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

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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.

Head of Justice Dept Antitrust Division to Speak At Publisher Conference–can end of ASCAP/BMI Consent Decrees be coming?

Really great news!  It was recently announced that the head of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division will speak at the National Music Publishers Association annual meeting in June!

This year’s keynote will be presented by United States Department of Justice (DOJ) Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division, Makan Delrahim.

As David said a few weeks ago before this announcement, Mr. Delrahim is reviewing hundreds of DOJ consent decrees that have accumulated over the decades to see if these government orders should be continued.  This review includes the ASCAP and BMI consent decrees that Mr. Delrahim specifically mentioned in an address at Vanderbilt Law School earlier this year.  He seems to have come to this idea all by himself.

What’s really great about this is that it could mean the end of consent decrees in a relatively short period of time.  Since it’s never happened before, we don’t know exactly how the end of the consent decrees would impact ASCAP and BMI, but presumably the impact would be positive and quick. Goodbye rate court!  The smart money would probably be on existing rate court cases continuing, but disallowing new cases.  (Mr. Delrahim has been clear that the enforcement side would remain in place, meaning we guess that actual antitrust law violations would be dealt with case by case, just no ongoing regulatory oversight by unelected rate courts.  Example would be Global Music Rights awesome antitrust case against the broadcasters after the broadcasters brought one against GMR.)

It could possibly open the door to both organizations getting into the mechanical licensing administration business in competition with whatever comes of the collective established by the Music Modernization Act (which permits voluntary licenses outside of the collective).  In fact, BMI has already said they intend to pursue licensing outside of performances because their consent decree allows them to do so unlike ASCAP’s:

BMI is also evaluating the option of licensing beyond the performing right. We have long believed our consent decree allows for the licensing of multiple rights, which is why four years ago we asked the DOJ to amend our decree to clarify that ability, among other much-needed updates.

Of course, the last thing that anyone would want is for the DOJ to end the consent decrees, just to be replaced by some other bunch of regulations or bureaucracy.  For once, broadcasters will just have to suck it up.

So it’s a great idea that NMPA is inviting Mr. Delrahim to speak to the publishers who are most in the position to take advantage of a new dawn in songwriter freedom.  Many if not most of the NMPA members will be in the voluntary licensing category under MMA and outside the collective.  They would be in a fantastic position to support a one-stop shop for performance and mechanical licensing from ASCAP and BMI in line with what SESAC/HFA can offer, and presumably GMR could do as well.

Songwriters Are Losing $2.3 Billion A Year Due To Outdated Government Regulations | BuzzFeed

Right now a byzantine system is in place that not only dates back more than 70 years but also differs depending on the distribution platform. Traditional radio stations, for instance, pay royalties to the composer of a song, but not to the artist or band performing it — known in industry parlance as a performance right — if they are different. Sirius XM only pays royalties for songs released after 1972. Pandora does pay government-mandated royalties to songwriters but has been aggressively lobbying regulators to lower the rate in recent years. Use of music in both professional and user-based content on YouTube and other websites and in TV shows or commercials is yet another category of music licensing, with the difference being that it is free-market-based and not subject to government oversight.

READ THE FULL STORY AT BUZZFEED:
http://www.buzzfeed.com/peterlauria/songwriters-are-losing-23-billion-a-year-due-to-outdated-gov

Rap Genius Says It Will Seek Licenses for Lyrics | NYT

It’s been an interesting week in the battle over unlicensed lyric websites. These lyric sites, likes music piracy sites earn revenue from advertising but don’t “share” any of that revenue with artists and songwriters. The New York Times reports.

Rap Genius, a website that was accused by music publishers on Monday of reprinting thousands of song lyrics without permission, revealed that it had a major licensing deal all along — and also indicated that the site was likely to pursue more such deals in the future rather than fight with publishers over copyright.

“We want to spend our time building an interesting product and community instead of building a legal case, even though we’re sure it would be interesting,” he said. “We chose to partner up with the music publishers and license the lyrics so we could get on with our work and establish closer ties to songwriters and artists.”

David Israelite, the president of the publishers’ trade association, said of Rap Genius’s deal with Sony/ATV, “I think it proves that what Rap Genius is doing is not fair use, and I am hopeful it is a first step toward becoming a fully licensed site.”

READ THE FULL STORY AT THE NEW YORK TIMES:
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/15/business/media/rap-genius-says-it-will-seek-licenses-for-lyrics.html

In Music Piracy Battles, Lyrics Demand Respect Too | NYT

David Israelite, the president of the trade group, said that his organization was filing take-down notices against what it called the 50 “worst offenders” based on a web search conducted by David Lowery, a researcher at the University of Georgia. Mr. Lowery, best known as the lead singer of the alternative rock bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, has become an outspoken advocate for artists’ rights in the digital age, which has often put him at odds with technology companies large and small.

“These lyric sites have ignored the law and profited off the songwriters’ creative works, and N.M.P.A. will not allow this to continue,” Mr. Israelite said in a statement, referring to his organization. “This is not a campaign against personal blogs, fan sites or the many websites that provide lyrics legally. N.M.P.A. is targeting 50 sites that engage in blatant illegal behavior, which significantly impacts songwriters’ ability to make a living.”

READ THE FULL STORY AT THE NEW YORK TIMES:
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/12/business/media/in-music-piracy-battles-lyrics-demand-respect-too.html