public.  The public can buy two classes of stock:  GOOGL shares are Class A (one vote per share) and GOOG shares are Class C (no votes per share).  (GOOG shares were issued in a dividend to GOOGL holders.)  GOOGL shares typically trade slightly higher than GOOG which may demonstrate that the market has priced in a lack of meaningful voting rights in GOOGL.

It should not be surprising that Google shareholder meetings are a one-way communication event. The supervoting corporate royalty tell the other shareholders how things are going to be and vote down any move by GOOGL holders to change the status quo—like converting supervoting shares into one share one vote.  As Floyd Norris reported in his New York Times “Economix” column, “Rarely has a shareholder vote been less suspenseful.”

So Google’s profit from evil is not an accident.  If Congress wants to fix the DMCA, let’s fix all of it.  And as U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha discovered ten years ago, that requires a grand jury.

 

Is @MusicReports License Pitch for @OnePeloton the Equivalent of a Poor Person’s Class Action Settlement–Without Court Supervision?

You may have gotten a version of this letter (below) from MusicReports on behalf of their new client Peloton.  (How MRI came to be involved may have more to do with some of the unsavory aspects of the NMPA/HFA conduct alleged by Peloton than it does with the apparent fact that HFA hasn’t made arrangements to have paper NOIs and statements depending on which side of the moral hazard the issue comes up.)  As Billboard also reported:

In its April 30, 2019, counterclaim, Peloton accused the publishers of anti-competitive behavior by engaging in a “coordinated effort” to fix prices and alleged that the National Music Publishers Association had conspired to prevent it from striking deals with the individual companies. A judge though dismissed Peloton’s counterclaims in January.

Which doesn’t mean that Peloton couldn’t appeal that decision, and that also doesn’t mean that NMPA probably really didn’t want them to.  Which may explain why nobody is crowing about the money settlement.

Still, there’s a real question about how this MRI offer even came up in the first place.  Both the Peloton case and the settlement of that case involves only 14 NMPA publishers according to Billboard, but carries the usual false spin no doubt coming from NMPA:

Peloton and The National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA), the trade association representing all American music publishers and their songwriting partners, announced today (Feb. 27) that they have reached an agreement to  “fully settled the litigation brought last year by 14 NMPA members.”

So for starters, this line is entirely false: NMPA does not represent “all American music publishers and their songwriting partners“.  No matter now much aspirational slack you’re willing to cut someone who claims to represent you when they don’t (also known as gaslighting), there’s one context where you want to be really clear about that stuff–settling lawsuits in your name.  This isn’t the first time they’ve been called on the issue–it also came up in the current appeal of the streaming mechanical rates (see George Johnson papers, “‘Copyright Owners’ [is a t]erm fashioned by NSAI and NMPA, that falsely suggests that they represent all copyright owners, rather than a significant
market share”.)  NMPA has gotten in the nasty habit of telling Congress and the Courts they represent “all American music publishers and their songwriting partners.”  So that’s bullshit for starters.  Now what’s that thing that happens when you mislead a court about standing….?  The memory will jog eventually.

But that issue is brutally relevant here because of the next question:  How did a case involving 14 individual publishers get changed into what is essentially a class action settlement without a fairness hearing or court supervision?  On whose authority?  Of course, Peloton is free to make a voluntary future-facing license offer to anyone any time, but it’s interesting timing.

We haven’t drilled down on the court filings in the case–that’s coming.  But we can only assume that MRI’s offer on behalf of Peloton is phrased the way it is because Peloton did not want NMPA or HFA to be involved in the licensing pitch or the administration of the licensing funds (you’ll see why in a minute).  We haven’t seen the actual license agreement from MRI, but based on the deal points in their pitch letter, it does not appear that (1) the license is a settlement of past claims (but check that issue closely if you decide to opt in as it may be masquerading down in the boilerplate), and (2) there is a pool of money that is to be distributed to those who opt in–and if the pool is not paid out in full, the balance of the pool will be retained by Peloton and is not going to revert to the NMPA (or its members).  In other words, it’s not an MLC-style black box.

By using this pool system, Peloton is able to cap their ultimate royalty payout for indies.  For example, if the deal you never see with the 14 NMPA publishers (or others who have a direct deal) is a pay per play structure with no cap, and MRI offers you a share of a pool, there’s no cap in the pay per click flat rate structure and there is a cap in the pool.  In fact, if you are getting a share of a pool that’s offered to tens of thousands of publishers, you may eventually start to go backwards once you hit the pool cap.  Why?  Because the more publishers that opt in, the smaller the share of the pool for any one song.  Alternatively, the more hits there are, the smaller the share of the pool for the less popular songs.  That may never happen, but it’s worth noting.  That’s why this is kind of like a poor person’s  class settlement without a fairness hearing.  (Also why we have long advocated a per-play rate with no pool.)

And of course remember that this settlement only covers songs.  Songwriter artists, ask how Peloton comes to license your sound recordings or be careful that the MRI song license isn’t masquerading as a sound recording license, too.  There’s a few possible answers to that question, but be sure to ask.

Here’s the letter, we highlighted some stuff that requires futher explanation by Peloton:

Dear Publisher,

We sincerely hope everyone is keeping safe and well in these challenging times.

We are contacting you on behalf of our client, Peloton Interactive, Inc. (“Peloton”), with a license opportunity for their streamed fitness content solution, which allows subscribers to access world class instructor-led exercise and meditation classes through Peloton hardware devices and digital platforms.

This offer is the opportunity for your catalog to be featured in a platform that is part of a growing and supportive community.  [What does “featured” mean?  Can you be non-featured?]

Founded in 2012 and headquartered in New York, Peloton is the largest interactive platform that brings the energy and benefits of studio-style workouts to the convenience and comfort of home. With hundreds of classes produced monthly across twelve fitness disciplines, and a library of thousands of on-demand classes [that include thousands of songs] taught by a roster of elite instructors, Peloton delivers real-time motivation and curated playlists from the world’s greatest artists and writers.  [This sounds like pop hits, right?]  The brand’s immersive content is accessible through the Peloton Bike, the Peloton Tread, and the Peloton App, which is available for both iOS and Android, accessible via most tablets, mobile devices and computers[How is that different than webcasting or Spotify?]

Peloton is changing the way people think about health and wellness and are motivated to work out, and music is a key component of their programming, helping the instructors deliver engaging and inspirational classes in Peloton’s home fitness ecosystem. With over 2,000,000 monthly users and a comprehensive, socially-connected experience geared towards helping members reach their personal fitness potential, each class is designed to be both efficient and irresistible.  [If music is a key component…they must be paying a lot?]

For more information, visit http://www.onepeloton.com.

The main deal points of Peloton’s license offer are as follows [what are the others?]:

Grant of Rights:  Peloton is seeking the right to create, store, transmit, and publicly perform compositions in and in connection with fitness videos on its hardware and digital platforms.  [How is this not a public facing music service?]

Royalty:  Licensor’s share of two revenue pools, one based on plays of your compositionsby users of the Peloton Bikes, Peloton Tread, and other “hardware,” and the other based on plays of your compositions by users of the Peloton App, each of which are calculated at different rates depending on currency of the territory involved (please see the license for details).  [Why do the rates depend on the currency?  How are these tracked?  Probably not very well since they got sued.]

Accounting & Payment:  60 days following the applicable calendar quarter. [60 days?  60?  Really?  And why not monthly? They left out an audit right, check the license.  We can almost guaranteed there is no audit right.]

Territory:  Worldwide [how does this work with foreign societies?]

Term:  Three years following the Effective Date with one year auto-renewals.

Takedown Rights:  As soon as possible, but in no event later than 30 days of receipt of notice or the identification of the relevant Composition; provided, that the takedown request is made on a non-discriminatory basis. [This is essentially a waiver of statutory DMCA takedown rights (if DMCA even applies to Peloton) and creates a new safe harbor for Peloton.  Bad bad bad….]

To review and consider Peloton’s license offer:

Click HERE to log into your MusicReports.com account and review the proposed license agreement. If it is acceptable to you, simply check the box to confirm you have read the agreement, then click the “I Agree” button to accept the terms. You can then download a full copy of the agreement from the “My Licenses” page in your account.

If you need help accessing your account or setting up an account for the first time, contact RoyaltyServices@MusicReports.com

If you have any questions specifically about the opt-in license offer, please send your inquiry to LicenseOffers@MusicReports.com

Best regards,
Music Reports, Inc.

What it looks like is that Peloton is making a pitch that is not approved by any court that is going out to all the publishers (and indie songwriters) that are not represented by NMPA.  Which based on the Spotify, pending and unmatched and YouTube settlements implies that there may–may–be another bucket of settlements that the NMPA did have the authority to make that were both retroactive and future licenses.  But you’ll never know that.

The fact of the Peloton offer is further confirmation of the reality that the NMPA does not “represent” (as in have the authority to speak or negotiate for)  “all” songwriters and publishers.  If they did, wouldn’t this be structured like the Spotify and pending and unmatched settlements?

The really great news is that the head of music for Peloton is going to be speaking at the AIMP webinar today and hopefully he can answer these questions.  Starting with whether Peloton infringed indie publishers copyrights.

Reality is that Peloton is trying hard to get it right, and should never have been sued in the first place, particularly when there are actual criminals like TikTok in the market that has no publishing licenses whatsoever.  There’s where your litigation budget should be getting spent, not chasing exercise bikes.