#FrozenMechanicals Crisis: Unfiled Supplemental Comments of @helienne Lindvall, @davidclowery, @theblakemorgan and @sealeinthedeal

[Chris Castle says: Here’s the context of this post. As it turns out, the CRB extended the filing deadline for comments due to what they said was a technical difficulty, although we have yet to meet anyone who couldn’t file their comment on time. This extension seems contrary to the CRB’s February revised rules for filings by participants. The CRB procedures presciently have an email filing procedure in the case of technical problems arising out of their “eCRB” document filing system. It will not surprise you to know that the NMPA, NSAI, and major labels filed what is essentially a reply comment after the close of business on the last day of the extension, after at least our if not all commenter accounts were disabled, the practical effect of which was that no one could respond to their comments through the eCRB, i.e., on the record.

We tried, and drafted a reply to the most important points raised in the majors’ comment. We emailed our comment to the CRB during business hours on the next day in line with the CRB’s own “Procedural Regulations of the Copyright Royalty Board Regarding Electronic Filing System” (see 37 CFR §303.5(m)) or so we thought. But not so fast–we were told by an email from a nameless person at the CRB that we would need to file a motion in order to get approval to file the comment less than 24 hours late for good cause–which of course, we are not able to do since we are not “participants” in the proceeding. See how that works? According to this person’s email, we’d also need to contact CRB technical support to get our accounts reopened which would make the comment later still even if we were able to file a motion. Instead, we decided to just post our reply comment on the Internet. A wider audience. Unfortunately not part of the record, but we’ll see what happens.]

SUPPLEMENTAL COMMENTS OF HELIENNE LINDVALL, DAVID LOWERY, BLAKE MORGAN  AND GWENDOLYN SEALE OBJECTING TO PROPOSED SETTLEMENT OF SUBPART B RATES

            This comment is in reply to the comment[1] filed by the Copyright Owners and the Joint Record Company Participants (the “Majors”) time-stamped after the close of business on August 10, 2021 and made available on the CRB docket the morning of August 11, 2021, i.e., after the deadline established by the Judges in the Proposed Rule published at 86 FR 33601 that would codify the Proposed Settlement.[2] 

            We ask the Judges’ leniency in permitting our late-filed supplemental comment to be made a part of the record in hopes that our responsive discussion will be helpful to the Copyright Royalty Board in resolving the frozen mechanicals crisis.

            This comment is filed on behalf of Helienne Lindvall, David Lowery and Blake Morgan who timely filed their comment on July 26, 2021[3] in accordance with the proposed rule.  This comment is also filed by Gwendolyn Seale who timely filed her own comment[4] in accordance with the proposed rule.  Their respective biographical information may be found in their previously filed comments.

            We will briefly discuss what we think are the essential points the Judges should consider that the Majors have raised in their comment.

I. Discussion

            A.  Authority:  As multiple commenters have stated, it is unclear whether the NMPA and NSAI have been authorized by their respective memberships of over 300 music publishers and over 4,000 songwriters to propose and/or accept a settlement freezing the statutory rate for Subpart B configurations through 2027. Thus, we ask the Judges to seek out evidence demonstrating that self-published songwriters and independent publishers have authorized the NSAI and NMPA to accept this Proposed Settlement.  We do not question the integrity of the Majors, but we do have questions about the negotiation process that have yet to be answered. 

            References to a broad “consensus” must be questioned because there is both a lack of evidence of consensus and also evidence in the record that at least 12 international songwriter groups object to the Proposed Settlement.  Independent songwriters, including Ms. Lindvall, Mr. Lowery and Mr. Morgan, also object.  It seems simple enough for the Judges to require some evidence of consent to the Proposed Settlement given the awesome power of the government that the Judges are essentially asked by Congress to delegate to the Majors through a voluntary negotiation.  This seems to us to be good cause for further verification of authority to make the deal in the first place.

            B.  The Judges Predicted the Current Opposition in their Phonorecords III Determination

The Majors rely on a citation that both demonstrates the foresight of the CRB and on balance tends to support our position that the NMPA and the NSAI likely lack the requisite authority to negotiate on behalf of all the world’s songwriters.  The Majors invite the Judges to participate in a thought experiment[5] that actually serves quite well to highlight the issues we have raised in the respective comments regarding both the authority of the NMPA and NSAI and the implied below-statutory rates bootstrapped indirectly by means of the freeze:

As the Judges have noted, “NMPA and NSAI represent individual songwriters and publishers,” and would not “engage[] in anti-competitive price-fixing at below-market rates,” since they must “act[] in the interest of their constituents” lest their constituents “seek representation elsewhere.” [Phonorecords III] at 15298.[6]

Respectfully, the problem is way beyond seeking representation elsewhere—the problem is that there was likely no “representation” in the first place if you take “representation” in the legal sense (such as that of a common agent) which we gather is how the Judges intended the use of the word.  Likewise, there is a difference between an agent’s principal and a “constituent”, i.e., a difference between one who expressly authorizes an agent to represent them in certain circumstances and one who is allowed to vote on who that representative is to be.  Neither is the case for many songwriters who have commented in the record for the current proceeding.  We will leave their record to speak for themselves as to why they have sought “representation elsewhere” but it appears that it is for the same reason that they are not participants in the proceeding—they can’t afford the justice and this is why they ask the Judges to give special weight to their comments in the CRB’s deliberations.

            But the Major’s thought experiment and speculation continues in an interesting coda regarding below statutory licensing (generally not permitted as a matter of contract in likely tens of thousands of co-publishing and administration agreements):

And certainly it would not be in the interest of any major publisher to agree to extend a below-market mechanical royalty rate to the competitors of its sister record company.[7]

While the thought experiment and speculation sound innocuous, consider what is being said here.  First, the Majors identify their interest as that of “major publishers”; not all publishers, not all songwriters, but “major publishers.”  Then the Majors go on to say that it would not be in the interest of the major publishers to give a “below market” rate to their sister record company’s competitors

            Of course, there is no market rate in the U.S. and essentially never has been; the Judges have the unenviable task of divining a market rate to be made statutory.  We would therefore modify the thought experiment to include “below statutory”.  Now we are left with the assertion that major publishers use the statutory rate to protect their record company affiliates from competition—not that they fulfill their role as true blue fiduciaries for their songwriters by refusing to grant below-statutory rates (either directly or indirectly), but rather being hard on the competitors of their affiliates.   And they are using their market power to impose a rate on the world that they seem to say protects their affiliates.  Extending the frozen mechanical rate certainly doesn’t protect their songwriters—the Judges have ample evidence that many songwriters object to the extension.  But in the Majors’ own words we now know cui bono, and the benefit goes back to Phonorecords III and likely earlier.

            But let us extend the thought experiment a little bit further.  Who is an unrelated “competitor” of the three major labels and all their distributed labels, DIY operations like The Orchard, joint ventures and so on and on and on?  That must be a pretty small group of true independents who have cobbled together a distribution network for the Subpart B configurations to deal with the logistics of manufacturing, warehousing, shipments, returns, and the like—branch distribution is what makes a major label a major.  Perhaps the Majors could provide some examples of these “competitors”?  Clearly though, the citation demonstrates that the Judges sensed many years ago the very situation now unfolding on the record in the frozen mechanicals crisis.

            C.  Comparisons to Largely Unopposed Prior Rulemakings Compare Apples to Oranges:  We understand that the Majors claim to have proposed a similar settlement in Phonorecords III resulting in a freeze of the statutory rate for Subpart B configurations, and that the Judges then-adopted that settlement.  We also understand that there was little if any formal objection to that freeze in Phonorecords III at least by comparison to the number of objecting commenters in Phonorecords IV.  The Judges are now presented with a significant number of objectors who entirely reject the application of the Proposed Settlement to the world in a kind of bootstrapping move.  Respectfully, comparing the field in Phonorecords III to Phonorecords IV is comparing apples to oranges and creating a pomegranate.

            We also acknowledge the millions of dollars that the NMPA asserts that it spent litigating these rates some fifteen years ago, but this assertion perhaps proves too much.  The cost of participating in any of these proceedings is exactly the reason why objecting songwriters understandably rely entirely on the Judges to seek fairness and justice.  They cannot afford to participate in these proceedings themselves and trust the Judges to balance all the facts not just the arguments of rich people and corporations. 

Not only do the Majors gloss over the songwriters’ objections, but their reasoning is actually fallacious. Because both proceedings are called “Phonorecords” does not make them similar in regard to the frozen mechanicals crisis.  The facts on the ground are wildly different between III and IV.  Moreover, we hear a subtext in the Major’s argument that if a configuration experiences declining sales, that is a reason for the government to reduce the royalty rate.  Aside from a lack of statutory authority, this is also fallacious reasoning because the Majors have produced no evidence that the per-unit price for Subpart B configurations has declined, and if anything, we are informed that the dealer price has increased in the case of vinyl.[8] 

We respectfully ask that the Judges consider these flaws in the Majors’ positions and give them their due weight. 

            D.  The Elusive MOU:  The Majors tell the Judges that: 

The MOU entered into contemporaneously with the Settlement is irrelevant to the Judges’ consideration of the Settlement, and does not call into question the reasonableness of the Settlement.[9]

            Respectfully, if the MOU is “irrelevant” to the settlement, why did they bring it up at all?  Recall that we previously asked the Judges to question whether the MOU was additional consideration for extending the frozen mechanical rates.  While others may have, we did not concern ourselves with whether the MOU was a “sweetheart deal” as we knew nothing about it.  Rather our issue was whether the MOU was a quid pro quo of additional consideration for the frozen rates that was enjoyed by a limited group of participants in the settlement but was not enjoyed by strangers to the deal who were still subject to the frozen rate.  Indeed, it appears that this is exactly the case.  While we appreciate that the Majors have now disclosed the MOU as part of their Reply, nothing in the Majors’ comment ameliorates this fundamental concern.

            A significant reason why the concern still exists is language in the now-disclosed MOU that certainly has the ring of a quid pro quo directly related to extending the frozen Subpart B rates in Phonorecords IV:

This MOU4 is a separate, conditional agreement [the quid] that shall not go into effect until [the quo] NMPA, SME, WMG’s affiliate Warner Music Group Corp., and UMG submit a motion to adopt a proposed settlement of the Phonorecords IV Proceeding as to statutory royalty rates and terms for physical phonorecords, permanent downloads, ringtones and music bundles presently addressed in 37 C.F.R. Part 385 Subpart B (the “Subpart B Configurations”), together with (1) certain definitions applicable to Subpart B Configurations presently addressed in 37 C.F.R. § 385.2 and (2) late payment fees under Section 115 for Subpart B Configurations presently addressed in 37 C.F.R. § 385.3, together with certain definitions applicable to such late payment fees presently addressed in 37 C.F.R. § 385.2, for the rate period covered by the Phonorecords IV Proceeding, which the Parties anticipate happening promptly after this MOU4 has been signed by SME, UMG, WMG, RIAA, NMPA, Sony Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group, and Warner Chappell Music, Inc. (the “Initial Signatories”).[10]

            To the contrary, a fair reading of the MOU suggests, and may even require, that the consideration for the MOU is tied directly to extending the frozen rates in the Proposed Settlement.

            Moreover, we can revisit the authority issue raised above given language in the MOU.  Consider the following post-closing condition imposed on the NMPA by the plain terms of the MOU:

It is understood that only the Initial Signatories will sign this MOU4 at the outset, and that NMPA shall use its best efforts to obtain the signatures to this MOU4 by all of the remaining Parties within two (2) weeks thereafter.[11]

            If the NMPA had the authority to bind these many publisher “Parties” to the MOU, why would there be a need to impose such a post-closing condition on the NMPA?  There may be an explanation for this structure, but it is not obvious to us.

            We also find it somewhat unusual that neither the Reply of the Majors nor the now-disclosed MOU reference a dollar figure that is changing hands as far as we can tell.  This could be a lot of cash.  In the 2009 Billboard article cited by the Majors, the MOU that was the subject of that reporting was valued at “up to $264 million.” [12] However “routine” the MOU process is, a $264 million payment in a “pennies business” is not routine.  We would appreciate a further disclosure of the amount at issue in the current MOU.  As they say, it is evidently not a secret.

            Respectfully, it does not appear that one can completely exclude the relevance of the MOU as consideration for extending the freeze on Subpart B royalties at least on the face of the documents provided.  As strangers to the deal do not have the opportunity to subject these assertions to the crucible of cross-examination, we hope the Judges can welcome the reliance on them of those who cannot afford to participate in this proceeding.

II.  Conclusion

            In conclusion, we respectfully ask the Judges to consider the foregoing comments along with the many heartfelt and well-reasoned comments by others in Phonorecords IV.  Unfortunately, as is too often the case in the music business, we think that the sum and substance of the Majors’ argument is that “we are the wealthy and therefore we win.”

            We do not have to remind the Judges that this is the antithesis of our Constitutional system of government.

                                                                         Respectfully submitted.

Christian L. Castle

Gwendolyn Seale


[1] Comments in Further Support of the Settlement of Statutory Royalty Rates and Terms for Subpart B Configurations,  Docket No. 21–CRB– 0001–PR (2023–2027) (August 10, 2021)(Reply).

[2] Motion to Adopt Settlement of Statutory Royalty Rates and Terms for Subpart B Configurations, Docket No. 21–CRB– 0001–PR (2023–2027) (May 25, 2021) (Proposed Settlement).

[3] Comment of Helienne Lindvall, David Lowery and Blake Morgan, Docket No. 21–CRB– 0001–PR (2023–2027) (July 26, 2021) available at https://app.crb.gov/document/download/25533

[4] Comment of Gwendolyn Seale, Docket No. 21–CRB– 0001–PR (2023–2027) (July 26, 2021) available at https://app.crb.gov/document/download/25534

[5] Reply at 5.

[6] Id. (emphasis added).

[7] Id.

[8] See, e.g., Samantha Handler, Copyright Panel Rethinking Song Royalties Streamers Pay, Bloomberg Law (Aug. 12, 2021) (“Royalties from downloads and CDs haven’t increased since 2006, but still make up a significant portion of income for independent songwriters.”) available at https://news.bloomberglaw.com/ip-law/copyright-panel-rethinking-song-royalties-streamers-pay

[9] Reply at 6 (emphasis added).

[10] Reply at 19, MOU-4 at 2 (emphasis added).

[11] Id. at 20, MOU-4 at 3.

[12] Ed Christman, NMPA, Major Labels Sign Terms of Agreement, Billboard (Oct. 7, 2009) available at https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/1264471/nmpa-major-%20labels-sign-on-terms-of-agreement.

#FrozenMechanicals Crisis: Comments of @helienne Lindvall, @DavidCLowery and @TheBlakeMorgan to the Copyright Royalty Board

Before the

United States Copyright Royalty Judges
Copyright Royalty Board

Library of Congress

Docket No. 21–CRB–0001–PR
               (2023–2027)

COMMENTS OF HELIENNE LINDVALL, DAVID LOWERY AND BLAKE MORGAN

            Helienne Lindvall, David Lowery and Blake Morgan submit these comments responding to the Copyright Royalty Judges’ notice soliciting comments on whether the Judges should adopt the regulations proposed by the National Music Publishers Association, Nashville Songwriters Association International, Sony Music Entertainment, UMG Recordings, Inc. and Warner Music Group Corp. as the so-called “Subpart B” statutory rates and terms relating to the making and distribution of physical or digital phonorecords of nondramatic musical works that, if adopted by the Judges, would apply to every songwriter in the world whose works are exploited under the U.S. compulsory mechanical license (86 FR 33601).[1]

            We object to the proposed rates and terms for the following reasons and respectfully suggest constructive alternatives.  The gravamen of our objection is that (1) the Subpart B rates have already been frozen since 2006; (2) no evidence has been publicly produced in the Proceeding that justifies or even explains extending the proposed freeze; (3) very large numbers of songwriters of various domiciles around the world do not even know this proceeding is happening and have not appointed any of the parties to act on their behalf or been asked to consent to the purported settlement; (4) physical sales are still a vital part of songwriter revenue; and (5) there are many just alternatives available to the Judges without applying an unjust settlement to the world’s songwriters.

 A.  Statement of Interests.

By way of background, following are short summaries of the commenters’ respective biographies demonstrating their respective significant interests in the subject matter of this proceeding.

            Helienne Lindvall:  Ms. Lindvall is an award-winning professional songwriter, musician and columnist based in London, England. She is Chair of the Songwriter Committee & Board Director, Ivors Academy of Music Creators (formerly British Academy of Songwriters, Composers & Authors BASCA) and chairs the esteemed Ivor Novello Awards. She also is the writer behind  the Guardian music industry columns Behind the Music and Plugged In and has contributed to a variety of publications and broadcasts discussing songwriters’ rights, copyright, and other music industry issues.

            David Lowery:  Mr. Lowery is the founder of the musical groups Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven and a lecturer at the University of Georgia Terry College of Business and is based in Athens, Georgia.  He has testified before Congress on the topic of fair use policy[2]  and is a frequent commentator on copyright policy and artist rights in a variety of outlets, including his blog at TheTrichordist.com.   He has been a class representative in two successful class actions by songwriters against music streaming services.

            Blake Morgan:  Mr. Morgan is a New York-based artist, songwriter, label owner, music publisher, and the leader of the #IRespectMusic campaign[3] which focuses on supporting fair payment for creators across all mediums and platforms including supporting the American Music Fairness Act sponsored by Representatives Deutch and Issa.[4]  Mr. Morgan also lectures on artists’ rights at music, business, and law schools across the United States. 

Helienne Lindvall, David Lowery and Blake Morgan (collectively, the “Writers”) are independent songwriters who own the copyrights to many of their songs. They previously were amici in Google v. Oracle[5] together with the Songwriters Guild of America.  In some instances, they have written songs whose copyrights they have transferred in limited parts and in some cases for limited periods of time to major music publishers.  In other cases, their songs are not owned by major music publishers but are administered by one or more of them, in many cases also for limited periods of time.  In some instances, these transfers were in perpetuity subject to certain statutory or contractual termination rights.  They also have retained the copyrights to many of their songs and are self-administered songwriters with respect to those nondramatic musical works. 

            We thank the Copyright Royalty Judges for inviting the public to comment on the proposed regulations in the docket referenced above (“Proceeding”) and the purported “settlement”[6] that in large part resulted in the Copyright Royalty Board’s proposed regulations.

B.  Objections, Discussion and Solutions

            We appreciate this opportunity to make our views known and hope that our suggestions are helpful to the Judges in trying to solve the frozen mechanicals crisis.  We also appreciate that the Judges seek to do justice and find a fair result given their appointed role of administering the awesome power of the government to compel songwriters to accept all rates and terms of the statutory license.

1.  Lack of Authority to Negotiate for Non-Participants

            As a threshold matter, we think it is important to clarify the source of authority for the purported settlement as set forth in the Motion.  Some play a bit fast and loose with who represents whom in a parade of glittering generalities and hasty generalizations.  The Writers are not members of the Nashville Songwriters Association International and have not authorized NSAI to negotiate any agreement on their behalf, nor would the Writers ever authorize any lobby shop to do so. 

            Neither are the Writers members of the National Music Publishers Association, nor have Writers authorized the NMPA to negotiate any agreement on their behalf.  The NMPA has many members but we seriously doubt that the NMPA has expressly obtained authority from any of its members to negotiate the purported settlement on their behalf, outside of its board of directors.  That authority may give the NMPA employees cover, but is pretty weak sauce as authority for the negotiation of frozen rates to be applied to all the songwriters in the world. 

            We doubt that any other songwriter (outside of the insiders) or that any copyright owner gave consent either, aside from members of the NMPA Board of Directors authorizing employees of the NMPA to accept (or perhaps even propose) frozen rates on behalf of the board.  Neither do we see any evidence that the NMPA or NSAI were appointed a “common agent” by copyright owners to set prices and otherwise negotiate and agree upon the terms and rates under Subpart B.[7]  Therefore, we encourage the Judges to inquire further to determine if an appointment was a necessary condition for settlement or if the majority are claiming a kind of misconstrued authority, perhaps with the best of intentions.  One person’s negotiation strategy is another’s catastrophe.

            We anticipate that the Judges will take that position that the Writers will be “bound” by the purported “settlement” in the Motion among the NMPA (which owns no copyrights), the NSAI (which owns no copyrights), and the major labels (which in theory own no musical work copyrights).  We find it astonishing that entities that do not appear to represent, or to have been appointed a common agent of, all the persons to be bound by the settlement, are still able to use the Copyright Royalty Board to bind nonparties to a settlement.  This seems at best contrary to American constitutional jurisprudence requiring the consent of the governed and at worst destructive of the ends of government. 

            If anyone contests our position that the parties to the settlement had no authority to bind strangers to the deal, let them come forward with a common agent appointment, board minutes, board votes, membership votes, court ruling or other evidence of due process to disclose how this purported settlement described in the Motion was actually approved and which copyright owners authorized the NMPA and NSAI to conclude the agreement on their behalf (and, therefore, which did not). 

            We think that what such disclosure will demonstrate at most is that the respective boards of directors of the two organizations[8] authorized the settlement.  Since neither the organizations nor their respective boards were likely authorized to accept a frozen rate by strangers to that deal, the board members may have merely indicated their own company’s intention to be bound by the settlement.  They likely had no actual authority to do more. 

Even this seems odd.  Each NMPA board member who represents a publisher presumably would be agreeing on their own behalf.  It is unclear what the NSAI board actually approved, since NSAI owns no copyrights and at least some of the songwriter board members are likely signed to publishers, perhaps some or all of the same publishers who were voting on the NMPA board.[9]  Murkiness abounds.  So, if anyone says that their board approval resulted in some kind of “consensus” binding on strangers, that may be something of a misdirection that does not consider the obvious and customary limitations of a board’s authority.  We respectfully ask the Judges to get to the bottom of exactly how this happened by asking for supplemental briefs or such other means as the Judges deem appropriate.

The Writers are in two different groups that fairly are not represented in the Proceeding.  First, Writers are in the very large and global group of songwriters and copyright owners who cannot afford to participate in the Proceeding.  As the Judges are likely aware, yours is very rarified air where only the very rich drive the process but all songwriters must bear the burden of the result.  Songwriters and copyright owners living outside the United States (and even those living outside of Washington, DC)  are essentially prevented from participating at hearings in a far-away capitol although the Judges’ rulings directly affect their works when exploited in America.  This is how process becomes punishment.[10]

            Second, the Writers are in another bucket with some songs still co-published or administered by publishers that may be represented by the NMPA in the settlement—we do not know because individual publishers did not sign the Motion in their own names.  None of those publishers have consulted with the Writers about freezing the statutory royalty rates for yet another five years and essentially granting a reduced rate license without our permission.  Many co-publishing or administration agreements include a restriction on the publisher that prohibits them from granting licenses at less than the statutory rates—songwriters did not consider negotiating an additional restriction that would prohibit the publisher from lobbying to indirectly reduce the rate through freezing the statutory rate and then bootstrapping that agreement to apply to the world through the CRB. Perhaps the CRB will give songwriters a reason to start negotiating a “no frozen rate lobbying” marketing restriction in future deals.

            Respectfully, the Judges should not enable these publishers to do indirectly that which they cannot do directly.  We would ask the Judges to inquire further and opine as to whether such marketing restrictions are at work in the purported settlement as to songwriters or publishers administered by any of the settling publishers.  Since those publishers are not individually parties to the settlement, we have no way of confirming who is in and who is not.

            Regardless, Writers did not authorize anyone to negotiate the frozen rates on their behalf and never would.  If the Judges adopt the proposed settlement without a mechanism to obtain consent of those they govern, such a ruling seems to us to fly in the face of all the fundamental building blocks of democracy and in particular American Constitutional democracy.  Accordingly, Writers reserve the right to challenge any such decision to freeze mechanicals on a number of grounds[11] including due process, equal protection and 5th Amendment takings.

            The parties to the purported settlement would have the Judges believe that because they claim that ‘‘the settlement represents the consensus of buyers and sellers representing the vast majority of the market for ‘mechanical’ rights for Subpart B Configurations”[12] and seem to ask the CRB to accept without question the lack of evidence of the authority to negotiate the settlement in the first place which belies the unelected “consensus.”  It must be said that on the one hand, songwriters are not polled to determine what they want in the way of rates, but on the other hand their number or the number of their works are used to justify frozen rates to argue for a “majority” view (when songwriters were never asked if they want the freeze).  Such “consensus” is chimerical and is, frankly, an equivocation that defies a common definition[13] of the word “consensus” that we find inapt given the current facts and is closer to Kings X.

            The settling parties (presumably the NMPA in this case) would have the Judges apply their private deal to all songwriters throughout the world.  It’s easy to get a faux consensus from “the majority” if you do not invite—and even attack or threaten[14]–those with opposing views.  It illustrates the “tyranny of the majority” that every American high school civics class discusses in the context of governance[15]–even assuming there was a vote of the affected songwriters which there apparently was not.[16] 

Therefore, from the outset the proposed rule is simply not a reasonable basis for setting statutory rates or terms for those not party to the voluntary agreement set forth in the Motion.

            But on a more practical note, we think songwriters will ask what can be done to try to fix the mess the parties have created?  We offer several concrete solutions.

2.  Limit the Settlement to Named Parties to the Agreement or Let Sunlight Shine on the Settlement if Settlement Applies to All Songwriters in the World: 

            We call the Judges’ attention to the record company parties to the settlement.  Note that each of the major labels signed in their own organization names, yet for some reason the publishers did not.  Had they signed in their own names, the symmetry between the two might be obvious due to common ownership at the group level.[17]

The Judges could require that the voluntary settlement apply only to those parties who actually agreed it, rather than trade associations that own no copyrights and likely have limited agency at best.  The Judges could cabin the rates and terms to those parties who are actually signatories to the settlement, directly or indirectly.  The publishers involved could be ordered to step forward for the rationally related purpose of determining who the settlement rate should apply to.  This approach would treat the purported settlement more in the nature of a voluntary license among the parties as is permitted under the Copyright Act.  This cabined approach seems to be consistent with the Act and the proper role of regulatory agencies like the CRB, not to mention the Constitution. 

            If the Judges do not wish to take this approach, the Judges may wish to assure that all songwriters who are affected by their ruling are provided with the full picture of what the deal was that induced the purported settlement.  This approach recognizes that the proposed regulations do nothing to disclose all consideration that was paid in connection with the settlement.  This question has been raised by many interested persons, including Representative Lloyd Doggett in a July 13, 2021 letter[18] to the Librarian of Congress and the Register of Copyrights regarding CRB procedures.

            The settlement expressly refers to undisclosed terms that sound very much like other consideration exchanged and also expressly refers[19] to a side deal or “MOU” between the NMPA and the major labels.[20]  How can the Judges determine, or expect anyone outside the insider group to agree, that the rates and terms set forth in the proposed regulations are fair and reasonable without knowing the full extent of the consideration exchanged?  Therefore, the proposed rule as drafted is simply not a reasonable basis for setting statutory terms or rates for those not party to the voluntary agreement as set forth in the Motion and who are not “in the know” regarding its terms including the terms of the MOU.

3.  Opt In for Independents and Co-Published Songwriters

            We perceive the obvious lack of authority to bind non-parties is a fatal flaw of the proposed settlement.  If true, lack of authority is likely sufficient good cause for the Judges to reject the settlement without even addressing whether the rates and terms meet the willing buyer-willing seller standard required by Congress. 

            We recognize that the Judges may wish to avoid an outright rejection of the purported settlement.  An agreement among the parties is consistent with the goals of a voluntary negotiation.  One remedy might be for the Judges to require the parties to construct an opt-in structure that would only apply to those who affirmatively agree to accept the frozen rate.  There clearly are precedents for implementing an opt-in structure that would allow songwriters and copyright owners to accept the settlement or reject it and negotiate their own arms-length rate as true and unrelated willing sellers to a willing buyer.[21]  If there really is a “consensus,” an opt-in process would simply confirm it in a legally cognizable manner.

            For example, if copyright owner A was party to a co-publishing agreement with publisher X who is represented on the NMPA board, it would be a simple thing to require publisher X to proffer an authorization document permitting the negotiation of the settlement on behalf of copyright owner A.  Failing that proffer, publisher X could put the settlement out for opt-in consent by copyright owner A and those in the same class as copyright owner A.  An opt-in process seems efficient.  Common questions would predominate, the publishers concerned would not be prohibitively numerous, the copyright owners could easily be located based on the billing relationship between them and publisher X and an opt-in structure would no doubt be preferable and less costly than other remedies.

            Alternatively, songwriters or copyright owners could be allowed to opt-out of the settlement by a simple notice by their publisher to them requesting an opt-in, or from them to their publisher opting in or out.  The Judges would, of course, do well to specify the rules for this process and supervise the administration.

            Absent this or similar evidence of authority, there will always be an open question of whether the purported settlement provides a reasonable basis for setting statutory terms or rates which may be answered later down the line in the CRB or other fora.

4.  When the Willing Buyer and Willing Seller Are Effectively the Same Legal Person

            It must be said that we sympathize with the position that the Judges are in of trying to divine a free market rate in America where songwriters have not been free in over 100 years.  In fact, songwriters in America have not been free for so long we could safely say they have never been free in stark contrast to the U.S. economy generally.  Generations of songwriters are held guilty of some long-forgotten and Kafka-esque original sin requiring a degree of government regulation as though songs were hazardous materials.  Regulation that protects monopolists like Google and iHeartMedia from the supposed anticompetitive urges of songwriters who we are asked to believe seek out the closed door of the writer room for one reason–collusion.

            While this willing buyer-willing seller standard makes good sense in the case of webcasting rates[22] or streaming mechanicals where the parties typically are not and are not likely to be related, it is extraordinarily difficult for the Writers to swallow in the case of the parties to the purported settlement—an ancient conflict of interest that was easily predictable on the face of the “Music Modernization Act.”[23]  There is nothing modern about this unitary buyer/seller problem. 

            The major publishers are, of course, owned at the group level by the same companies that own the major labels.  That’s what makes them “major” but that is also what makes them unitary.  Assuming arguendo that the major publishers have obtained the consent of their co-publishers or their administration principals, they would be free to enter into any permitted settlement even with their affiliated record company music users.  But the Motion is hardly a willing buyer-willing seller scenario—the two are essentially the same legal person, or are “unitary.”  Congressman Doggett raised a question about this very issue in his Letter, and we raise it here to the CRB.  We think it deserves a detailed reply from the CRB and will be a key legal precedent going forward under the “new” MMA standard.[24]  All the more reason why the settlement is more suited to a voluntary license among the parties than a rule that applies to all the world.

            The Judges may find the recent report[25] by the UK Parliament’s Digital Culture Media and Sport Committee to be helpful on this point; Ms. Lindvall and the Ivors Academy campaigned for the DCMS Committee’s inquiry. 

            The DCMS Committee called upon the Government to have the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority investigate competition in the recorded music market, particularly the tied song and sound recording markets,[26]  noting that: 

 “With [independent] music publishers…unanimously calling for the value of the song to have parity with the value of the recording [citation omitted], it is conspicuous that the MPA [the UK counterpart to the NMPA] refused to give a definitive perspective on the debate, particularly given that the publishing arms of the three major music groups are counted amongst their members….Whilst the major music groups dominate music publishing, there is little incentive for their music publishing interests to redress the devaluation of the song relative to the recording.[27]

            Accordingly, we do not believe, as discussed more fully below, that the purported settlement agreement in any way approximates fair or reasonable royalty rates and terms, or rates and terms that would have been negotiated in the marketplace between an arms-length willing buyer and a willing seller, i.e., a non-unitary buyer/seller.  Given the position expressed by the DCMS Committee, it’s entirely possible that at least the UK Parliament may wish to resolve the issue in another forum. 

We are open to being persuaded otherwise by the Judges, but it appears that the unitary willing buyer-willing seller will establish a critical precedent going forward.  Therefore, the proposed rule is simply not a reasonable basis in this great moment for setting statutory terms or rates until the application of this standard to related parties is clearly spelled out by the CRB and reviewed.

5.  Vinyl Is a Booming Business

            We ask that the Judges take notice of the multitude of news reports on vinyl sales.[28]  Contrary to the vague assertions by NSAI members outside of the Proceeding about unnamed and undisclosed “industry revenue analysis” when defending their decision to “accept” a frozen rate because they believe that physical is a declining configuration,[29] vinyl sales are, if anything, understated due to the severe inability of supply to keep up with demand.  (Why a rational commercial actor would allow that mismatch to continue to such an egregious extent and to the detriment of artists and songwriters is a whole other question.[30]

            These supply chain problems started well before the pandemic,[31] so please do not allow yourselves to be “gaslighted” into the belief that the problems are caused by the pandemic.  Since the whole point of capitalism is for supply to meet demand, we must assume that this situation will be remedied eventually considering the incredibly strong and nearly vertical demand for vinyl, yet that remedy is slow in coming. 

            While the 2008 coming of Spotify is taken by the press (and Spotify itself) as some sort of celestial arrival of a savior straight out of the Book of Revelation,[32] the data tell a different story about vinyl sales.  For whatever reason of consumer taste, the coming of Spotify was also roughly the beginning of the vinyl boom.  Respectfully, it does not take an economist to read the newspaper—stories of vinyl’s resilience to cannibalization by streaming abound. 

            This upward sales trend is reflected in new survey data as well.  According to a small survey conducted by Artist Rights Watch[33] of self-selected songwriters during the period June-July 2021, approximately 26% of respondents said that, roughly speaking, their songwriting income from physical sales had increased over the last two years, and 32% said they expect their income from physical sales to increase over the next two years.[34]

           

These survey results are consistent with the views expressed by Jeff Gold[35], a music industry veteran, historian and author who has operated the Record Mecca collectibles site for many years.  Rolling Stone profiled Mr. Gold as one of the five “top collectors of high-end music memorabilia.” Mr. Gold told us in an interview[36]:

            “I think the vinyl boom is being driven by a number of factors. First, nostalgia: people like me love the experience of looking at an album cover, putting a vinyl record on the turntable, and traveling back in time. The Record Collector world I live in has expanded as well, with highly collectible records [selling] for much more than ever.

            Second, for younger people I think there is a collectible factor – – they are trying something from a different era, it’s trendy to have a turntable and play vinyl records, and they think maybe this is something they can buy that’ll be worth more later. And that is often the case.

Also, there’s the Record Store Day[37] phenomenon, under pressing records to make instant collectibles.  And to some [vinyl records] are merch[andise] for fans of artists who want to own everything connected to that act.

The market for vinyl has dramatically expanded, and the rare vinyl I sell is more desirable than ever. If I had to guess I would think that the collectible record world will continue to expand, but at some point the fad vinyl buying will begin to ebb. Though I’ve been saying that for a long time and there’s no sign of it.”

            The Artist Rights Watch small survey and recent commentary[38] supports a phenomenon that we respectfully suggest the Judges should explore further before accepting the alleged “consensus” for the purported settlement as fact—a significant number of songwriters appear to find mechanical royalty income from physical sales to be important to them and likely would not accept the terms of the voluntary agreement.  Again, we are not trying to dictate rates and terms to those who find the voluntary agreement to suit their needs; they should have their rates and terms.  But we respectfully ask the Judges not to impose those frozen rates on everyone else without their participation and consent as well as evidence.  What is good for the goose may be anathema to the gander.

            Even if every single one of the current vinyl trends are wrong, even if vinyl stops being a resurgent business and abruptly crashes and burns at some point in the next five years due to supply chain problems or reversals in consumption patterns not currently measurable, even if the NSAI songwriters’ undisclosed sources turn out to be 100% correct, what remains even in the industry-wide and world-wide 1% of revenue projected by the NSAI songwriters is still a significant revenue stream to a large portion of songwriters[39] and even music users.  We will believe the users do not care about physical and digital downloads when the first record company president comes forward and declines 15% of annual billing.

            These assertions and speculations about the future are a fine example of a judgement based on conditional probabilities that does not consider the effect of prior probabilities.  If this sudden crash theory really is part of the majority’s thinking, it does seem that the least they could do is provide the Judges and the public with supporting evidence on the record for their projection (or their guesswork) that so far is entirely absent from the record.

            We do not make an emotional appeal, however.  Sales levels do not change the fact that songs have value that deserves greater economic analysis and justification than a finger in the wind.  As the DCMS Committee observed in their referral to the UK’s competition authorities, there are some unusual forces at work here.  The Motion may well provide greater evidence for such a review albeit inadvertently.

            In the absence of an economic case put on by any party to the voluntary agreement regarding freezing Subpart B rates, we ask that the Judges take notice of the overwhelming amount of public information available to document the importance of vinyl and the error of the fundamental assumptions of the NSAI songwriters which we assume gave voice to certain NMPA members.  We have provided the Judges with a handful of representative articles above.
            While the CRB may have other reasons for continuing to impose the existing frozen mechanical rate on the world’s songwriters for another five years, relying on an unnamed “industry revenue analysis” of imaginary dwindling physical sales without inquiring further when there is ample public evidence to the contrary seems to be an unreasonable and arbitrary basis for setting statutory terms or rates.  In fact, putting your finger in the air and guessing that vinyl sales will reverse course into a nose-dive in the face of overwhelming facts and data to the contrary seems the very definition of arbitrary.

6.  Disclosure Should be Mandatory

            Respectfully, we believe there is a compelling need for the Judges to require the disclosure of both the settlement agreement that established the frozen rates as well as the MOU referenced in the Motion.[40]  It appears from the Motion that there was additional consideration beyond putting a finger in the air and deciding to freeze the rates another five years; yet, that additional consideration is described but not disclosed.  It seems that no copyright owner (other than insiders) can rationally evaluate the purported settlement without knowing all the facts.

            We respectfully call the Judges’ attention to analogous facts in Pandora’s ASCAP and BMI rate court proceedings from 2007.  While dated, the story is good background for understanding the problems that can be unleashed from bootstrapping secret deals into law—in the Pandora case, one could say that it led directly to the Music Modernization Act’s provisions requiring random assignment of rate court judges.  This quote from Billboard[41] is a succinct description of the problem:

Back in 2007-2010, when ASCAP and BMI rate court judges were involved in litigation between DMX and performance rights societies, the judges examined the direct licensing deals DMX cut with publishers. During that process, judges did not review the advances or any of the other aspects of the deal, and only looked at the reduced per-store royalty rate. Consequently, in the case of BMI, this resulted in the per-store negotiated rate falling from $36.36 to a per-location fee of $18.91, much to the chagrin of the publishers, who stayed a part of the PROs’ blanket licenses. The ASCAP rate court returned a similar finding.

             Congressman Doggett also correctly raised this question in his Letter and it is entirely understandable—without disclosure of all consideration, strangers to the settlement are being asked to buy a pig in a poke.

            Accordingly, we ask that you compel the disclosure of all documents, payments and other consideration that changed hands or were promised to change hands in the purported settlement.  This would include any payments outside the four corners of the Motion but related to the purported settlement. In the absence of that disclosure or binding certification that it does not exist, the proposed rule is simply not a reasonable basis for setting statutory terms or rates until the full terms of the purported settlement are disclosed or the settlement is cabined as a voluntary license among the parties. 

7.  Raising the Rates

                 First and foremost, the problem with the CRB adopting the purported settlement as the law of the land is the appearance of the bootstrapping of a private deal among apparently related parties and the controlled opposition into rates and terms that apply to all songwriters in the world.  As Congressman Doggett says in his Letter, these are rates and terms that apply to all songs ever written or that ever may be written.  We know you will agree that the rule making authority of the CRB is a serious and solemn example of the awesome power of the government over unrepresented songwriters. 

                 The potential for this bootstrapping is particularly offensive to songwriters who live outside the United States as evidenced by opposition to the frozen mechanicals from a host of international songwriter groups. 

                 We wish to express our desire for a separate and higher rate from the frozen rate accepted by the parties to the purported settlement.  We recognize the corner that the CRB has been backed into regarding raising the rates that have been frozen for so long that they have been substantially eroded by inflation without even considering the value of songs to the booming vinyl business.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI-U calculator[42] (the same index used by the Judges in the recent Web V rate determination), a 9.1¢ rate set in 2006 would be indexed to 12¢ today. We therefore estimate that 9.1¢ in 2006 would have the buying power today of approximately 6¢, less than the 1992 mechanical rate established 29 years ago.[43]   

                 However justified, we are sure that raising the 9.1¢ rate across the board would be met by a great howling and rending of garments by at least some of the parties to the purported settlement.  The easy answer to this issue is one raised by Congressman Doggett in his Letter–limiting the settlement rate to the settling parties and setting a higher rate for non-settling parties, i.e., the inverse of the trick referenced above that was played by DMX on the entire industry and the rate courts.

                 The new minimum statutory rate applied to the non-settling parties could be as simple as a headline rate between a bounded range greater than 9.1¢ and up to 12¢ with the appropriate adjustment for the long-song formula.  That headline rate could then be adjusted for inflation and indexed to the CPI-U for the out-years in a similar manner as the Judges applied in Web V.  Even these rates are excruciatingly low and demonstrate the deep hole that the government imposed on songwriters between 1909 and 1978 when the rate for generations of songwriters was frozen at 2¢ through two World Wars, the Great Depression, a global pandemic, two post-war booms and a moon walk.  Songwriters have been digging out ever since, both in the US and abroad due to America’s long commercial shadow.  The Writers fear that a similar freeze has developed with the Subpart B rates and without meaningful consultation.[44]  While we cannot reasonably ask the CRB to solve all the world’s mistakes, we can ask that the Judges not repeat them.  As Congressman Doggett says, we are concerned that we not misstep.

           Alternatively, the CRB could, after consultation with representative parties opposing the frozen rates such as the Songwriters Guild of America, Ivors Academy, ATX Musicians, the Society of Composers and Lyricists, MusicAnswers, the Screen Composers Guild of Canada, Alliance of Latin American Composers & Authors, Asia-Pacific Music Creators Alliance, Pan-African Composers and Songwriters Alliance, Music Creators North America, the Alliance for Women Film Composers and ECSA appoint a representative for independent songwriters to negotiate with both the major labels and the independent labels on rates applicable to and higher than the rates in the settlement.  Such a consultation in this or another forum would go a long way toward clearing up the due process and equal protection Constitutional issues hanging like a cloud over the current Proceeding.  Obviously, the cost of such negotiation should not be borne by the songwriters or recouped from their royalties.

           Therefore, absent such a ruling by the Judges, the proposed rule is simply not a fair or reasonable basis for setting statutory terms or rates until there are truly representative bodies negotiating on behalf of songwriters and independent copyright owners. 

              Thank you again for this opportunity to express our views on the proposed rule.  We respectfully hope that our comment has provided the Judges with some additional insight into how the proposed rule affects independent songwriters and publishers both in America and around the world, particularly since none of us can afford to participate in the rate setting proceeding itself.  We greatly appreciate the Judges’ willingness to avoid process becoming punishment.

                                                                  Respectfully submitted.

                                                                 Christian L. Castle
                                                                
                                                                 Christian L. Castle, Attorneys
                                                                 9600 Great Hills Trail, Suite 150W
                                                                 Austin, Texas 78759

                                                                 July 26, 2021


                  [1]  We focus in this comment almost entirely on the Subpart B rates applicable to physical carriers under 37 C.F.R. §385.11(a).  We note, however, that there is some apprehension among songwriters that the “music bundle” rate in 37 C.F.R. § 385.11(c) could be twisted in a way to drag Non-Fungible Tokens into the frozen rates.  We doubt that Congress intended to include NFTs in the statutory rates since they did not exist even at the time of the Title I amendment to Section 115.  It would certainly add insult to injury for large sums to change hands for NFTs but songwriters be reduced to their usual meagre gruel in compensation while everyone else enriches themselves from the songs. Clarity on this point would be appreciated.

                  [2] See The Scope of Fair Use: Hearing before the Subcomm. on the Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet of the H. Comm. on the Judiciary, 113th Cong. (Jan. 28, 2014) (statement of David Lowery)

                  [3] See #IRespectMusic campaign, available at https://www.irespectmusic.org.

                  [4] See Reps. Issa, Deutch Introduce Bill to Ensure Artists Receive Fair Pay for FM/AM Radio Airplay (June 21, 2021) available at https://issa.house.gov/media/press-releases/reps-issa-deutch-introduce-bill-ensure-artists-receive-fair-pay-fmam-radio.

                  [5] Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc., 593 U.S. ___ (2021), Brief of Amici Curiae Helienne Lindvall, David Lowery, Blake Morgan and the Songwriters Guild of America in support of Respondent (2021) available at https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/18/18-956/133298/20200218155210566_18-956%20bsac%20Helienne%20Lindvall%20et%20al–PDFA.pdf.

                  [6] Motion To Adopt Settlement Of Statutory Royalty Rates and Terms For Subpart B Configurations, Docket No. 21-CRB-0001-PR (2023-2027) hereafter the “Motion.”

                  [7] See, e.g., 17 U.S.C. §115(c)(1)(D).

                  [8] We invite the Judges to take notice of the relationships at the board level between the NMPA and the NSAI which is beyond the scope of the comment, but we think the Judges may find very relevant for discussions of negotiating authority and the scope of designation of a common agent.

                  [9] It must be noted that the NMPA board and the NSAI board share members from time to time.

                  [10] We are mindful of the result of the WTO arbitration over the Fairness in Music Licensing Act that found the United States liable for damages in violating the TRIPS Agreement. See WT/DS160/12 (Jan. 15, 2001) available at https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/FE_Search/FE_S_S006.aspx?Query=(@Symbol=%20wt/ds160/*)%20and%20(@Title=%20((arbitration%20under%20article%2021.3)%20and%20((award%20of%20the%20arbitrator)%20or%20(report%20of%20the%20arbitrator))))&Language=ENGLISH&Context=FomerScriptedSearch&languageUIChanged=true#,

                  [11] See, e.g., United States v. Arthrex, Inc., 594 U.S. ____ (2021).

                  [12] Motion at 4.

                  [13]  The Cambridge English Dictionary defines “consensus” as either a “generally accepted opinion” or a “wide agreement,” neither of which apply to frozen mechanicals.

                  [14] Paul Resnikoff, AMLC Board Member Accuses NMPA President David Israelite of Tortious Business Interference and Collusion, Digital Music News (Nov. 28, 2018) available at https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2018/11/28/amlc-nmpa-president-david-israelite-collusion/

                  [15] Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address (1801) (“All too will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect, and to violate would be oppression.”)(emphasis added); James Madison, Federalist Papers 10 and 51.  John Locke, Second Treatise of Government (1689) at par. 95 (“[N]o one can be put out of [his property], and subjected to the political power of another, without his own consent.”)

            [16] The tradition of concern with the familiar “tyranny of the majority” sounds in discussions of representative government, the concern being that the majority that gives a representative quorum in a body also could lead to disastrous consequences for the minority.  This is particularly true when the governed have rules imposed on them that they had no part in crafting by persons they had no part in electing.  Washington expressed it well and highlights the very point before this Court today:  “To be fearful of vesting Congress, constituted as that body is, with ample authorities for national purposes, appears to me the very climax of popular absurdity and madness. Could Congress exert them for the detriment of the public without injuring themselves in an equal or greater proportion? Are not their interests inseparably connected with those of their constituents? By the rotation of appointment must they not mingle frequently with the mass of citizens? Is it not rather to be apprehended, if they were possessed of the power before described, that the individual members would be induced to use them, on many occasions, very timidly and inefficaciously for fear of losing their popularity and future election?”  George Washington, “To John Jay,” August 15, 1786, The Papers of George Washington, “Confederation Series,” Vol. 4 (1976) at 212–13 (emphasis added).  If the truth is as we apprehend it, that a dedicated group of essentially unelected likeminded people known for extracting vengeance from anyone who dares question them got in a private room at a private meeting and decided the fate of the world’s songwriters was their unelected remit, then this is not even a vote fulfilling the tyranny of the majority because there was no vote and there was no majority—just tyranny.  de Tocqueville admonishes that “[t]he despotism of faction is not less to be dreaded than the despotism of an individual.”  Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol. 2, Ch. XIV (1840) at 289.

                  [17] This is particularly relevant in the case of a songwriter who has entered one of the various publishing, co-publishing or administration agreements commonly in use in the music business.  If publisher X intends to be bound by the settlement, yet does not act under its own name in the settlement, songwriters “signed” to publisher X have no way of knowing if they are to be bound.  While certain relationships can be inferred, it seems that there should be clarity regarding the parties to such a watershed agreement.

                  [18] Letter from Hon. Lloyd Doggett to Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden and Register of Copyrights Shira Perlmutter (July 13, 2021), available at https://thetrichordist.files.wordpress.com/2021/07/letter-library-of-congress-register-of-copyrights-7.13.21.pdf hereafter “Letter”.

                  [19] “Concurrent with the settlement, the Joint Record Company Participants and NMPA have separately entered into a memorandum of understanding addressing certain negotiated licensing processes and late fee waivers.” Motion at 3.

            [20] The “MOU” description and “late fee waiver” reference brings to mind another late fee “MOU” being the NMPA Late Fee Program available at http://www.nmpalatefeesettlement.com/mou2/index.php.  If this MOU is a version of that MOU, it could be a substantial sum.  (“The Record Companies have represented there is approximately $275 million in “pending and unmatched” accrued royalties (the “P&U Royalties”) that have not been distributed to the music publishers. In exchange for waivers of certain late fees through 2012, the Record Companies must comply with the provisions of the MOU, including paying participating music publishers and foreign societies their respective market share of accrued P&U Royalties.”  Available at http://www.nmpalatefeesettlement.com/group_1/summary.pdf)

                  [21] For example, see the Songclaims.com portal used to implement the Spotify class action settlement.

                  [22] 17 U.S.C. §§ 112, 114(d)(2).

                 [23] 17 U.S.C. §§ 115(b)(1) and (3).

                  [24] It is worth noting that we have been unable to find any reference to the unitary buyer/seller in any of the public comments or legislative history regarding the Music Modernization Act.  In fact, the NMPA’s “pitch sheet” entitled Music Modernization Act (MMA): Bringing Songwriters into the Digital Age (Dec. 28, 2017) states that the new MMA rate standard establishes “[r]ates based on what a willing buyer and a willing seller would agree to reflect market negotiations” in contrast to the 801(b) standard that resulted in “below-market rates.”

                  [25] Digital Culture Media and Sport Committee, Economics of Music Streaming (Second Report of Session 2021-22), UK Parliament (July 15, 2021) available at https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/6739/documents/71977/default/.

                  [26] Id. at 3 and 105.

                  [27] Id. at 71 (emphasis added).

                  [28] Tina Benitez-Eves, Vinyl Record Sales up 108.2% in First Half of 2021, American Songwriter (July 16, 2021) (“For the past 15 years, vinyl record sales have seen consecutive growth, despite the continued uptick of digital consumption in the U.S. and drop in sales and backup in production due to the pandemic.”)  available at https://americansongwriter.com/vinyl-record-sales-up-108-2-in-first-half-of-2021/;  Sarah Whitten, Music Fans Pushed Sales of Vinyl Albums Higher, Outpacing CDs, Even As Pandemic Sidelined Stadium Tours, CNBC (July 14, 2021) (“Music consumption in the first half of the year has remained robust even without the sold-out stadium tours, according to a new report. While on-demand audio streaming is up 15%, consumers are also looking to own more tangible collectibles like vinyl albums, which continue to surpass CD sales. In the first six months of 2021, 19.2 million vinyl albums were sold, outpacing CD volume of 18.9 million, according to MRC Data, an analytics firm that specializes in collecting data from the entertainment and music industries.”) available at https://www.msn.com/en-us/entertainment/news/music-fans-pushed-sales-of-vinyl-albums-higher-outpacing-cds-even-as-pandemic-sidelined-stadium-tours/ar-AAM6S31; Ed Christman, Audio Streams Up 15%, Vinyl Sales Double in First Half of 2021, Billboard (July 15, 2021) (“Vinyl sales, which have grown for the past decade, more than doubled between January and June, up 108.2% to 19.2 million from 9.2 million in the first six months of last year. Even CD sales, which have been steadily and precipitously declining, posted a modest 2.2% gain, to 18.9 million units. The only serious loss was in digital sales: Album downloads fell 26.8%, to 12.92 million, while track sales dropped 20.3%, to 101.8 million. But physical sales rose so much that, for the first time in years, total album sales rose, by 12.6% to 51.26 million.”) available at https://www.msn.com/en-us/music/news/audio-streams-up-15-vinyl-sales-double-in-first-half-of-2021/ar-AAM9Sk7); Sam Willings, Sainsbury’s Supermarket Will Stop Selling CDs, Sale of Vinyl Records Will Continue (July 13, 2021) (“A spokesperson for the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) told the BBC that “The CD has proved exceptionally successful for nearly 40 years and remains a format of choice for many music fans who value sound quality, convenience and collectability.”  They continued: “Although demand has been following a long-term trend as consumers increasingly transition to streaming, resilient demand is likely to continue for many years, enhanced by special editions and other collectable releases.”) available at https://www.musictech.net/news/sainsburys-supermarket-will-stop-selling-cds-sale-of-vinyl-records-to-continue/; Andre Paine, Record Store Day set to deliver another summer boost for vinyl sales, Music Week (July 15, 2021)(“ Participating shops will be expecting queues from the early hours as fans and record collectors seek out rare and exclusive vinyl titles being released especially for the day.”) available at https://www.musicweek.com/labels/read/record-store-day-set-to-deliver-another-summer-boost-for-vinyl-sales/083710; Sage Anderson, Barnes & Noble ‘Vinyl Weekend’ Launches With Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac Exclusives, Rolling Stone (July 15, 2021)(“Barnes & Noble may be known for their cozy bookstores and massive collective of great reads across all genres, but the retailer has also just announced the return of their fan-favorite “Vinyl Weekend,” which offers dozens of limited-edition records and exclusive in-store and online specials.”) available at https://www.rollingstone.com/product-recommendations/lifestyle/barnes-and-noble-vinyl-turntable-sale-1197904/. 

                  [29] L.B. Cantrell, NSAI Songwriters Respond to Criticism of Decision not to Challenge Physical Mechanical Rates, Music Row (June 2, 2021)(“Based on industry revenue analysis, it is anticipated that physical mechanical royalties will amount to less than 1% of the total mechanical royalty revenue in the United States during 2023-2028, the rate period this CRB proceeding covers.”) available at https://musicrow.com/2021/06/nsai-songwriters-respond-to-criticism-of-decision-not-to-challenge-physical-royalty-rates/.

                  [30] Erin Osman, “It’s a Total Nightmare”: Problems at Direct Shot Distributing Has Made New Vinyl and CDs Scarce, Billboard (Dec. 18, 2019) (“Since April, record stores and labels have been plagued by a distribution bottleneck that began when Warner Music Group moved its physical product to Direct Shot Distributing (DSD). The change made DSD, which also has contracts with Universal and Sony, one of the largest distributors of physical music in the country. The problem became apparent on April 13 — Record Store Day, the busiest and most profitable day of the year for many retailers — when some stores didn’t receive the exclusive releases they had ordered. Since then, the problem has gotten worse.”), available at https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/8546794/direct-shot-distributing-problems-vinyl-cds-physical-product.

                  [31] Allison Hussey, A Major Music Distributor Has Stifled Vinyl Sales for Record Stores and Indie Distributors, Sources Say, Pitchfork (Dec. 19, 2019) available at https://pitchfork.com/thepitch/a-major-music-distributor-has-stifled-vinyl-sales-for-record-stores-and-indie-labels-sources-say/.

                  [32] David Rowan, Daniel Ek: Europe’s Greatest Digital Influencer Tops Wired 100, Wired (May 16, 2014) available at https://www.wired.co.uk/article/wired-100-daniel-ek.

                  [33] “Thriving on scorn from the establishment since 2015”, http://www.artistrightswatch.com               

[34] Artist Rights Watch, Songwriter Mechanical Royalty Income Questionnaire June-July 2021 to be made available at http://www.artistrightswatch.com and results available from the commenters (N=54).

                  [35] https://recordmecca.com/about/

                  [36] Available from the authors.

                  [37] See, e.g., https://recordstoreday.com

                  [38] See, e.g., Artist Rights Watch Podcast Episode 1 “Frozen Mechanicals” available at https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-artist-rights-watch/id1574250584; The Trichordist.com “frozen mechanicals” category https://thetrichordist.com/category/frozen-mechanicals/

                  [39] We are likewise unaware of any provision of the Copyright Act or regulations promulgated there under that provides for a sales-based determination of any particular rate.  Such an argument appears to be exactly what underlies the NMPA and NSAI acquiescence to frozen rates but it simply is not the law that the fewer phonorecords sold the lower the royalty rate that the CRB may set.

                  [40] There may be other side agreements that are not disclosed in the Motion.

                  [41] Ed Christman, Less Could Be More:  Why Merlin’s Deal with Pandora May Pay Off, Billboard (Dec. 11, 2014) (emphasis added).

                  [42] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CPI Inflation Calculator available at https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm.

                  [43] The minimum statutory royalty rate in effect during the 1992-93 period was 6.25¢.  U.S. Copyright Office, Mechanical License Royalty Rates (Sept. 2018) available at https://www.copyright.gov/licensing/m200a.pdf.

                  [44] Respectfully, the Congress missed an opportunity to strike a blow for fairness in the Copyright Act of 1976 when it failed to index the 2¢ rate retroactively and instead treated a 70-year wage and price control as thought there were nothing to see here.  Had Congress indexed the rate retroactively and then increased the rate prospectively based on value and indexed to inflation, songwriters would be exponentially better off.  When songwriters complain to the CRB that they struggle to make a living, it is this decades long dark hole of the 2¢ rate freeze that is a major contributing factor and apparently punishment for some long-forgotten original sin.  While the CRB is not tasked to fix all the songwriters’ financial woes, an argument could be made that it is at least partly responsible for fixing the ones cause by the government or at least not making it any worse by taking actions such as freezing mechanical royalty rates for twenty years.

#FrozenMechanical Crisis: @RosanneCash’s Must-Read Comment to Copyright Royalty Board

[Rosanne Cash brings a heartfelt and vitally important songwriter’s perspective to the Copyright Royalty Board’s public comments on the frozen mechanical rulemaking. Download and share her comment at this link.]

Rosanne Cash

New York, NY

Copyright Royalty Judge David R. Strickler
Chief Copyright Royalty Judge Jesse M. Feder
Copyright Royalty Judge Steven Ruwe

US Copyright Royalty Board
101 Independence Avenue S.E.
Washington, DC 20024

Your Honors:

Electronically Filed

Docket: 21-CRB-0001-PR (2023-2027) Filing Date: 08/02/2021 03:16:26 PM EDT

I welcome this opportunity to comment on the review of rates and terms for royalties for songwriters. Songwriting is an honorable profession, and a lifelong vocation with the same discipline, attention to detail, and devotion to craft as every other creative pursuit which elevates our humanity and expresses our deepest feelings. ‘It all begins with a song’, as a recent documentary about songwriters was titled.

I am a guest teacher in music and writing departments at various universities around the country— Yale, NYU, University of Iowa, University of Pennsylvania, and more, as well as a songwriter for forty-plus years. I’m enormously grateful for the gift of being able to weave poetry and stories into melodies, and have applied a rigorous discipline to better myself in my work over the decades. The intensity of purpose and willingness to work hard which I see in young songwriters when I hold writing workshops is heartwarming, and often heartbreaking, because I know so few of them will actually ‘make it’ in the music business.

One of the most reliable ways a songwriter can still make a minimum-to-decent wage is through mechanical royalties from sales of songs— both download and physical purchases— but the small percentage of these sales going to songwriters has not been raised or even been adjusted for inflation since the rate was set 15 years ago. Vinyl sales are increasing— which is wonderful news for creators. Young music consumers are newly enamored of vinyl records. They want something they can own, and hold in their hands. They want to read liner notes and pull out the inserts and see who the musicians are, and who wrote the songs, and read the lyrics. I am by no means a young or new artist, but even my audience is slowly turning back to vinyl, as partly evidenced by the number of vinyl records I sign after each show.

There are many things that need to be changed to support the creative class and show writers and artists that they are valued members of society, and that they deserve to be paid for their work as much as any other professional who provides service— and we are indeed a service industry, albeit one for the heart and soul.

One easy change is to release songwriters from a 20 year freeze-out (to use a term from songwriter Bruce Springsteen, who, by the way, is doing fine financially, but I assume would want young songwriters coming up behind him to also do fine), to increase the rate, and adjust for inflation.

I value the next generation of songwriters deeply, and I don’t want to see an entire population give up their passion and their chosen vocation, because they can’t pay the rent. I am also fine financially (not as fine as Bruce or Beyonce, but who is?) but there are many, many struggling songwriters who critically depend on a fair rate for physical sales.

The need for fair pay in regards mechanical royalties from sales of songs is more dire because of the lack of fairness in compensation from streaming services. Streaming services are not in the music business. They are in the tech business, and they have built multi-billion dollar profit machines on the back of songwriters and musicians whom they use as loss-leader content. Again, a modicum of equity and fairness could be created for songwriters in a place that can be controlled by setting a fair rate, adjusted for inflation. It’s only a beginning in our determination to protect and value the creative population, but it’s a very real-world, common sense step, and I hope you consider who is behind the music that sustains, nurtures, and uplifts you in your lives, and adjust this critical royalty rate.

It all begins with a song.

Respectfully,

Rosanne Cash

Songwriter
Board member, Artist Rights Alliance

New York City August 1, 2021

Frozen Mechanicals Crisis: @NorthMusicGroup Comment to Copyright Royalty Board

July 26, 2021

Via Electronic Delivery

Copyright Royalty Board 37 CFR Part 385

[Docket No. 21–CRB–0001–PR (2023–2027)]

Determination of Rates and Terms for Making and Distributing Phonorecords (Phonorecords IV)

Copyright Royalty Judge David R. Strickler
Chief Copyright Royalty Judge Jesse M. Feder
Copyright Royalty Judge Steven Ruwe
US Copyright Royalty Board
101 Independence Ave SE
Washington, DC 20024

To Your Honors:

My name is Abby North. I am a music publishing administrator based in Los Angeles. My views expressed in this letter are solely my own.

With my husband, I am a copyright owner of the classic song “Unchained Melody,” among other copyrights.  I also administer musical works on behalf of songwriters, their families and heirs. My clients depend on royalties to pay for life’s essentials.

It is imperative that the Judges understand that despite what some parties may argue, Subpart B royalties absolutely are meaningful to songwriters.

There is no dispute over the fact that streaming is the most prominent form of music distribution, as reported in the popular press.  But mounting evidence shows a significant and consistent growth in vinyl production.  CDs remain popular among some listeners. Other listeners prefer to have permanently available digital copies, i.e., downloads.

Vinyl, once written off for dead, has enjoyed almost 15 years of consecutive growth, with more than 19 million vinyl records sold in the US so far this year.  Per Digital Music News, this is an increase of 108% over the previous year. The Judges need only look to this year’s Record Store Day on July 17 for confirmation of the vinyl resurgence.  

Amazon Music now offers a “Vinyl of the Month” club, curated by “the experts at Amazon Music.”

Vinyl pressing plants are overwhelmed by the volume of orders they are fulfilling, and it is commonly understood in the industry that vinyl sales would be far higher if production could keep up with demand.

Vinyl is now treated as a merchandise item by many labels and artists, and as such it is a significant contributor to the overall earnings of many artists, from the smallest independent to Taylor Swift.

An artist/songwriter of Taylor Swift’s stature may not rely on earnings from vinyl, but other songwriters most certainly do. This is particularly true of artist/songwriters who have seen their high margin vinyl sales cannibalized by streaming (as was noted in the recent report by the UK Parliament’s Digital Culture Media & Sport Committee on the Economics of Music Streaming).  And ALL songwriters rely on any source of revenue available for exploitation of their songs.

As a rightsholder and administrator of legacy and current copyrights, I can testify that mechanicals from physical and download media are a substantial share of overall royalties.

In reviewing my clients’ 2Q21 statements, one legacy songwriter received 57% of his period royalties from physical mechanicals and 9% from download mechanicals. Another writer had uniquely high grand rights and sync royalties for the period, but still saw 17% of overall royalties from physical and download mechanicals. If we remove the grand rights and sync amounts, the overall total from physical and download mechanicals is 35%.

It is clear that streaming rates, even at 15.1%, are not sustainable for most songwriters. It is obvious that without a more equitable streaming revenue distribution model, we will continue to see songwriters leave the business entirely, or at least be forced to pick up side gigs to increase their income.

These facts provide the undeniable case against freezing the Subpart B rate at $.091 per unit.  Arguments I have heard from insiders defending their decision to freeze the rates are that downloads will decline if Apple stops supporting iTunes, and that physical sales are so negligible that they just do not matter. Walk into any record store or follow fans to the merch stands at a concert and you will see and hear the real story. Also, Apple is not the only distributor of digital downloads.

It appears that significant and impactful decisions are allowed to be made by a tiny group of participants that is in the room primarily because this group has tens of millions of dollars to fund legal expenses. This very small group with undeniably substantial resources and very deep pockets decided that it is in support of a rate freeze.

This very small group is now asking the Judges to apply its private deal to each and every songwriter in the world.  And yet, almost none of these songwriters were included in that decision to freeze the rate.

The ability for just two trade organizations to have such an oppressive global impact is staggering. What about the rest of the songwriters and independent publishers and their due process rights?

Respectfully, I implore the Judges to keep in mind that the NMPA does not represent all music publishers, and the NMPA itself owns no copyrights.   At best, the NMPA Board of Directors could speak solely for the music publishers that employ them.

NSAI is one of many United States songwriter organizations, and like the NMPA, owns no copyrights. It most certainly does not represent all songwriters from all US songwriter organizations, and it certainly does not represent songwriters around the world who are not affiliated with songwriter organizations. 

As an illustration of global songwriter opposition, both the UK’s Ivors Academy and the European Composer and Songwriter Alliance have each come out against frozen mechanicals.

I ask the Judges to recognize that NSAI and the NMPA do not have such broad authority to reasonably put forth decisions that affect all the world’s songwriters and publishers.

In the recent Web V decision, the Judges acknowledged the need for an inflation-indexed increase in the statutory rate for sound recordings.  Due to the inevitable decline in buying power created by inflation, the physical and download mechanical rate must correspondingly increase.

I have no objection to a settlement related to mechanicals. I do have an objection to a freeze proposed without authority that does not both increase the old $.091 rate and also include an adjustment for inflation at a bare minimum.

To freeze the rate for 20 years ignores the debilitating impact of inflation, ignores the needs of songwriters and truly independent music publishers like me who are not represented before the CRB, and frankly, displays a willingness to undervalue music.

It is imperative that in the future, publishers and songwriters at large, domestically, and globally be given a mechanism to participate in the rate-setting process, whether or not they have millions of dollars to spend on lawyers.

Music is crucial to human well-being. The American Songbook and its many creators are a treasured element of United States, and in fact, world culture.

How can something so important, so meaningful and so rare not be deserving of a rate increase that at least mitigates the effect of inflation?

Sincerely,

Abby North

North Music Group LLC

Letter from Congressman Lloyd Doggett about Frozen Mechanicals to Librarian of Congress and Register of Copyrights

[This is a letter from Austin Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) to the Librarian of Congress (who appoints and can sack the Copyright Royalty Judges) and the head of the Copyright Office about procedures in the Copyright Royalty Board’s proceeding on frozen mechanicals. Download the original letter here.]


Dr. Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress
Shira Perlmutter, Register of Copyrights
The Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave SE Washington, DC 20540

Dear Dr. Hayden and Ms. Perlmutter,

As a Representative covering music communities from San Antonio to Austin, the “Live Music Capitol of the World,” some of my songwriter constituents[1] are concerned about some procedural and substantive issues arising in the ongoing “Determination of Royalty Rates and Terms for Making and Distributing Phonorecords (Phonorecords IV)” currently pending before the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB). I write to seek some clarity for them and for me. The statutory rates set by the CRB are binding on all songs ever written or that may ever be written by anyone in the world who exploits songs in copyright in the United States. While referred to as a “minimum” I am told that statutory rates in practice are a maximum and are, of course, compulsory. Naturally, I am concerned that we not misstep.

While I know the CRB has not rendered a decision in Phonorecords IV, I am trying to understand the process by which the CRB: (1) evaluates settlement agreements proffered by certain parties to a proceeding prior to publishing those settlements for public comment, (2) determines the application of the new “willing buyer/willing seller” standard for rate setting when buyer and seller are related parties, and (3) the degree of transparency that the CRB may require of participants in the proceeding particularly terms of private settlements that the parties voluntarily disclose related to the rates they have negotiated.

In particular, I draw your attention to the Motion To Adopt Settlement Of Statutory Royalty Rates And Terms For Subpart B Configurations, Docket No. 21-CRB-0001-PR (2023-2027) filed by the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA), Nashville Songwriters Association International, Sony Music Entertainment, UMG Recordings, Inc. and Warner Music Group Corp.[2]     This settlement has provoked concern because of its disclosed terms regarding an additional five-year freeze for “mechanical” royalty rates on phonorecords in the physical and permanent download configurations, and undisclosed terms if adopted by the CRB in its determination.

The settling parties apparently refer to both a settlement agreement relating to certain mechanical royalty rates and another agreement that refers to undisclosed “negotiated licensing processes and late fee waivers.” Those settling parties ask the CRB to adopt their settlement on an “industry-wide basis,” and I am trying to better understand what this request means.  I do not wish to interfere in the CRB’s adjudication of the matters before it, but I hope you can help me understand certain procedural matters relating to the CRB itself.

I would appreciate your answering the following questions at your earliest convenience due to the ongoing nature of both Phonorecords IV and other rate setting proceedings before the CRB and thank you in advance for your courtesy.

(1) There appear to be two settlements referenced in the Motion, being the rate setting settlement summarized in draft regulations attached and this other “memorandum of understanding” (“MOU”) between Sony Music Entertainment, UMG Recordings, Inc. and Warner Music Group Corp. (i.e., the same parties to the private rate settlement except the NSAI).

Question: May the CRB disclose (or compel the settlement participants to disclose) the unredacted actual settlement agreements referenced in the Motion, including the MOU?

(2) In the Music Modernization Act,[3]  Congress directed CRB Judges to set the statutory mechanical royalty rate by utilizing a “willing buyer/willing seller” rate standard designed to model the rates that would be reflected in a free market. In the case of the “industry-wide” settlements proposed by the Motion, it appears that there may be joint ownership of some of the members of the NMPA and the record companies proposing the settlement on rates.

Question: Are the Subpart B rates subject to the “willing buyer/willing seller” rate standard?

Question: If so, what is the rule when the “willing buyer” and “willing seller” are under the same corporate umbrella?

(3) It seems that the participants in the proceeding, and certainly the participants in the settlement, are dominated by major publishers and record companies seeking to impose their private settlement on all other songwriters. If other songwriter groups are not participating in the proceeding but object to the settlement (such as songwriters from more diverse communities) I am concerned that those songwriters may have no recourse.

Question: May the CRB limit the scope of a private party settlement to the parties, but determine a higher rate applies to others?

The Motion and the “frozen mechanicals” issue has prompted considerable public debate in the United States and Europe as reported in The Trichordist artist blog[,[4] Billboard, [5]   Complete Music Update[  [6]  and the Creative Industries Newsletter[7].   Three NSAI songwriters have published a defense[8] of their participation in the Motion. The Trichordist notes that the CRB produces considerable frustration and passion on all sides because the process is “inequitable, unwieldy and prohibitively expensive.”[9]

On page 4 of the Motion, the parties advise the CRB that this settlement represents the “consensus of buyers and sellers representing the vast majority of the market for “mechanical ” rights for [physical, permanent downloads]…” Setting aside the issue of the settlement participants representing “buyers” and “sellers” under the same corporate umbrellas, it seems appropriate that every songwriter who will be affected by the outcome of this proceeding, from San Antonio and Austin, Memphis, to Detroit and beyond, should have the opportunity to read and comment meaningfully on the actual settlement agreement posed for adoption, and the related MOU referenced.

I look forward to your response and to continuing to work with you on these matters of such critical importance to our culture and to songwriters everywhere. Please also let me know if you have any other insights to this which may be helpful for my constituents.

Sincerely,

Lloyd Doggett

[1] ATX Musicians Joins Opposition to Frozen Mechanicals, The Trichordist, https://thetrichordist.com/2021/05/28/atx-musicians-joins-opposition-to- frozen-mechanicals/

[2] Available at https://app.crb.gov/docwnent/download/25288

[3] 17 U.S.C. § 115(c)(2)(A).

[4] https://thetrichordist.com/category /frozen-mechanicals/

[5] https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/9577976/songwriters-crb-royalty-rate-comments-letters

[6] https://completemusicupdate.com/article/songwriter-groups- urge-us-copyright-royalty-board-to-open­ submissions-on-proposed-new-mechanical-royalty-rate-on-discs-and-downloads/

[7]  http: //legrandnetwork.blogspot.com/2021/06/songwriters-organisations-object-to.html

[8] https://musicrow.com/2021/06/nsai-son gwriters-respond-to-criticism-of-decision-not-to-challenge-physical­ royalty-rates/

[9] https://thetrichordist.com/2021/06/03/three-nashville-songwriters-respond-on-frozen-mechanicals/

Guest Post by @SealeInTheDeal: A Foreseeable Result of the Phonorecords IV Private Settlement: Opening Pandora’s Box

By Gwendolyn Seale

Over the last six weeks, the Trichordist has chronicled the frozen mechanicals saga occurring at the Copyright Royalty Board in the government’s rate setting for the compulsory mechanical license commonly called “Phonorecords IV.” (Congress mandated that these government rate settings occur every five years and are numbered sequentially.) 

Songwriters, independent music publishers, music lawyers and advocates have penned articles and contacted their representatives in Congress to express their concerns about the private party settlement which would extend the existing freeze on the statutory mechanical rate with respect to physical products and permanent downloads for yet another five years.  That private party settlement among the Big Three record companies, the National Music Publishers Association and the Nashville Songwriters Association International is expected to be opened to public comment later today.  (Friday news dump?)  These entities then submitted that settlement to the Copyright Royalty Board asking the CRB to impose the terms of that private settlement on the rest of the world.  And it now appears that these secret deals may be backfiring.

The frozen rate most prominently applies to permanent downloads and physical sales like vinyl.  Why the Big Three want to freeze mechanical royalty rates on the booming vinyl business is anyone’s guess.

The sticking point for most people commenting in the Trichordist is that the terms of the private settlement are not disclosed to the CRB or to the public, especially a side deal between the Big Three and the NMPA.  Songwriters around the world have no way of knowing the terms of these deals unless the Copyright Royalty Board forces their disclosure.

These entities who are before the CRB in Phonorecords IV, along with those vocal in opposition against their private party settlement have been in this arena for far longer than I. When the Phonorecords I proceeding occurred in 2006, I was merely a freshman in high school — and I was completing my final year of law school as the Phonorecords III proceeding began. Needless to say, there has been a significant amount of information and procedure to digest.

Upon learning of the settlement by the Big Three labels, the NMPA and the NSAI, several thoughts came immediately to mind:

1) The settlement and side agreement referenced must be disclosed immediately.

 2) How can this freeze be rationalized, especially during the midst of a worldwide vinyl resurgence?

3) Why would an organization representing songwriters agree to such a freeze? (As an aside, as I was teaching a course on copyright and songwriter revenue streams to 30 older songwriters two weeks ago, they were shocked and moreover disheartened to learn this — as physical sales, not streaming revenue, pays their bills. One said: ”I can stand out on the street in Smithville, Texas, with my guitar and a tip jar and earn more in a couple hours than I will ever earn from streaming”).

 4) This is perfect ammunition for the streaming services to use to justify their already abysmally-low mechanical “rates.”  

While there is much to say on points 1-3, the focus here is on point 4. Chris Castle echoed the same sentiments on June 1:

“Streaming Royalty Backfire:   If you want to argue that there is an inherent value in songs as I do, I don’t think freezing any rates for 20 years gets you there.  Because there is no logical explanation for why the industry negotiators freeze the rates at 9.1¢ for another five years, the entire process for setting streaming mechanical rates starts to look transactional.  In the transactional model, increased streaming mechanicals is ultimately justified by who is paying.  When the labels are paying, they want the rate frozen, so why wouldn’t the services use the same argument on the streaming rates, gooses and ganders being what they are?  If a song has inherent value—which I firmly believe—it has that value for everyone. Given the billions that are being made from music, songwriters deserve a bigger piece of that cash and an equal say about how it is divided.” (link: https://thetrichordist.com/2021/06/01/healing-with-sunlight-a-rate-based-solution-for-the-frozen-mechanicals-dilemma/)

It did not take a soothsayer to foresee this result; the private settlement opened Pandora’s box – begetting misery for every songwriter. Since the CRB has been quiet for the last month with respect to this proceeding, yesterday, I began delving through some of the more recent Phonorecords III remand filings. And much to my unsurprise, I came across a statement from Pandora Media’s expert witness, Professor Michael Katz, who understandably used the proposed settlement as evidence that the streaming rates were fine as is. Katz’s statement was filed on April 4 – two months before songwriters became aware of the quiet filing of the private settlement and began speaking out.  Here’s the link to Professor Katz’s testimony and you’ll find the text below beginning on page 65:  https://app.crb.gov/document/download/23858 .

Pandora not only used the settlement to make the case that the streaming mechanicals rate in the 2012 settlement was a “good benchmark,” but also, even more disastrously, used this argument to rationalize the 2012 rate being TOO HIGH.

This is what happens when there are only a select few gatekeepers, privileged with endless resources and far removed from the plight of independent songwriters, making decisions that affect literally every songwriter’s future. This is why CRB proceedings must be more easily accessible for independent songwriters and their staunch advocates. This is the consequence of the “willing buyer” and “willing seller” appearing on different sides of the same corporate coin – (and if anyone wishes to challenge me on this point be ready for some “interlocking board” remarks based on extensive research into conflicts of interest).  Songwriters deserve better than to have this crucial revenue stream frozen – especially  immediately following an eighteen-month-long worldwide pandemic.

After the release of misery and misfortune with the private settlement, hope remained at the bottom of pandora’s box—hope that the CRB would allow the songwriters affected by the private settlement to at least have an opportunity to be heard in the exclusive and expensive environment of the Copyright Royalty Board. Once the CRB publishes their request for public comments (on the Friday before the July 4 weekend), songwriters may at last have their chance.

And I firmly believe that by the CRB providing every songwriter the opportunity to express how this settlement and the proposed regulations freezing mechanicals for another five years fails to represent her interest, it will exbibit to all the inherent value of songs and restore hope that every voice matters.

@NorthMusicGroup Letter to Congress on Frozen Mechanicals and the Copyright Royalty Board

May 13, 2021 – By Email

Senator Dianne Feinstein                                           Senator Alex Padilla
United States Senate                                                  United States Senate
331 Hart Senate Office Building                                 B03 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510                                             Washington, D.C. 2010

Re: Potential Settlement of Mechanical Royalty Rates in CRB Phonorecords IV  

Dear Senators Feinstein and Padilla:

I am a California-based music publisher.

I’m writing to you to express my concern regarding the private party settlement submitted to the Copyright Royalty Board by the NMPA, NSAI, UMG, WMG and SME related to the Phonorecords IV physical and download mechanical rate.

My father-in-law was the composer and songwriter, Alex North. Alex worked for years, crafting scores to Hollywood feature films, and writing songs to accompany picture.

In 2015, Alex’s score to A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE was added to the Library of Congress’ National Registry, as a recognition of the music’s importance as part of the fabric of United States arts and culture.

Alex composed the score to a 1955 film entitled UNCHAINED. The theme to that film became the melody to the song “Unchained Melody,” with the lyric written by Hy Zaret.

“Unchained Melody” has been recorded by thousands of artists, in all styles and genres. The lyric has been adapted to at least 20 different languages. “Unchained Melody” is among the most popular wedding songs of all time. Listeners still download recordings of “Unchained Melody.” They still buy CDs and vinyl releases.

I am the music publishing administrator of  “Unchained Melody,” on behalf of my family and the Zaret family. I also administer over one hundred thousand other copyrights on behalf of legacy songwriters and their families, and on behalf of current songwriters and composers.

Songwriters struggle to earn a living wage. With the advent of digital streaming, physical and download sales have certainly declined. However, they have absolutely not disappeared. Anybody who says this royalty stream does not matter is simply not telling the truth.

The royalty amount for the digital stream of a song is a micropenny. Unless it is a top songwriter with hundreds of millions to billions of streams, there is an excellent chance that songwriter still may be driving Uber to support herself and her family.

It takes hundreds of streams of a recording to equal the 9.1 cent mechanical publishers receive for a physical sale or download. That’s why this physical and download mechanical rate is so important.

Vinyl sales are strong for many retailers including Amazon and Best Buy. CDs remain a significant media format, and many listeners still prefer to “own” rather than temporarily cache the music they listen to.

Increasing the statutory mechanical rate to simply adjust for inflation will dramatically (and positively) effect songwriters’ and publishers’ bottom lines. This fight is akin to the battle for an increased minimum wage.

Major music publishers do not face the same struggles as independent publishers and songwriters. Major publishers are part of multi-national conglomerates that own both the major publishers and major record labels. Major publishers that agree to fix the statutory rate simply are leaving more money in the pockets of the labels that are their sister companies.

Those of us that do not have sister companies have no such opportunity. That’s why we must fight to be heard.

Each quarter, I process statements from approximately 100 domestic and global sources, many of which include mechanical royalties for physical and download media. Each quarter, I make distributions to the multiple families that are heirs to, and owners of these copyrights. Songwriters and their families depend on royalties for food, mortgages, education and more.

From the initial publication of “Unchained Melody” in 1955 through 2005 (approximately 50 years!), the statutory mechanical rate was fixed at 2 cents. Starting in 1977, the mechanical royalty incrementally increased from 2¢ to 9.1¢ per unit until 2006.  But since 2006, the statutory rate again was frozen and remains so.  The private settlement would extend that freeze until 2027.

I ask that you review the Copyright Royalty Board practices and consider allowing songwriters and independent publishers – who do not speak through trade organizations or major multi-national corporations — to voice their concerns through public comments that the CRB takes into account before it makes its final decision.

Best, 

Abby North

Guest Post: What Would @TaylorSwift13 and Eddie @cue Do? One solution to the frozen mechanical problem

By Chris Castle [this post first appeared on the MusicTechSolutions blog]

Who can forget how Taylor Swift stood up for songwriters, producers and artists against Apple’s bizarre decision to impose a royalty-free three month trial period on the launch of Apple Music. (Of course, songwriters, producers and artists weren’t the only ones involved, but that’s a story for another day.)

What is equally memorable is how fast Apple changed course and all the goodwill that came to Apple as a result. Faster than you can say “Arsenal”, Eddie Cue announced that Apple would scale it back. Lemonade out of lemons. Of course, the issue should have been obvious, but sometimes smart people miss the point like everyone does sometimes. (Rolling Stone has a good short post on the backstory.)

The point of the story is that when you make a mistake, it’s better to fix it quickly than let it fester. So it is with the “frozen mechanical” problem that has become all the rage in recent days. The good news is the problem can be solved with the payment of money. It won’t be easy, but as a great man once said, this is the business we’ve chosen.

The Copyright Royalty Board decides on the statutory rate that’s paid under compulsory content licenses in the United States. For mechanical royalties, the CRB makes that decision every five years which means that if there isn’t a CRB hearing going on at any given moment, wait a little while and there will be one. (Needless to say, the volume of CRB hearings varies directly with full employment for lawyers and lobbyists in Washington, DC.) The “frozen mechanical” issue dates back to 2006 (or 2009 depending on how you count it) when the CRB allowed the end of rising mechanical royalty rates on physical and permanent downloads (and a couple others). However, the sour memories of frozen mechanicals date to 1909–also a story for another day.

Instead, the CRB has allowed a private agreement among the biggest players to become the law. This has happened at least one other time and it appears that it is about to happen again according to public documents filed with the CRB on March 2, 2021 (read it here). Contrast that private agreement to the bitter struggle against the streaming services over streaming mechanicals that is still in the appeal process. Different people paying, same songwriters getting paid.

If you haven’t heard about the tentative settlement by private agreement at the CRB, it admittedly was not well socialized.

The inescapable problem is that any fixed or “frozen” rate determined at one point in time but paid over relatively long periods of time is at the mercy of inflation in the economy that may rise in that intervening time period. The Congress and the industry recognized this harsh truth in the 1976 revision to the Copyright Act and eventually indexed mechanical rates, meaning that they floated upward with the Consumer Price Index. (CPI has its own problems, but it’s a bogey that lots of people use so it’s easier than reinventing the wheel with a bespoke factor.)

Given what has been happening in the economy, it was inevitable that inflation was about to come back strong in the U.S. and global economy. Sure enough, the Department of Labor announced yesterday:

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.8 percent in April on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising 0.6 percent in March, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 4.2 percent before seasonal adjustment. This is the largest 12-month increase since a 4.9-percent increase for the period ending September 2008.

Yes, the CPI ignored the Fed and increased like the pesky little devil it is. There’s no reason to think that this is going to stop any time soon. (If you were born after 1960 or so, you may not remember that inflation and stagflation resulted in the prime interest rate peaking at 21.5% in December of 1980. That drove mortgage rates to 13.41% in 1981 (often plus points). And then there were the credit cards. That’s where inflation can lead. Personally, my money is on stagflation in the form of high inflation and high unemployment due to what Secretary Yellen called the scarring effects of the pandemic which the music business is experiencing in spades.)

April 2021 DOL Inflation

It just wouldn’t be prudent to enter into a long term contract at a fixed rate that does not take into account inflation. Yet that is exactly what the tentative settlement wants to do with the mechanical rate for physical, downloads, and a couple other categories. Yet, we must acknowledge that it is very difficult to herd the cats to get them to agree to anything. But having gotten everyone to agree to freezing mechanicals and having gotten the CRB to agree to adopt that agreement in the past, it may be the case that the parties can get the CRB to let them increase mechanicals going forward.

In other words, take a lesson from Taylor Swift and Eddie Cue and do a quick course correction before the final settlement gets announced on May 18.

So what would that look like? Precedent suggests that the CRB (and its predecessors) have accepted two principal methods of increasing the rate, which is phased in over time: fixed penny-rate increases and CPI indexing. My suggestion would be to employ both methods in a greater of formula (so popular with streaming).

If phased in over 5 years like other rates, it seems that there could be an immediate step up to compensate songwriters for a rate was frozen starting at the time that physical was still a very significant percentage of sales back in 2006. That stepped up rate could then gradually increase with a greater of a fixed penny increase or CPI. I wouldn’t presume to tell anyone what that step up should be, but if you apply the CPI index, it should probably be about 4¢, bringing the minimum rate to 13¢ from 9.1¢. Given that big–albeit entirely justified–jump, increases over the out years might be more modest.

Now that we know that there’s a strong possibility that inflation will be in our lives for the foreseeable future, the good news is there’s still time to do something about it. The CRB has shown us that they are willing to accept radical changes in the mechanical royalty rate by adopting private settlements, so there seems to be no impediment. I’m not aware of a rule that says the CRB only adopts rules that freeze songwriters in place, so it should work to the songwriters betterment and not just to their detriment.

We should ask, what would Taylor and Eddie do?