New York, December 20, 2019– The Songwriters Guild of America (SGA), the longest established and largest music creator advocacy and copyright administrative organization in the United States run solely by and for songwriters, composers and their heirs, has submitted a series of comments and requests to the US Copyright Office regarding oversight of the newly-formed Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC). Its comments were filed on December 20, 2019 at the invitation of the Register of Copyrights, pursuant to the duties assigned to the Librarian of Congress and the Copyright Office under the Music Modernization Act of 2018 (MMA). SGA’s comment is here.
“Due to the inherent and sometimes unavoidable conflicts of interest surrounding the formation and activities of the MLC under the law,” states SGA president and songwriter Rick Carnes, “the music creator community believes that the highest degree of scrutiny must be applied by the US Government in overseeing MLC activities. Hundreds of millions of dollars in songwriter and composer royalties will be at stake on an annual basis, and to protect us from conflicts of interest within the MLC in regard to such issues as matching currently unclaimed royalties to their proper owners, Congress wisely placed the responsibility of evaluating MLC activities for fairness, transparency and accuracy to the US Copyright Office. SGA fully supports the efforts of the Register of Copyrights to formulate regulations that protect the rights of music creators as Congress intends, and will work with the Office to help ensure it is enabled to vigorously and effectively perform its oversight functions.”
Specifically, the comments filed by SGA include requests for regulations governing the MLC that mandate:
- Recognition of the obvious and overwhelming necessity for inclusion of songwriter and composer information in the MLC Musical Works Database;
- Adoption of internal MLC rules requiring adherence by board and committee members to strict conflict of interest policies;
- Inclusion in the MLC by-laws of a process for replacing music creator board and committee members that includes meaningful music creator community participation in the selection process without music publisher interference, and review and approval by the USCO and the Librarian of Congress of all such music creator candidates and appointees. (“To do otherwise,” states Carnes, “would be akin to empowering the wolves to select the watchdogs that purportedly guard the sheep”);
- The immediate compilation, calculation and publication of the aggregate amounts of unmatched royalties being held or already transferred to the MLC by digital music distributors, and to update such information on an ongoing basis;
- The allocation of sufficient funds specifically enumerated in the MLC budget to be utilized solely for mounting a bona fide, global effort to identify unmatched royalties.
SGA also applauded the recent appointment of Maria Strong to serve as Acting US Register of Copyrights, and urged the Librarian of Congress to select as permanent Register a person especially knowledgeable about and sympathetic to the rights and needs of the creator and author community, and without conflicts of interest in regard to prior affiliation with digital distributors, big tech, and/or corporate copyright owners (and their respective trade associations).
Finally, SGA suggested that the Copyright Office exercise diligent oversight in reviewing certain recent MLC initiatives, including the awarding of contracts to potentially controversial third parties such as The Harry Fox Agency and ConsenSys, and in investigating the sudden withdrawal from participation on the MLC Unclaimed Royalties Oversight Committee of songwriter, recording artist and music creator rights activist David Lowery.
“SGA’s intended role in this process,” concludes Carnes “is to serve as an independent monitor of MLC activities, working with the US Copyright Office and other US Government agencies in ensuring that the rights and interests of music creators under the MMA are fully observed. We have operated as an organization for over 85 years with a two-word mission statement: Protect Songwriters. And that is exactly what we intend to do in this case.”