@DarrenLoucaides: HOW THE EU’S FAR RIGHT WILL BOOST GOOGLE, FACEBOOK, AND AMAZON

[Editor Charlie sez:  Spoiler alert!  The answer is “Yes”!]

With right-wing populists expected to make big gains overall in the European elections, further legislation to rein in Silicon Valley could struggle to pass. In recent months, EU leaders have discussed imposing new digital taxes on the revenues of Big Tech companies; those efforts might not find support among Europe’s new parliamentarians. And the EU’s incipient antitrust crackdown against Big Tech—which now involves probes of Amazon and Google—could face stumbling blocks. Could Big Tech find itself depending on the votes of far-right, populist politicians to defend its corner?

Read the post on Wired

@AIM_UK Guidance on PledgeMusic Situation

[Editor Charlie sez:  The fantastic Association of Independent Music in the UK has issued guidance for artists and labels caught up in the PledgeMusic debacle.  We are big AIM fans and appreciate their efforts.  Note that the UK Music trade association has taken the lead on briefing Members of Parliament on the PledgeMusic situation and has written a comprehensive guidance for artists and labels from a UK perspective.]

PLEDGEMUSIC STATEMENT – AIM GUIDANCE

[May 22, 2019]

As has been reported widely in the music news, PledgeMusic hasn’t been able to make payments for some time now and is now reportedly in the process of going into administration or will be wound up as insolvent.

At The Great Escape Festival last week, AIM’s Head of Legal and Business Affairs, Gee Davy attended a lunch hosted by UK Music for Board members alongside Kevin Brennan, MP for Cardiff West, who is a huge supporter of music and the industry and later was with the Rt Hon Lord Bassam, the Opposition Chief Whip, at Marika Hackman’s show at the Fender stage. Both were informed of the situation around PledgeMusic and the likely impact on musicians and music SMEs and they considered it to be a serious matter and suggested they would raise the matter within Parliament. Since then UK Music has also publicly called on the government to investigate the collapse of PledgeMusic and that they be referred to the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority.

This is a terrible situation for all involved and AIM is very worried about the far reaching potential financial and reputational impact on the independent music community.  We hope this guidance will be of help. If you would like to speak to one of the AIM team after reading the attachment, please don’t hesitate to call the AIM office on: +44 (0) 20 3771 0400 where we will try to help you further.

@CMU Confirms: The Arlen Case Proves Again that On the Internet, It’s Always Someone Else’s Fault

DOROTHY

If you were really great and powerful you’d keep your promises!

from The Wizard of Oz, written by Noel Langley & Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf, adapted from the book by L. Frank Baum

In an interesting twist, Complete Music Update has actually criticized songwriters when Spotify wasn’t sued.  (Or at least wasn’t sued yet.)  Yes, it’s true; sometimes man really does bite dog.  In that post about the recent case of SA Music LLC and Harold Arlen Trust LLC v. Apple, Inc., Amazon.com, Inc. and others, CMU may be demonstrating exactly what their motivation was behind attacking music publishers in their most reason consulting pitch.

Harold Arlen was a very successful songwriter, probably most famous for Somewhere Over the Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz.  (That song is not included in the lawsuit, probably because the studio owns the copyright.)

The Arlen case turns on a fundamental point:  The government won’t save you with a compulsory license for the reproduction of a sound recording if you didn’t have the rights in sound recording in the first place.  Simple, simple stuff.

But as it turns out, some of the services including CMU’s beloved Spotify, did get a fake license for at least some of Mr. Arlen’s songs at issue by sending an address unknown notification to the Copyright Office claiming that the Copyright Office records did not identify the owner of the song copyright.  (A complex process spelled out here.)

And the Arlen plaintiffs provide a handy guide to finding the song copyright owner in the Copyright Office records in an exhibit to their complaint that lists the copyright registration numbers for their works.

You know–the kind of information you would find if you actually looked up the works concerned as is required to get the address unknown fake compulsory license and which each service represented that they did when the filed a notice.  (Apple never filed these notices.)

Take Stormy Weather, for example, one of the classic Arlen songs.   A quick search of the handy SX Works NOI Lookup database reveals that both Google and Spotify filed “address unknown” NOIs for the song.

Stormy Weather

And yet–here it is in the Arlen complaint, along with that pesky copyright registration number:

Stormy Weather Complaint

The presence of the copyright registration number shows that Mr. Arlen was in the Copyright Office public records and the format of the number shows that the registration was filed before 1978 for a published work.

And let’s make a side bet that you can rinse and repeat for each song in the complaint–all of them will be subject to an address unknown filing and all of them will have been registered.  Which means that whoever was filing the address unknown NOIs on the Copyright Office didn’t bother to look–and it also means that all of those improperly filed NOIs are invalid, and that’s before you even get to the question of whether the sound recordings were properly licensed.  (And because invalid, neither group is subject to the new MMA safe harbor.)

How could that be you say?  These are the cognoscenti of the modern world at Google, Amazon, Spotify, et al.  How could they have made this boneheaded mistake?

And although it’s not part of the lawsuit currently being heard before Judge John F. Walter in the California Central District, Mr. Arlen’s classic Somewhere Over the Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz also was too difficult for some services to findthey sent in address unknown NOIs on that song, too.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

There’s actually quite a simple answer that may explain why the services made these mistakes.  The Copyright Office online lookup only covers registrations after January 1, 1978.  Registrations before 1978–you know, the core of American popular music and the bulk if not all of Mr. Arlen’s catalog–pretty much require a manual lookup.  Which means that the Reading Room of the Copyright Office would have been a very, very busy place for a while there with gnomes from the services or their licensing companies looking up pre-78 copyright registrations to identify the copyright owner.  Or they could just have relied on the licensing services that Amazon and Spotify used to do their clearance work, both of whom bray about the breadth of their respective databases.

Or you could just lie when you represent on your NOI filing that you have searched the Copyright Office records but were unable to locate the copyright owner.  These filers attest that they have looked for the copyright owner in the Copyright Office public records as required in the filing instructions:

In the case where the Notice will be filed with the Copyright Office pursuant to paragraph (f)(3) of this section, the Notice shall include an affirmative statement that with respect to the nondramatic musical work named in the Notice of Intention, the registration records or other public records of the Copyright Office have been searched and found not to identify the name and address of the copyright owner of such work.

This language is fixed in the government spreadsheet template for each NOI served on the Copyright Office.   Each service filing the NOI has marked “YES” in that column for each song in the notice.

Why is this a problem?  Just ask Martha Stewart what happens when you make a false statement to the government.

It has long been my contention that the services violated the law on a massive scale but no one seems too interested in finding out.  Mr. Arlen’s lawsuit or one like it may provide just the vehicle to find out where the fault lies for these apparently false filings.

And guess what–the new Music Modernization Act safe harbor won’t protect the services on this one, CMU’s whinging notwithstanding.  This is not a failing of the licensing system, this is the desire of the services to Do The Wrong Thing correctly.  It is a failure that highlights why whichever candidate is designated as the MLC should have new blood and not keep recycling the old.

CMU tells us:

Nearly all the streaming services have been sued at some point in recent years in the US for failing to pay all of the mechanical royalties that are due on the songs they are streaming. In most cases, this failure to pay was mainly the result of the woefully inadequate licensing system operated by the American music publishing sector.

Actually the failure to pay was mainly the result of failing…to…pay.  Ahem.

Technically a compulsory licence covers the mechanical rights in songs Stateside, so that the streaming services don’t need bespoke licences from each writer or publisher. [Not just “technically”…actually.]  However, they do need to send notices and payments to each rights owners of each song streamed for the compulsory licence to apply.

Because the streaming services don’t generally know what specific songs are contained in the recordings labels pump into their platforms – let alone who owns the rights in those songs – in some cases notices and payments were not sent.

“Some cases”?  Does 25% of the repertoire count as “some”?  Do tens of millions of “address unknown” NOIs count as “some”?

What the Arlen case helps us understand is that the services or their clearance companies sent address unknown NOIs on songs where the address clearly was known.  It also provides at least circumstantial evidence that the services may never have tried to identify the song copyright owner in the public records of the Copyright Office, even in cases where they knew the title of the song and the name of the songwriter and where the songs were classics that were very well known to music fans.

It also demonstrates that nobody was minding the store on the either the song side or the sound recording side of these services in their mad dash to get big fast and line their pockets while deflecting attention away from their own culpability.  And when something misfires as much as song licensing has–where services are not even using the available tools correctly–it definitely gives the lie to the licensing system being “woefully inadequate” because you can’t find what you don’t look for.

I think that the truth that Howard Arlen’s lawsuit may uncover is that we should disregard the iconic image that the media has created of Big Tech.  Once it became apparent that independent songwriters like David Lowery and Melissa Ferrick were prepared to sue to enforce their rights, things got out of hand and it was pretty clear from the way this was handled that these guys were just not that bright.

But pay no attention to the man behind the curtain because on the Internet it’s always someone else’s fault.

@davidclowery: Pledge Music Fiasco is Weirder than You Think: Part I

[Editor Charlie sez:  What do the Panama Papers and Pledge Music have in common?  More than you might think….]

It seems to be a distraction, unintentional, but still a distraction from the fact Pledge Music’s  purportedmajority shareholder Joshua Sason, is the guy named first in the SEC complaint below.

(The other defendants Sharma and Salviola have an interesting history See here, here,  hereand  here. Also named is the fabulously named Zirk de Maison. He is also an interesting person: see here.)

Now this complaint doesn’t directly have anything to do with Pledge Music, but it is certainly part of the story.  The majority shareholder of a company running out of money gets an SEC complaint for what appears to be a fraud perpetrated by his other company? C’mon!  Anyone associated with Pledge pretending like it’s not part of the story? Well, that makes it part of the story.

If you read the complaint it alleges pretty crazy stuff. From the SEC press release that goes with the complaint:

“According to the SEC’s complaint, from approximately December 2012 to June 2013, microcap stock financier Magna Group, which was founded and owned by Joshua Sason, engaged in a scheme to acquire fake convertible promissory notes supposedly issued by penny stock issuer Lustros Inc. and then to convert those notes into shares of Lustros common stock. The defendants then sold the shares to unsuspecting retail investors, who did not know that the shares were fraudulently acquired and were being sold illegally. The defendants’ sales of the Lustros shares also had the effect of destroying the value of the Lustros shares held by the public.”

So this guy didn’t get charged because he forgot to file a form, or checked the wrong box. According to the SEC he is charged with violations usually associated with con men.  And according to the SEC he didn’t do it just once:

“The complaint also alleges that in November 2013, Magna Equities II, which was also wholly-owned by Sason, and Manuel, purchased another fake promissory note from Pallas Holdings. Magna Equities II and the note’s issuer, NewLead Holdings, Ltd., later agreed to retire the fake debt in exchange for shares of the issuer through a court-approved settlement agreement. To obtain approval of the settlement, Sason and Magna Equities II falsely swore to the court that the fake promissory note was a bona fide debt of NewLead. Kautilya “Tony” Sharma and Perian Salviola, who controlled Pallas Holdings, are alleged to also have participated in the scheme.”

It was shortly after this Sason reportedly invested 3 million in Pledge Music.

Read the post on The Trichordist

@crispinhunt: A Semi-Famous Musician Runs For Office in Brussels (Guest Column)

[Editor Charlie sez:  We should all be so lucky that Crispin Hunt should be seated as a Member of the European Parliament!]

Brexit leers menacingly across Europe, pregnant with risk. Populists are peddling their nostalgic fairytale about making Britain great again. The country is a global laughing stock. Is it time for Brit-pop to take on British populism?

I decided the answer was yes — so I’m taking a break from songwriting and trying my hand at wrong-righting. I’ve decided to run for European Parliament.

Read the post on Billboard

Another Loose End: PledgeMusic’s Non Profit Messaging But For Profit Motive

If you had to summarize the now bankrupt PledgeMusic’s public face, you might say that they were all about the greater good of artists rather than making money.  In other words, the company showed the world a kind of do-gooder public face commonly found in non-profits.  But always remember that Pledge was not a non-profit, they were a for-profit company.  And as the facts start to surface, they were apparently very much a for-profit company.

Reviewing the PledgeMusic documents filed with Company House in the UK (where private companies file certain documents) we find a debenture, or loan document, filed by PledgeMusic.com Limited as borrower and Sword, Rowe & Company as collateral agent.  We know what a borrower is.  A collateral agent is usually a lender which takes on administrative responsibilities for a loan syndicate.

Pledge Debenture

So I found that reference to be a little odd for a company that was scraping by on 15% of artist campaigns.  What was even stranger was the date of the loan:  February 12, 2019.

What was PledgeMusic doing borrowing money in February, mere weeks before it went into “administration” in the UK–roughly the equivalent of bankruptcy?  Who–besides the shylocks–would loan them money?

So who was in that loan syndicate?

facility agreement

PledgeMusic entities were both the borrower and a lender on the same loan, which by the look of the document was secured, which means whoever owns PledgeMusic SPV I, LLC was a secured creditor in PledgeMusic.com Limited and would at least arguably have a priority in bankruptcy.

Pledge SPV

The reference to “SPV” is very likely a company operating as a “special purpose vehicle” which is a way to shelter assets in the through-the-looking-glass bankruptcy rules.  As I understand it, SPVs can have a legal status as a subsidiary that makes its assets secure even if the parent goes bankrupt.  (There is, of course, the question  I don’t know the answer to of whether SPVs are recognized in UK insolvency law and administration.)

The debenture spells out that the lenders have a “first fixed charge” over assets of Pledgemusic.com Limited including a lot of bank accounts in both the US and the UK.  A “first fixed charge” looks to be something like a first position security interest, meaning that the lenders get their money back before anyone else.

Charged Accounts

This may be important if, as has been reported, Pledge failed to maintain a separate escrow account for the artists’ pledges and simply co-mingled all of Pledge’s money with the artists’ money.

But follow the next step:  By using the SPV method, it is possible that Pledge might try to extract the money from its own accounts to repay the loan that it made to itself (along with the other lenders in the syndicate) by foreclosing its security interest on its own bank accounts in which it co-mingled funds.

Bank Account Security.png

Of course, if the artists’ money was held in trust that the officers and directors breached, then the co-mingled funds didn’t belong to Pledge so couldn’t really be legitimately subject to a security interest as that portion of the funds shouldn’t be “standing to the credit of such accounts.”  And good luck sorting that one out.

Regardless of how all this turns out, the introduction of an SPV is a relatively sophisticated financing structure for a company like Pledge that leads one to think that someone was thinking about how all this would end up.  Whoever that someone was, they intended to be in the black and not in the red when the music stopped.

It seems like someone had a plan, and they had the plan because Pledge was very, very definitely a for profit effort.  I think that you really have to look at the entire situation skeptically until proven otherwise.  Because if they did not have a plan, then what explanation is there?

@digitalmusicnws: I’m a Former PledgeMusic Employee. Allow Me to Spill a Few Beans…

[Editor Charlie sez:  How do you say “ponzi”? “A&R and Campaign Managers were only told to “launch launch launch” new campaigns so that payments could be distributed to other projects. They very well knew that they were unable to pay artists, but needed to launch new campaigns in order to gain more revenue. Employees knew that this was not ethical, but at the end of the day had no choice. “

What really happened at PledgeMusic?

Here’s an email from a former employee, received earlier this week.  Last week, PledgeMusic announced its intentions to declare bankruptcy, while offering no assurances that unpaid artist balances — potentially in the millions — would be repaid.

As a former employee at PledgeMusic, I have information that is useful for anyone who is interested in knowing more details about what happened to the company.

1. Dominic Pandiscia is the one to investigate….

Read the post on Digital Music News