Copyright Office Authorized a Star Chamber at the MLC to Hold Your Money

We knew this would happen. The Copyright Office has empowered the Mechanical Licensing Collective to decide whether a song (or a sound recording) can be copyrighted all under the guise of AI. If the MLC–not the Copyright Office–decides that your song is not capable of being registered for copyright, the MLC can hold your money essentially forever.

Where’s the regulation on this important subject? Did you get a chance to comment on these crucial regulations and precedent?

Ah…no. You didn’t miss any notices in the Federal Register. No, we know this because of this cozy “guidance letter” to MLC CEO Kris Ahrend from the general counsel of the Copyright Office. That’s right, a letter that we just happened to run across. That letter states:

More specifically, the Office advises that a work that appears to lack sufficient human authorship is appropriately treated by The MLC as an “anomal[y],” consistent with its Guidelines for Adjustments, and The MLC should “place [associated] Royalties in Suspense while it researches and analyzes the issue.” Such research could include corresponding with the individual or entity claiming ownership of the work or [could include] inquiring whether the Office has registered the work and whether there are any disclaimers or notes in the registration record.

If The MLC subsequently concludes that the work qualifies for copyright protection and the section 115 license, it should distribute any royalties and interest in suspense to the copyright owner. Alternatively, if The MLC believes that the work does not qualify for copyright protection following its research and analysis, it should notify the individual or entity claiming ownership of the work of its determination and that associated royalties will be subject to an adjustment. This conclusion and adjustment may be challenged by initiating an “Adjustment Dispute” consistent with The MLC’s policies. If legal proceedings are initiated to challenge The MLC’s actions, the disputed royalties and interest should remain suspended until those proceedings are resolved.

So just in one paragraph, the Copyright Office has effectively delegated its role in the U.S. government to a private corporation controlled by the largest music publishers and financed by the largest tech companies in the world (actually the largest corporations in the history of commerce). If the MLC decides that your song “appears to lack sufficient human authorship” The MLC can hold your money while they research the issue.

Note this doesn’t say who makes that decision, it doesn’t say when they have to notify you, it doesn’t say they have to give you an opportunity to be heard, it places no timeline on how long all this may take. “The MLC” (whoever that is) could sit on your money for years without ever telling you they are doing it and also keep invoicing the DSPs for your royalties while they “research and analyze the issue”.

The only time they have to give you notice if they “believe” (whatever that means) “that the work does not qualify for copyright protection” then “it should” (not the mandatory “shall”, but the permissive “should”) notify you of that determination. You can then file an “adjustment dispute” based on the MLC’s own guidelines which you will not be surprised to learn places no disclosure obligations on them, imposes no timeline and cannot be appealed.

Note that this guidance from the Copyright Office pretty expressly contemplates that the MLC may dispute a work that has already been registered for copyright without qualification–which raises the question of what a copyright registration actually means, and where is it written that the MLC has the authority to challenge a conformed Copyright Office registration.

It also places the MLC in a superior position to the Copyright Office because it allows the MLC to initiate a dispute resolution system outside of the Copyright Office channels. Is this written somewhere besides a burning bush on Mount Horeb?

The letter does seem to suggest that you can always sue the MLC or that the MLC could be prosecuted for state law crimes, perhaps, like conversion, but it would help to know who at the MLC is actually responsible.

This also raises the question of why the MLC is invoicing the DSPs in the first place and what happens to the money every step along the path. Because of the idiotic streaming mechanical royalty calculation, it seems inevitable that the royalty pool will be overstated or understated if the MLC is claiming works that are not subject to copyright (like it would for public domain works it invoiced).

Ever wonder what prompts letters like this to get written?

Play your part, dude. Go back to sleep.