For some reason, there’s a focus at the moment on songwriter royalties and in particular for streaming royalty rates. Notice that I said “rates” not “share” or the one I find particularly irritating, “share of the pie.” Let us be clear—there is no “pie” there are only “rates”. Or should be. Let’s investigate why.
To frame this idea (speaking for the U.S. market), let me take you back to a conversation I had with a Nashville session musician and hit songwriter many years ago back before physical mechanical royalty rates were frozen.
He looked at me and said, “Why do I have to take this government cheese royalty rate? I get double scale when I play a date, why can’t I get double stat?”
What he was really saying was why can’t I set my own price as a songwriter for mechanical royalties? And the answer is the same today as it was then: Because songwriters allow the U.S. government to set the price and terms for mechanicals. Or rather the “minimum statutory rate” which is a joke because the “minimum statutory rate” has never been a minimum, it has always been both a minimum and a maximum.
There has also long been an obsession with songwriters and publishers comparing their rates to what artists and record companies get. This comparison was only compounded in the digital era particularly for interactive streaming. If you combine song rates and recording rates, some people get a pie. Other people (like me) get an error message. I’ll explain why.
While the negotiations on a new joint Nordic agreement are in full swing, Google have chosen to leverage their total dominance in the market in the strongest way possible. On the evening of Thursday 30 July, Google announced that they will soon remove all Danish music content on YouTube.
Under the auspices of the Nordic alliance of collecting societies, Polaris, negotiations on a joint Nordic agreement on the use of music on YouTube are currently in full swing. The agreement will replace the local agreements of the Norwegian, Finnish and Danish composers and songwriters’ societies, combining them in a single, joint agreement with Google. In the case of Koda, the national agreement for Denmark expired in April, after which it was temporarily extended – as is standard practice in the industry while negotiating a new agreement.
Now, however, Google have issued a new demand: if the agreement is to be temporarily extended, Koda must agree to reduce the payment provided to composers and songwriters for YouTube’s use of music by almost 70% – despite the fact that YouTube’s use of music has increased significantly since Koda entered into its last agreement with Google.
Of course, Koda cannot accept these terms, and Google have now unilaterally decided that Koda’s members cannot have their content shown on YouTube and that their fans and users on YouTube will be unable to listen to Koda members’ music until a new agreement is in place.
Although the parties involved in the negotiations on the new joint agreement are by no means in concord yet, progress has been made in recent weeks, and Koda is puzzled by the extremely aggressive approach taken by Google in the negotiations this time.
Koda’s media director, Kaare Struve, says:
‘Google have always taken an “our way or the highway” approach, but even for Google, this is a low point. Of course, Google know that they can create enormous frustration among our members by denying them access to YouTube – and among the many Danes who use YouTube every day. We can only suppose that by doing so, YouTube hope to be able to push through an agreement, one where they alone dictate all terms’.
Ever since the first agreement was signed in 2013, the level of payments received from YouTube has been significantly lower than the level of payment agreed to by subscription-based services.
Koda’s CEO, Gorm Arildsen, says:
‘It is no secret that our members have been very dissatisfied with the level of payment received for the use of their music on YouTube for many years now. And it’s no secret that we at Koda have actively advocated putting an end to the tech giants’ free-ride approach and underpayment for artistic content in connection with the EU’s new Copyright Directive. The fact that Google now demands that the payments due from them should be reduced by almost 70% in connection with a temporary contract extension seems quite bizarre’.
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Through a LinkedIn email, I learned that a recent staffer on the Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee was recruited by Amazon’s public-policy arm this month. I took to Twitter to express my dismay, and quickly learned that another staffer on the Senate Judiciary Committee was recruited by Facebook’s competition policy arm in May 2020.
These two staffers are now working for the tech platforms, and presumably against my ideas, after having heard my ideas in a private setting.
It is important to note right here that I have no beef with these fine folks.
But I do.
We are thrilled to report that composer and big band leader Maria Schneider has sued YouTube in the prelude to a class action. It’s worth pointing out that this is the first time since the Viacom case that the creative community has taken on the Leviathan of Mountain View. It’s also worth pointing out that Google won’t be able to buy their way out of this one the way they have the others, they can’t give a job to somebody’s child, it’s just not going to go the usual way that Google thrives on corruption. The complaint is really well-written (as we would expect) and tells the all-too-familiar compelling story of the struggle of artists to deal with YouTube’s “whack-a-mole” business model (or what Chris sometimes calls the “ennui of learned helplessness”:
This case is about copyright piracy. YouTube, the largest video-sharing website in the world, is replete with videos infringing on the rights of copyright holders. YouTube has facilitated and induced this hotbed of copyright infringement through its development and implementation of a copyright enforcement system that protects only the most powerful copyright owners such as major studios and record labels.
Plaintiffs and the Class are the ordinary creators of copyrighted works. They are denied any meaningful opportunity to prevent YouTube’s public display of works that infringe their copyrights—no matter how many times their works have previously been pirated on the platform. They are thus left behind by YouTube’s copyright enforcement system and instead are provided no meaningful ability to police the extensive infringement of their copyrighted work. These limitations are deliberate and designed to maximize YouTube’s (and its parents Google’s and Alphabet’s) focused but reckless drive for user volume and advertising revenue.
Moreover, the Plaintiffs and the Class are not only prevented from using any meaningful enforcement tool, but the system in place actually exacerbates the harms caused to them including in a manner that bars Defendants from the protections of any safe harbors under applicable copyright laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”).
As someone who grew up in San Francisco and wrote the book on the shady history of Silicon Valley — I simply can’t let this go. I mean, check it out: Turns out that the guy running to unseat Nancy Pelosi from “the left” is a corporate Silicon Valley astroturfer from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
His name is Shahid Buttar.
Why is this significant? EFF is America’s oldest and most influential internet business lobby — an organization that has played a pivotal role in shaping the internet as it exists today. That privatized telecommunication system that’s owned by giant monopolies, powered by for-profit surveillance and influence ops, dominated by spies, and lacking any democratic oversight? Yep, that one. EFF is directly responsible for bringing it into being — and for making sure it stays privatized, shitty, and oligarchic.
As I wrote in my massive investigation into EFF’s shady history and it’s pro-Silicon Valley astroturf tricks for The Baffler a few years back, this organization has done an amazing job convincing us that it’s one of the good guys on the Internet — that it’s grassroots and on the side of the people. In reality, EFF has always been on the side of corporations, fighting against democratic control of Silicon Valley — from making sure ISPs could grow into giant monopolies to blowing up the first (and only) attempt to regulate Google’s surveillance business model back in 2004.