Guest Post: @musictechsolve: Betting on the House: Issues that House Judiciary Should Investigate Against Google–End Supervoting Shares for Publicly Traded Companies

by Chris Castle

The House Judiciary Committee announced recently that it was opening an antitrust investigation into “tech giants” including Google.  Chairman Jerry Nadler said:

[T]here is growing evidence that a handful of gatekeepers have come to capture control over key arteries of online commerce, content, and communications…Given the growing tide of concentration and consolidation across our economy, it is vital that we investigate the current state of competition in digital markets and the health of the antitrust laws.

We’re going to do a series of posts about some issues Chairman Nadler should consider in the Judiciary Committee’s review of Big Tech business practices.  These posts will cover issues that relate both to Google as well as Facebook, Spotify and some others.  Let’s start with reforming corporate governance and bring eyesight to the willfully blind.

1.   One Share, One Vote, Not Ten Votes for the Special People:  Anyone in the music business has had just about enough of government oversight from the consent decrees to rate setting to the Music Modernization Act, so I don’t recommend it as a solution in general.  But–in the absence of marketplace transparency, the government is about the only place to go to bring reforms to well-heeled corporations.  So rather than ask the government to fix specific problems on an ad hoc basis, the government would do well to ask what causes the market to fail as it clearly has with Google.  Then rip out that problem root and branch.

The first question to ask when confronted with all of Google’s overreach is where was the board?  That’s an easy question to answer in Google’s case–they were in the pockets of the insiders as you will see.  But we ask that question because corporate boards of directors are supposed to be the first line of oversight to keep companies, especially publicly traded companies, from running off of the rails.

In Google’s case, the core problem is both easy to find and (I hope) easy to fix.  It lies in the voting structure of the shareholders.  Shareholder rights and corporate charters are state law matters and don’t relate to the federal government, but–the federal government does have a say about who gets to sell shares to the public. (For those reading along at home, I’m thinking of the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 under the jurisdiction of the Securities and Exchange Commission.)

The federal government also has an interest in protecting those who purchase the shares of publicly traded corporations.  It is this nexus that gives the House Judiciary Committee clear oversight authority over the corporate structure of at least publicly traded corporations.  Once a start up decides to feed from the trough of the public’s money, they should expect to answer to their public shareholders.

While anti-coup d’etat provisions might make sense for private companies whose investors are sophisticated financiers, or newspapers seeking to retain editorial independence, once that company is publicly traded a bald discrepancy that simply mandates voting power to the insiders forever seems like it has to go.  And as we have seen with Google, the lack of corporate oversight has resulted in unbelievable arrogance and a complete failure of corporate responsibility.  And worse yet, because Google got away with it, lots of other tech companies follow essentially the same model (including Facebook, Spotify and Linkedin).

Take stock buy backs for example, such as the $1 billion stock buy back announced by Spotify.  It must also be said that stock buybacks approved by a board where insiders who benefit from the buyback have supervoting shares and control the board is a practice that reeks to high heaven.  Buybacks and dual class supervoting shares have been widely criticized including by Securities and Exchange Commission Commissioner Robert Jackson who is also a critic of supervoting shares.

So how did Google come to give control to its insiders, essentially forever?  Google’s supervoting structure started when Google was a private company as a way for the founders to preserve control and avoid venture capital investors pushing them around.

OK, fine, I understand that. But once Google went public with their IPO that made those same insiders billionaires several times over, why should the insiders keep that level of control?

You may ask how that supervoting stock works?

Google (which is really its parent company, Alphabet) trades under two ticker symbols on the  NASDAQ: GOOGL Class A and GOOG Class C.

Oops.  What happened to Class B?  Ay, there’s the rub.

Class B shares are not publicly traded and are held by insiders only.  But as you will see, they control every aspect of the company.  So how do Google’s insiders get this share structure?  There’s actually a simple answer.  Class A shares (GOOGL) get one vote per share, Class B shares get 10 votes per share and Class C shares (GOOG) get no votes.

That’s right–Class B shares cannot be purchased and their holders get 10 times the voting power of the Class A holders, often called “supervoting” shares, because their super power is…well…voting.  (When sold, Class B shares convert to Class A shares.)

The Class C shares were created as part of a 1:1 stock split that doubled the number of shares, halfed the price per share, but resulted in no change of the voting power of the Class A and C shareholders.  Class A holders got double the shares but half the voting power post-split.

When the dust settled, the Google/Alphabet voting capitalization table looked something like this:

Class A: 298 million shares and 298 million votes, or roughly 40% of the voting power with votes counting 1:1.

Class B: 47 million shares and 470 million votes, or roughly 60% of the voting power with votes counting 10:1.

What this also means is that the holders of Class B shares voting as a bloc will never–and I mean never–be outvoted at a shareholder meeting, their board of directors will never be challenged much less replaced and shareholder meetings are a one way communication event where the insiders tell the stockholders how the insiders will spend their money.

Who controls the Class B shares?  I culled out some numbers for individual holders which may not be entirely accurate, but the individual holders are who you would expect.  These numbers shift around a bit depending on whose sold what (if you want to drill down, you can check the SEC’s Form 4 filings, such as this one for Sergey Brin).  These are the people that Commissioner Jackson might call the “corporate royalty“:

Larry Page: 20 million shares (as of 2017)

Sergey Brin: 35,300 Class B shares plus 35,300 Class A shares (as of 2018)

Eric Schmidt: 1.19 million Class B shares, 40,934 Class A shares, and 10,983 Class A Google shares, plus 2.91 million Class B shares through family trusts.

Sundar Pichai: 6,317 Class A shares and no Class B shares.

The House Judiciary Committee has a chance to correct the supervoting system as bad policy and implement a long-term fix across the board for all dual-class companies that want to trade on the public exchanges.

This means that the “corporate royalty” at Google, Facebook and Spotify would be much more accountable to shareholders which would help keep the company on the rails. I think that the Judiciary Committee might find that they are pushing on an open door at the SEC, especially with Commissioner Jackson.

The essential proposal is a simple tradeoff–if you want to keep supervoting stock, sell your shares privately to sophisticated investors under a registration exemption and don’t sell shares to the general public.  But if you want to sell shares to the public, keep your corporate governance at least arguably transparent and fair by sticking to one share one vote.

[A version of this post first appeared in Chris Castle’s MusicTech.Solutions blog]

 

Updated! Streaming Price Bible w/ 2016 Rates : Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, Tidal, Amazon, Pandora, Etc.

The last time we did this was back in 2014, so we thought it was time for an update. Not a lot of surprises but as we predicted when streaming numbers grow, the per stream rate will drop. This data set is isolated to the calendar year 2016 and represents an indie label with an approximately 150 album catalog generating over 115m streams. That’s a pretty good sample size. All rates are gross before distribution fees.

Spotify was paying .00521 back in 2014, two years later the aggregate net average per play has dropped to .00437 a reduction of 16%.

YouTube now has their licensed, subscription service (formerly YouTube Red?) represented in these numbers as opposed to the Artist Channel and Content ID numbers we used last time. Just looking at the new YouTube subscription service numbers isolated here, they generate over 21% of all licensed audio streams, but less than 4% of revenue! By comparison Apple Music generates 7% of all streams and 13% of revenue.

Speaking of Apple, they sit in the sweet spot generating the second largest amount of streaming revenue with a per stream rate .00735, nearly double what Spotify is paying. But, Spotify has a near monopoly on streaming market share dominating 63% of all streams and 69% of all streaming revenue. The top 10 streamers account for 99% of all streaming revenue.

streamrevenuemkrtshr2016

To put this list in the context of our 2014 numbers we’re adding the chart below with the data sorted by the quantity of streaming plays required to match the revenue of a single song or album download. This is important as we work towards defining and setting a fair per stream rate and also setting an accurate economic equivalent of streams to songs and albums for the purposes of charting.

Billboard currently calculates 1,500 streams to one album for the purposes of charting, which at current streaming rates actually matches an economic equivalent. However, that is most likely a highly excessive numbers of plays to achieve that economic equivalent. But, more on that later…

Keep in mind every streaming service has a key piece of data that would allow artists and labels to set a fair per stream rate. Every on demand streaming service, Apple, Spotify, Tidal, Google Play all know how many times a song is played (per person) on average over time. This is the data that is key to setting fair streaming rates. Who will share this information? Apple, Jimmy Iovine, we’re looking at you.

streamspersong2016

  • HOW WE CALCULATED THE STREAMS PER SONG / ALBUM RATE:
  • As streaming services only pay master royalties (to labels) and not publishing, the publishing has to be deducted from the master share to arrive at the comparable cost per song/album.
  • $.99 Song is $.70 wholesale after 30% fee. Deduct 1 full stat mechanical at $.091 = $.609 per song.
  • Multiply the above by 10x’s and you get the album equivalent of $6.09 per album
[EDITORS NOTE: All of the data above is aggregated. In all cases the total amount of revenue is divided by the total number of the streams per service  (ex: $5,210 / 1,000,000 = .00521 per stream). In cases where there are multiple tiers and pricing structures (like Spotify), these are all summed together and divided to create an averaged, single rate per play.]

[royalties][streaming royalties][music royalties][royalty rates]

.

.

Silicon Valley Hypocrisy: We Support Solutions To Piracy, Except When They Are Actual Solutions to Piracy…

You can’t make this up. Law 360 is reporting that the International Trade Commission (ITC) has been denied authority over digital goods.

The Federal Circuit said Thursday that it wouldn’t reconsider its decision that the International Trade Commission lacks the authority to block the import of digital files, drawing a lengthy dissent from one of its judges.

Keep in mind, the same people now opposed to the ITC having this authority are the same who argued in favor of the the ITC doing so as an alternative to SOPA called the Open Act.

Below is an except from an excellent post on this issue By Devlin Hartline & Matthew Barblan at CPIP.

When advocating for the OPEN Act as a good alternative to SOPA and the PROTECT IP Act, the bill’s sponsors touted the ITC as being a great venue for tackling the problems of foreign rogue sites. Among the claimed virtues were its vast experience, transparency, due process protection, consistency, and independence:

For well over 80 years, the independent International Trade Commission (ITC) has been the venue by which U.S. rightsholders have obtained relief from unfair imports, such as those that violate intellectual property rights. Under Section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930 – which governs how the ITC investigates rightsholders’ request for relief – the agency already employs a transparent process that gives parties to the investigation, and third party interests, a chance to be heard. The ITC’s process and work is highly regarded as independent and free from political influence and the department already has a well recognized expertise in intellectual property and trade law that could be expanded to the import of digital goods.

The Commission already employs important safeguards to ensure that rightsholders do not abuse their right to request a Commission investigation and the Commission may self-initiate investigations. Keeping them in charge of determining whether unfair imports – like those that violate intellectual property rights – [sic] would ensure consistent enforcement of Intellectual Property rights and trade law.

Some of the groups now arguing that the ITC shouldn’t have jurisdiction over digital goods openly supported the OPEN Act. Back in late 2011, the EFF stated that it was “glad to learn that a bipartisan group of congressional representatives has come together to formulate a real alternative, called the OPEN Act.” The EFF liked the bill because the “ITC’s process . . . is transparent, quick, and effective” and “both parties would have the opportunity to participate and the record would be public.” It emphasized how the “process would include many important due process protections, such as effective notice to the site of the complaint and ensuing investigation.”

Google likewise thought that giving the ITC jurisdiction over digital goods was a great idea. In a letter posted to its blog in early 2012, Google claimed that “there are better ways to address piracy than to ask U.S. companies to censor the Internet,” and it explicitly stated that it “supports alternative approaches like the OPEN Act.” Google also signed onto a letter promoting the virtues of the ITC: “This approach targets foreign rogue sites without inflicting collateral damage on legitimate, law-abiding U.S. Internet companies by bringing well-established International trade remedies to bear on this problem.”

You can read the full post here (Strongly Recommended):

Digital Goods and the ITC: The Most Important Case That Nobody is Talking About


 

YouTube’s DMCA decision and the campaign to morph victims into villains | Vox Indie

YouTube will pay copyright court costs for a few users–not because it’s right–but to protect Google’s bottom line

According to a story in today’s NY Times, the folks at YouTube are ready to pony up cash to support some of its users “fair use” claims in court.

“YouTube said on Thursday that it would pick up the legal costs of a handful of video creators that the company thinks are the targets of unfair takedown demands. It said the creators it chose legally use third-party content under “fair use” provisions carved out for commentary, criticism, news and parody.”

You’ve probably read a lot about “fair use” lately.  It’s the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s mantra and if the folks there had their way, pretty much everything and anything would be considered “fair use.”  Fair use an important legal doctrine and when applied properly (criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research) is not an infringement of copyright.  However, these days, too often is used as a disingenuous defense for copyright theft.

READ THE FULL STORY AT VOX INDIE:
http://voxindie.org/youtube-covers-legal-costs-for-some-users/

Jimmy Iovine says, “YouTube is 40% of music business volume and 4% of music business revenue. That’s a problem!” ‪#‎vfsummit‬

‘Freemium’ music streaming

“This whole thing about freemium, it’s a shell game. These companies are building an audience on the back of the artist, and it really bugs me.”

On YouTube and music

“Here’s a little statistic … they are 40% of consumption of music and 4% of the revenue. That’s a problem! … They know that doesn’t work. But do they care? I have no idea.”

READ THE FULL STORY AT THE LA TIMES:
http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-jimmy-iovine-20151007-story.html

Why the ‘Dancing Baby’ copyright case is just hi-tech victim shaming | The Register UK

Lenz is best thought of as a tactic in a larger strategy. Another victim-shaming tactic, used to confuse and intimidate individuals so they don’t claim their rights, is a Google-funded project called Chilling Effects. We can define “victim shaming” as where the process of seeking justice punishes the victim more than it hurts the perpetrator, and it relies on the fear of unknown reprisals.

Both Lenz and Chilling Effects have the same goal: to make you think twice about asserting your ownership of your own digital stuff. The Utopia envisaged by Silicon Valley’s current oligarchs does not have individual ownership of bits in it.

READ THE FULL STORY AT THE REGISTER UK:
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/09/17/dancing_baby_victim_shaming/

 


 

 

“I Ain’t Gonna Work On Google’s Farm No More” | Creators are Forced Labor* On The Ad-Funded Piracy Fields Of The Advertnet

“I Ain’t Gonna Work On Google’s Farm No More” | Creators are Forced Labor* On The Ad-Funded Piracy Fields Of The Advertnet

Advertising is killing internet. Soon most online advertising will be forced pre-rolls of TV commercials. You finally have a DVR to skip commercials, and soon there will be no way to avoid them. Do you really think this is what what the internet’s founding founders had envisioned? One great big inescapable advertising machine? No, we didn’t think so either.

Creators are now forced labor* on the digital fields of the AdvertNet, where the Borg like overlords of internet advertising have forced us into being unwilling participants on their digital plantations against our will. We have no defense against the advertising funded, illegal exploitation of our labor.

Now we want to be clear, we’re not opposed to advertising in general, the advertising industry overall or the many highly talented creatives who work in advertising. We all love those Superbowl ads, right? And let’s not forget that many a band in recent history has found fortune from a well placed song in a high profile commercial (Hello, Phoenix).

No, we’re talking about the highly invasive, privacy invading, personal data tracking, internet advertising slathered on pirate sites that illegally distribute copyrighted works and destroy the livelihoods of professional artists and creators against their will.

Digital Advertising Agencies are on the wrong side of artists rights. They have sold us out.

Here’s the elephant in the room. The internet as a business has a math problem and it goes something like this. There are only a few ways to make money on the online. First is transactional sales where the company can take a margin on each transaction (Amazon, Itunes, Etc). Second is a transactional service where the company can take a margin on each transaction (Uber, AirBnB, etc). Third is subscription based access to content and software (Netflix and Adobe respectively). Fourth is advertising for pretty much everything else including the big categories of Software As Service or SAAS. SAAS models including everything from Google, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to newspapers, blogs and community based bulletin boards like Reddit, etc.

The fundamental problem here is attempting to transform all businesses to advertising supported models. This is because the largest most successful internet company ever (Google) just happens to work under that model. But the economics at large don’t generate enough revenue to pay for the cost of labor for the production of art, photography, music, movies, book, etc being distributed.

Think about it. How could it be possible that everything that once required transactional revenues to be sustainable can now be paid for with just advertising revenue? It can’t. Not under current models that do not allow for scarcity and exclusivity.

Scarcity and exclusivity are what make broadcasting models work. Television networks invest in creating exclusive content that is scarce. The scarcity and exclusivity allows for maximum monetization of that asset. The Superbowl and the Academy Awards are two of the highest grossing advertising based products specifically because they are scarce.

Take the above one step further. Imagine that everything on the internet, every single site that is not selling merchandise, a service or a subscription has to be self supporting on advertising revenue alone. Do you really think that’s possible? No, it is not. This is simply because to the cost of production of professional content can not be created at the cost that internet advertising provides.

The work around this math problem is to steal the labor of professional creators and monetize it against their will.

No budgets to pay for production, no problem. Steal It. 

Just make the margin on the cost of running the business without paying for content production. A business that does not have to pay for its inventory or cost of goods is far more profitable than one that does pay those costs. This is exactly how pirate sites and Google’s YouTube operate.

The creators of YouTube admitted as much in private emails that were exposed during the lawsuit with Viacom:

• A July 29 email conversation about competing video sites laid out the importance to YouTube of continuing to use the copyrighted material. “Steal it!” Chen said , and got a reply from Hurley, “hmmm, steal the movies?” Chen’s answer: “we have to keep in mind that we need to attract traffic. how much traffic will we get from personal videos? remember, the only reason our traffic surged was due to a video of this type.”

And here’s what it looks like… Lou Reed Exploited By American Express, AT&T, Chevrolet, Chili’s, Lysol, Pottery Barn, Vons, Domino’s Pizza, Netflix, Galaxy Nexus and Ron Jeremy!

LouReedGoogleSearch

LouReedAMEX

LouReedNETFLIX

LouReedDOMINOS

LouReedGalaxyNexus

LouReedVONS

LouReedPOTTERYBARN

LouReedLYSOL

LouReedCHILI'S

LouReedCHEVY

LouReedATT

LouReedTPBPORN

* Forced Labor? Hyperbole? With no ability to opt out, without being granted choice, consent or the ability to negotiate our wages, what else is it?

Michael Price: Composer for Sherlock blames Google and YouTube for suppressing rewards songwriters receive | Independent UK

More artists, performers, songwriters and composers are getting it.

“YouTube are effectively paying incredibly low rates and are not a willing partner to negotiate licences and that pulls down the rates from someone like Spotify, which has to compete in their free service with YouTube,” he told The Independent on Sunday.

“The value from the music we create is being sucked out into the companies that aggregate it, [but] YouTube … are not happy to set adequate streaming rates. There is a huge shift of value from artists to tech companies.”

READ THE WHOLE STORY AT THE INDEPENDENT UK:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/michael-price-composer-for-sherlock-blames-google-and-youtube-for-suppressing-rewards-songwriters-receive-10447054.html

“User Pirated Content” Is Core Internet Advertising Model (Which is Why Streaming Rates Can’t Increase Until Piracy is Decreased)

Google’s YouTube is a business built on infringement as a model. So called “User Generated Content” is really just code for what the majority of the high value media on YouTube really is, “User PIRATED Content“.

In other words there’s nothing internet advertising loves more than illegally monetizing the work of professional creators, and thus driving down the true fair market rates for those works (keep this in mind when thinking about Spotify and streaming services!).

Below are excerpts from emails discovered during the Viacom Vs. YouTube lawsuit and published  by DailyFinance:

• A July 29 email conversation about competing video sites laid out the importance to YouTube of continuing to use the copyrighted material. “Steal it!” Chen said , and got a reply from Hurley, “hmmm, steal the movies?” Chen’s answer: “we have to keep in mind that we need to attract traffic. how much traffic will we get from personal videos? remember, the only reason our traffic surged was due to a video of this type.”

And this is not the only smoking gun, here’s a quote from DailyTech regarding Google’s Ad Sales and the site EasyDownloadCenter: 

In fact, Google’s ad teams even made suggestions designed to optimize conversion rates by using keywords targeted to pirated content – such as suggesting downloading films still in theatrical release, that obviously were not available yet in any authorized format for home viewing.

According to PCWorld this added up to some decent money…

EasyDownloadCenter.com and TheDownloadPlace.com generated US$1.1 million in revenue between 2003 and 2005, and Google received $809,000 for advertising, the Journal reported.

Both YouTube and Google Search function similarly by monetizing infringing “User Pirated Content” with advertising. On YouTube users upload infringing music and videos of all varieties which attract the consumers to the globally dominant and monopolistic video streaming site.

Remember the email above where the YouTube founders admit “how much traffic will we get from personal videos? remember, the only reason our traffic surged was due to a video of this type”. And by “this type” they mean professionally produced and created media by artists, musicians, filmmakers and other creative professionals that are of high value in attracting an audience – an audience that can then be monetized with advertising.

Google Search operates in very similar way (no coincidence) by monetizing (mostly with advertising) millions infringing URLs on sites primarily dedicated to distribution of copyrighted works via p2p networks and bittorrent.

Over 50 Major Brands Funding Music Piracy, It’s Big Business!

LouReedCHEVY

But don’t take our word for it, here’s a report from DigiDay (owned by The Economist):

According to AppNexus CEO Brian O’Kelley, it’s an easy problem to fix, but ad companies are attracted by the revenue torrent sites can generate for them. Kelley said his company refuses to serve ads to torrent sites and other sites facilitating the distribution of pirated content. It’s easy to do technically, he said, but others refuse to do it.

“We want everyone to technically stop their customers from advertising on these sites, but there’s a financial incentive to keep doing so,” he said. “Companies that aren’t taking a stand against this are making a lot of money.”

What about the removing infringing material with a DMCA notice you ask? Well, we’re glad you did… here’s how it “works”…


DMCA “Takedown” Notices: Why “Takedown” Should Become “Take Down and Stay Down” and Why It’s Good for Everyone | Nova Edu


 

Safe Harbor Not Loophole: Five Things We Could Do Right Now to Make the DMCA Notice and Takedown Work Better