September 22nd, 2017
Content Creators Coalition (c3) Warns Congress About Artist And Songwriter Opposition To “Transparency in Music Licensing and Ownership Act”
Washington, D.C. – The Content Creators Coalition (c3) today sent the following letter to the leaders of the House Judiciary Committee warning that consideration of H.R. 3350, the so called “Transparency in Music Licensing and Ownership Act,” would spark a backlash in the artist community and could derail the Committee’s work to create a consensus copyright reform legislation:
The Honorable Bob Goodlatte, Chairman
The Honorable John Conyers, Jr., Ranking Member
House Committee on the Judiciary
2138 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Conyers:
As an artist and songwriter-run advocacy organization, we write to express our strong opposition to H.R. 3350, the “Transparency in Music Licensing and Ownership Act.” Recognizing the importance of this issue to our constituents, this letter is signed by every member of our Executive Board.
The Content Creators’ Coalition (c3) strongly supports the Committee’s continual efforts to find consensus around broader copyright reform and to ensure that music licensing is more transparent, particularly to third party beneficiaries of recording contracts. There is little dispute among stakeholders that music licensing, in particular the licensing of musical works, is needlessly opaque. Publishers and record labels agree on this point, as do songwriters, performers and musicians, as well as music servicers and businesses who use music and musical works. There is clearly an opportunity for the Committee to find consensus on these issues.
However, H.R. 3350 does not further efforts to reach consensus – instead, it represents a one-sided approach that would fail to simplify music licensing. We are deeply concerned about the bill’s onerous registration system and financial penalty (forfeiture of statutory damages and attorneys’ fees) for songwriters or publishers who fail to register their works in a new database, created and run by the government.
As a matter of principle, an intellectual property right, like any other property right, should not be subject to forfeiture and the law should help creators understand and protect their rights – not create obstacles courses for them to navigate on pain of losing control over their creative work. This bill, by contrast, actually incentivizes the appropriation of creators’ work based on technical or other often innocent shortcomings, removing key deterrents that should discourage music services from doing so.
The record keeping mandates in the bill are voluminous and incredibly vague. Terms like “catalog number” are undefined and could mean a number of things. Other requirements are intricate, time consuming and in many cases, appear impossible to satisfy. How is an artist supposed to register every album on which one of her songs has been recorded, including recordings by other artists they may not even know about? If these requirements are time consuming and uncertain for successful and well-known songwriters and publishers, they will be impossible for independent songwriters.
Most importantly, the bill also thwarts the Committee’s to create a consensus copyright reform legislation. Both the “Fair Play Fair Pay Act,” creating a terrestrial performance right in the United States, and the “CLASSICS Act,” have support from music creators and digital service providers. While we respect the long standing and good faith efforts of Chairman Sensenbrenner to address these issues, H.R. 3350 only enjoys the support of businesses that use music and is so lopsided it would be a toxic “poison pill” in any copyright reform legislation effort.
We urge the Committee to reject H.R. 3350 and to press ahead at full speed with more genuine music licensing reform. Thank you for considering our views.
Melvin Gibbs, President
John McCrea, Vice President
Tommy Manzi, Treasurer
Jeffrey Boxer, Executive Director
cc: The Honorable Daryl Issa
The Honorable Jerrold Nadler
[Editor Charlie sez: Remember that most of these companies are in the MIC Coalition cartel that is colluding to destroy songwriters, and royalty deadbeat Facebook refuses to license at all.]
Until recently, it was easy to define our most widely known corporations. Any third-grader could describe their essence. Exxon sells gas; McDonald’s makes hamburgers; Walmart is a place to buy stuff. This is no longer so. Today’s ascendant monopolies aspire to encompass all of existence. Google derives from googol, a number (1 followed by 100 zeros) that mathematicians use as shorthand for unimaginably large quantities. Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google with the mission of organizing all knowledge, but that proved too narrow. They now aim to build driverless cars, manufacture phones and conquer death. Amazon, which once called itself “the everything store,” now produces television shows, owns Whole Foods and powers the cloud. The architect of this firm, Jeff Bezos, even owns this newspaper.
Along with Facebook, Microsoft and Apple, these companies are in a race to become our “personal assistant.” They want to wake us in the morning, have their artificial intelligence software guide us through our days and never quite leave our sides. They aspire to become the repository for precious and private items, our calendars and contacts, our photos and documents. They intend for us to turn unthinkingly to them for information and entertainment while they catalogue our intentions and aversions. Google Glass and the Apple Watch prefigure the day when these companies implant their artificial intelligence in our bodies. Brin has mused, “Perhaps in the future, we can attach a little version of Google that you just plug into your brain.”
More than any previous coterie of corporations, the tech monopolies aspire to mold humanity into their desired image of it.
On the surface, at least, the “Transparency in Music Licensing Ownership Act,” introduced in the House of Representatives on July 20 by Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), seems like a copyright bill that could help untangle the online music business. At a time when accurately identifying rightsholders has become an important issue — and an expensive one — the bill would direct the U.S. Copyright Office to create a database to make the process easy. Who could be against transparency? Or an easy way to identify rightsholders? Or, in a business where information is hoarded for strategic advantage, a comprehensive database run by a neutral organization?
Well, the devil is in the details.
What appears to be a backdated NOI sent to the author. If this was intentionally backdated this is fraud. Note MRI is simply a third party that sent the notice on behalf of the service. All legal responsibility rests with the service.
Digital music services are trying to end songwriters ability to ever sue broadcasters and digital music services for copyright infringement with this bill. In order to sue for copyright infringement you have to mount a case in a federal court. Not your local district court. This is extremely expensive. I would estimate you need about $250,000 to effectively fight a case. This bill takes away statutory penalties and legal fees, even when the songwriter prevails. This makes it impossible for independent songwriters to exercise their legal rights. NAB Broadcasters and digital services like YouTube and Spotify can safely ignore songwriters, especially independent songwriters with no resources. Songwriters and publishers would have never been able to achieve the recent settlements against Spotify, without statutory penalties and legal fees.
So this may surprise you but I say “fine!” Take away our ability to mount copyright infringement lawsuits? We still have plenty of other (sometimes much more severe) remedies available. Most songwriters don’t really care about the money. The royalties are pretty paltry to begin with. This is really about the principle. This is about justice.
I’m no lawyer but the more I learn about the predicament of songwriters in the US, it feels like something more than just copyright infringement seems to be going on. My layman’s reading of the situation makes me wonder if this isn’t exactly what the authors of the RICO laws had in mind. [RICO stands for “Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act”. Copyright infringement has long been one of the RICO “predicates”.]
After the money, one of the most important parts of a recording artist negotiation is the “marketing restrictions”. These are restrictions on what the record company or music publisher can do with your work–what type of licenses they can, or more frequently cannot, grant to third parties, for example. Essentially, whatever is not prohibited is permitted.
Marketing restrictions also have a temporal element–during or after the term, recouped or not recouped. There are some restrictions that are acknowledged to be verboten and are usually easy and unrestricted concessions. An example of these would be licensing for certain types of commercials such as tobacco, firearms, grooming or hygiene products and alcohol.
Stewart Dredge has an excellent article this week in the Guardian which brings to mind Laura Kobylecky‘s post on MusicTechPolicy drawing comparisons between Spotify’s “fake artist” problem and “The Next Rembrandt” with echoes of the fictional “versificator” operated by Big Brother’s “Music Department” in 1984. According to Stewart, there are dozens of AI music startups getting funded that all essentially do the same thing. Using a library of recordings (sometimes called a “corpus”), the algorithms “create” new recordings based on the songs and recordings in the corpus. Google is, of course, a leader in the space (not that different from how they used Google Books to train their translation algorithm, a process called “corpus machine translation”–the librarians will be next).
Those recordings can then be sold or licensed at a very low price which, as Laura and others have noted, can be used to drive down the royalties payable to all other artists on digital music services.
This is, of course, not dissimilar to Silicon Valley companies hiring lower paid foreign workers and ordering the employees who they are to replace participate in training their replacements. The difference is, of course, that those recordings have to come from somewhere.
It’s time to start adding to the list of marketing restrictions that the song or recording cannot be licensed for AI purposes of any kind.
The company that claims to organize the worlds information, could not figure out how locate a songwriter named Brian Wilson, he wrote a little song called “Surfer Girl.” They filed an “address unknown” notice with the US Copyright Office. Wtf?
Rep. Sensenbrenner has introduced a bill called “The Transparency in Licensing Act.” We songwriters call it “The Shiv Act.” It’s pure doublespeak. It has nothing to do with “transparency.” It is clearly designed to stab songwriters in the back while greatly benefitting the largest members of the Mic-Coalition.org. Read more here,here and here.
In case you are not familiar, the Mic-Coalition is an astroturf group made up of mostly tech behemoths and broadcasters. At last count these companies’ combined market share exceeded 1.5 trillion dollars. The bill purports to support small businesses like the independent brewers represented by The Brewers Alliance, but it does not. In fact my unscientific sampling of independent brewers seems to indicate 1) Independent Brewers didn’t know they were supporting this bill, 2) are unaware they were even part of the alliance 3)didn’t know they had urgent music licensing concerns requiring legislative fix. (Maybe the DC policy rep for Brewers Association should explain rationale to members?).
This bill seems to have been designed by the Very Large Business Administration (as opposed to the Small Business Administration). The bill is a complete giveaway to the likes of Google, and ClearChannel. So just normal pay to play government legislation, right? Nothing to see here people, move along.
I dreamed up a startling new technique to attempt to divine whether the true purpose of the controversial Transparency in Music Licensing and Ownership Act (or…”TIMLOA”?) was intended to protect small business as advertised by the MIC Coalition. I determined that the safe harbors in the Transparency in Music Licensing and Ownership Act (or as it’s been called, The Shiv Act) was actually designed to protect the biggest of big business.
What startling new technique did I utilize? I read the bill.
What you don’t find in the bill is anything that limits its application to small business. Is it common in music licensing legislation to find such protections? Absolutely. This wasn’t what I expected to find given the braying of the Disco Ducks. But then you know what they say…
The Fair Play Fair Pay Act, for example, has special protection in great specificity for small business like noncommercial broadcasters, public broadcasters and small broadcasters.
The Performance Rights Act (from the 110th Congress) also had very clear exemptions for small broadcasters.
While as a matter of propaganda it ignores these protections, the Local Radio Freedom Act (aka “The Pay Your Rent With Exposure Bucks Act”) is very clear about protecting a particular class of broadcasters: “local radio.”
Yet none of this protective language appears in the Transparency in Music Licensing and Ownership Act. Why doesn’t the TIMLOA have such limiting language if it’s actually all about protecting small business? Maybe because it’s not about small business at all? Maybe it’s about these guys in the MIC Coalition:
Realize some MIC Coalition members are themselves trade associations for companies with combined market capitalizations over $1 trillion. When you see logos for Digital Media Association, the CEA (now called the Consumer Technology Association) and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (home of the Disco Ducks) these are themselves made up of massive companies like Apple, Amazon, YouTube and of course Google, not to mention Spotify. True small business can’t afford these lobbyists and PR firms (like the Glen Echo Group) this starts to look like the astroturf plant it really is.
So don’t let them tell you that the Transparency in Music Licensing and Ownership Act is about small business, unless the MIC Coalition would like to include the kind of protective language in their bill that our business has always included to protect the real small business.