@digitalmusicnws: Mechanical Licensing Collective Hands a Juicy Contract to HFA — Critics Call the Deal Crooked

[Editor Charlie sez:  This week in MMA drama….just in time for turkey.]

The newly-minted — and funded — Mechanical Licensing Collective has just awarded a plum contract to the Harry Fox Agency, owned by private equity firm the Blackstone Group.  Critics are quickly pointing to a ‘no-bid contract’ based on political horse-trading, with HFA assailed for serious licensing problems in the past.

Read the post on Digital Music News

For context, the DMN reference to “crooked” may refer to an apparent “snag” to passage of the Music Modernization Act reported on July 23, 2018 by Shirley Halperin at Variety (our emphasis):

[O]n July 17, private equity firm Blackstone, which purchased performance rights organization SESAC in January 2017, submitted a proposal that MMA proponents say would “doom” the legislation by “upsetting the fundamental structure of the bill to benefit its private company at the expense of the entire music industry.”

At the heart of the issue for Blackstone is the nearly 100-year-old Harry Fox Agency (HFA), the rights management and collection entity which was bought by SESAC in 2015 for a reported $20 million. The HFA has acted as a hub for administrating and distributing mechanical license fees on behalf of music publishers. The MMA in establishing its proposed Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC), to be overseen by a Board of publishers which includes four self-published songwriters, allows the HFA to compete as a vendor in an open market but it could also devalue SESAC’s investment.

Says attorney Dina LaPolt, a key figure in drafting and shepherding the MMA through the halls of Congress: “We worked very hard to get songwriters on the governing board of the Music Licensing Collective so they can be involved in the oversight of properly matching the mechanical royalty income. We cannot have a competing entity.  We are in this problem because of HFA’s inability to effectively license. HFA should just shut their doors, fire everyone, and sell off all their furniture.”

Variety also reported a few weeks later that the “roadblock” was quickly resolved apparently by eliminating the complained of competition.

@davidclowery: MLC Selects as “Digital Services Provider” the Company that Sent Fraudulent License Notices to Songwriters

The picture above shows dozens of backdated “NOIs” for compulsory mechanical licenses sent to me by HFA in 2016.  By purporting to be valid NOIs for licenses when they were not, HFA committed mail fraud. 

Music Row is reporting the music licensing collective board of directors has selected HFA as a digital service provider:

Technology company ConsenSys and mechanical licensing administrator Harry Fox Agency(HFA) received unanimous approval from the MLC Board to become the primary vendors responsible for managing the matching of digital uses to musical works, distributing mechanical royalties, and onboarding songwriters, composers, lyricists, and music publishers and their catalogs to the database.

The problem is that HFA was the 3rd party licensing contractor hired by Spotify and other streaming services to obtain licenses from songwriters and publishers.  HFA did not properly do their job leaving streaming services exposed to massive copyright infringement lawsuits (from people like me).  They created the problem that led to the creation of the Music Licensing Collective so now they are rewarded with the contract to run the matching of musical works and paying artists?!?!

Read the post on The Trichordist

MIC Coalition Filing Reveal: The Zombie Transparency in Music Licensing and Ownership Act

ARW readers will remember the horrific Transparency in Music Licensing and Ownership Act from the last Congress.  (See “The Transparency in Music Licensing and Ownership Act: The Domesday Book Meets A Unicorn“.)  Well, guess what–it’s not really dead!

MIC Coaltion Members 2019
MIC Coalition Members

The MIC Coalition cartel filed a comment with the Copyright Office that makes one thing clear–this rule making is going to be a scorched earth donnybrook of epic proportions.  The big reveal in the MIC Coaltion’s filing is based on this passage in the legislative history for the Music Modernization Act:

Testimony provided by Jim Griffin at the June 10, 2014 Committee hearing highlighted the need for more robust metadata to accompany the payment and distribution of music royalties. With millions of songs now available to subscribers worldwide, technology also has a role to play through digital fingerprinting of a sound recording. However, there is no reliable, public database to link sound recordings with their underlying musical works. Unmatched works routinely occur as a result of different spellings of artist names and song titles….Music metadata has more often been seen as a competitive advantage for the party that controls the database, rather than as a resource for building an industry on.

The entire concept of maintaining a static look up database of not only all songs in the history of recorded music, but also all sound recordings in the history of recorded music that can be queried in real time is really not that different than the Domesday Book–when William the Conquerer made a big list of all property, people and chickens in England in the “Great Survey” in 1086.  Like the Domesday Book, the “musical works database” will be full of mistakes due to the dynamic nature of the things it is purporting to count.

But the reveal is the heaping praise on the horrific Transparency in Music Licensing and Ownership Act which was designed to destroy the PRO system (just like the MIC Coalition):

In response to the Copyright Office recommendations, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner introduced the Transparency in Music Licensing and Ownership Act, H.R. 3350, in July of 2017, which was cosponsored by several members of the House Judiciary Committee. The bill would provide for a database, housed at and overseen by the U.S. Copyright Office, to aid businesses and establishments that publicly perform musical works and sound recordings in identifying and compensating the holders of rights in those works. 

Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.

@musictechpolicy Podcast: Eight Mile Style Sues Spotify Under Music Modernization Act — Music Technology Policy

Chris Castle discussion of Eight Mile Style lawsuit against Spotify under Music Modernization Act (driving with dogs series, a One Take Wonder Production)

Eight Mile Style v. Spotify Complaint

@CopyrightOffice: Next Steps in the Music Modernization Act

[Editor Charlie sez:  Where is the olive branch from MLCI to AMLC?]

Under the Music Modernization Act (MMA), we now have a new system for licensing musical works that should help ensure the songwriters behind our favorite tunes can be properly identified and paid. And as part of the implementation of this historic law, just last week, the Copyright Office designated the Mechanical Licensing Collective, Inc. (MLCI) as the approved entity to implement key aspects of this new system, and the Digital Licensing Collective, Inc. (DLCI) to represent the interests of digital music services. Pursuant to the MMA, the MLCI will receive notices and reports from digital music providers, collect and distribute royalties, identify musical works and their owners for payment, and develop and maintain a publicly available database of musical works.

In designating the MLCI, the Office highlighted the support for the entity among musical work copyright owners and the organization’s projected ability to carry out the administrative and technological functions necessary to implement the law. The Office also highlighted the MLCI’s commitment to diversity in carrying out its duties. As part of its submission to the Office, the MLCI offered a detailed operational framework, reflecting substantial planning with respect to organizational structure, vendor selection, and collection and distribution procedures of royalties. At the same time, the Office appreciated the important submission of the other entity seeking to be designated, the American Music Licensing Collective (AMLC), and recommended that the MLCI consider whether aspects of the AMLC’s proposal should be incorporated into the MLCI’s future planning. Now that the designation process has been completed, the expectation is that the MLCI will fairly and equally represent the interests of all parties, including those who did not previously endorse it, and that key players such as the DLCI and the MLCI will build upon the cooperative spirit facilitated by the MMA’s passage to work together to make the implementation of this historic new licensing scheme a success.

Following designation, the Copyright Office will now turn toward ensuring that the proper regulatory procedures are in place prior to the upcoming license availability date of January 2021, when the new system will be fully operational. Over the next several months, we will begin rulemakings relevant to the MMA, as well as substantial public outreach, including a tutorial explaining the basics of the new law, a webinar, updated educational circulars, and presentations at music industry conferences. We encourage interested parties to check back on our website regularly for updates.

Read the post on the Copyright Office blog.

Press Release: Songwriters Guild of America Lauds US Copyright Office’s Announcement of Strict Oversight Approach to the MMA Music Licensing Collective

Songwriters Guild of America Lauds US Copyright Office’s Announcement of Strict Oversight Approach to the MMA Music Licensing Collective

Independent Music Creator Organizations Look Forward to Working with Copyright Office in Protecting Songwriter and Composer Rights

July 8, 2019, New York City–The Songwriters Guild of America, Inc. (SGA), the nation’s largest and longest established advocacy organization run solely by and for music creators, has announced its support for the strict oversight approach adopted by the US Copyright Office this week in naming the consortium led by the major, multi-national music publishers as the official Music Licensing Collective (MLC) under the Music Modernization Act.  The Copyright Office made clear, as requested by SGA in recently filed comments, that it intends to take an active role in reviewing the activities of the MLC in light of the potential conflicts of interest inherent within a board of directors that will include major music publisher representatives.

Under the Act, the MLC is charged with identifying the rightful owners of hundreds of millions of dollars in unmatched streaming royalties.  Those royalties that cannot be tied to particular owners, according to the law, will eventually be distributed to music publishers on a market share basis.

“Obviously,” according to songwriter and SGA president Rick Carnes,  “under such circumstances you need an independent, outside overseer to make sure that those potentially conflicted board members who would benefit from the MLC doing a lax job in identifying the proper copyright owners do not utilize their positions to pursue unjust enrichment of their companies, despite the best efforts of songwriters, composers and truly independent music publishers on the board to achieve equitable results.”

In specifically citing SGA’s comments that meaningful oversight is an imperative under the law, US Register of Copyrights Karyn Temple concluded that “[t]he Copyright Office has been provided with ‘broad regulatory authority’ to conduct proceedings as necessary to effectuate the statute with the Librarian’s approval.  In addition to the regulations that the Office is specifically directed to promulgate, the legislative history contemplates that the Office will ‘thoroughly review’ policies and procedures established by the MLC….The Office intends to conduct its oversight role in a fair and impartial manner; songwriters are encouraged to participate in these future rulemakings.”

SGA had noted in its comments that it was “far more concerned with ensuring that music creator rights are fully protected against conflicts of interest and impingements upon the rights and interests of songwriters and composers under all circumstances, than in supporting one or the other candidate vying to be selected as the Mechanical Collective.”  The organization is satisfied with the Registers’ recognition of the Copyright Office’s oversight opportunities and obligations, and very much looks forward to working side by side with the Office on various issues concerning MLC policies and actions.

Carnes closed by stating, “for over 85 years, SGA has operated with a two-word mandate: ‘Protect Songwriters.’  And that applies to the rights of both American and foreign music creators.  Congress intended, and the president’s signing statement confirmed, that the Copyright Office is to play a key role in pursuit of that same protective mandate. The Copyright Office’s stated willingness and obvious ability to accept that challenge is very encouraging, and SGA –with the welcome participation of many of its fellow songwriter organizations in the Music Creators North America (MCNA) alliance and MCNA’s affiliated, global music creator advocacy groups– intends to do all within its power to assist it in doing so.”

Carnes also noted that in the event that it proves necessary to take further appropriate action, for example, to make certain that proper diligence is exercised by the MLC in attempting to identify copyright owners of unmatched royalties prior to distributing “permanently” unmatched royalties, or to ensure that contractual royalty splits with songwriters and composers are honored by publishers after receipt of unmatched royalties, “SGA is ready, willing and able to do that.”

SGA is also studying the issue of whether the statutes’ placement of limitations on damages for those plaintiffs who bring copyright infringement lawsuits after January 1, 2018 against digital music distributors is actually violative of the Fifth Amendment’s “takings clause,” rendering that section of the Music Modernization Act unconstitutional and unenforceable.

“SGA and the entire, independent music creator community have our work cut out for us,” he said. “But we are fully prepared to do whatever is prudent to protect the rights and interests of songwriters and composers and look forward to working closely with the US Copyright Office and the entire music creator community in doing so.”

The member organizations of Music Creators North America, of which SGA is a founding member, have endorsed this statement.

Songwriters Guild of America, Inc.
210 Jamestown Park Road
Brentwood, Tennessee 37027

The Countdown to Modernity: Copyright Royalty Board Posts Notices and Rules for MLC Assessment Proceeding

Since there was no advance commitment or agreement on the budget for the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) under Title I  of the Music Modernization Act, it appears that the clock is ticking on an agreement before the parties have to go before the Copyright Royalty Judges to be told what the budget (or the “assessment”) is to be.  The Copyright Royalty Board has beat the July 8 deadline for noticing the proceeding and has posted the notice and the rules for the hearing.

The “Notice announcing commencement of Initial Administrative Assessment proceeding and requesting Petitions to Participate” can be found here:

The regulations require the participation of the MLC and the Digital Licensee Coordinator (DLC) in the proceeding and permit the participation of copyright owners, digital music providers, and significant nonblanket licensees. 37 CFR 355.2(c)–(d).

The Judges hereby announce commencement of the proceeding, direct the MLC and the DLC to file Petitions to Participate, and request Petitions to Participate from any other eligible participant with a significant interest in the determination of the Initial Administrative Assessment…

Any participant that is an individual may represent herself or himself. All other participants must be represented by counsel….

Petitions to Participate and the filing fee are due on or before July 23, 2019.

The CRJ’s rules relating to the proceeding can be found here and have some relevant language relating to who can participate in addition to the MLC and DLC:

[T]he Judges believe that the views of other participants may be helpful, and perhaps essential, for the Judges to determine whether good cause exists to exercise their discretion to reject a settlement. The Judges, therefore, have modified [the regulations for the settlement negotiations and proceeding] to clarify that participants other than the MLC and DLC may participate in settlement negotiations and may comment on any resulting settlement.