[This post first appeared on MusicTechPolicy]
By Chris Castle
As MTP readers will recall, the National Music Publishers Association and the Nashville Songwriters Association International purported to agree on behalf of a “consensus” that never seemed to materialize to extend the long-frozen 9.1¢ mechanical rate for physical and downloads in the form of a settlement agreement in the Copyright Royalty Board’s Phonorecords IV proceeding. I thought this deal reeked and so did a number of other people, including the Copyright Royalty Board itself which rejected the settlement.
To their great credit, Sony, Universal and Warner stepped up and agreed to offer all the world’s songwriters increased rates of 12¢ plus inflation indexing for the next five years which they didn’t have to do (and was a deal that the CRB hinted that they would find acceptable when they resoundingly rejected the first settlement). Assuming the Copyright Royalty Board accepts the deal—a step you might miss out from the press coverage–this had the effect of a quick end to a process the labels had every right to litigate at the CRB.
The other benefit to the settlement is that it should—if it doesn’t get screwed up again—it should take away a major argument that the digital retailers are using against songwriters in the streaming part of the Phonorecords IV proceeding. That argument is the most obvious negotiating tactic in the world: What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. The services are essentially saying that if the rates should be frozen when the labels are paying the mechanical (which they are on physical and downloads), then the rates should be frozen when the services are paying the mechanical (which the services are on streaming). And no inflation adjustment. Well, no kidding.
In one power move, the labels did something fair for songwriters and incidentally also helped publishers in spite of themselves by taking away a major argument from the digital retailers. Rather than play a schoolyard game of high/low bargaining and stretching out the process for another couple years, the labels cut to the chase and closed. Hopefully the CRB will agree (again, don’t forget that the CRB still has to approve the proposed deal.)
Do we still have bones to pick with the labels? Absolutely. Could the rate have been even more fair? Sure. Might it have been if the publishers had actually done their job and negotiated in the first place? Maybe. Probably. But they didn’t so we’ll never know. However, credit where credit’s due, the labels pulled this one out and saved the publishers’ bacon in spite of themselves.
I do have to note in passing that when you read the press coverage on the filing of the settlement, there’s not one US group with a press release today that actually picked up a pen and filed a comment at the CRB when they were needed and duty called. The awesome UK songwriter group Ivors Academy stepped up and bled with songwriters like Rosanne Cash, George Johnson, Helienne Lindvall, David Lowery and Blake Morgan and all the other commenters who took one for the team when it was unpopular to do so. And as that guy said, he who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.
You’ll hear a lot of hoorah about how streaming is what’s important from people who are trying to CYA today. Here’s a hot tip: IT’S ALL IMPORTANT IF IT’S YOUR MONEY. Why is that so hard to understand?
Which is why going forward all songwriters and all publishers need to be involved with the rate-setting proceedings at CRB including on streaming. The CRB knows this and acknowledges. I think the labels know this on their side.
The question is whether the publishers do. The announcement of this settlement proposal is both inauspicious and true to form. Remember—they had practically nothing to do with making the deal they celebrate today. But don’t let that stop anyone.
We need fairness at the Copyright Royalty Board. Notice I’m not using the word “transparency” which means whatever the speaker wants it to mean. I’m very specifically talking about a seat at the table not just for songwriters, but for independent labels and publishers as well as the majors. As Ann Richards used to say, if you’re not at the table you are on the menu, and this was a very, very close run thing in Phonorecords IV.
If it weren’t for all the people who commented negatively and resisted the rates that had been bootstrapped in the past and would have been again, I don’t know where songwriters would be today. You gave the Judges the truth, straight from the heart and they responded. So thank you, all of you. And thank you to the readers of MTP and The Trichordist who raised hell right along side. It’s a good day for everyone.
Remember–keep coming back because it works if you work it.