@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.

@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.

@edchristman: Competing Groups Vying to Form Mechanical Licensing Collective Slam Each Other’s Proposals

[Editor Charlie sez:  Food fight in the cafeteria…]

While the two applicants vying to be named the group that will build the Mechanical Licensing Collective created by the Music Modernization Act (MMA) have thus far engaged in mudslinging at their competitors, in the comments to the Copyright Office filed Monday and posted Tuesday evening, each group let loose with both barrels in appraising the other’s proposal.

Read the post on Billboard

@HeleneMuddiman: Founding SONA Member, Top Composer Breaks Ranks to Support the AMLC — Here’s Her Statement

[After Zoe Keating’s important post on how unrepresented songwriters are ill-served by the “consensus” mechanical licensing collective as proposed, SONA member Hélène Muddiman breaks ranks and makes an impassioned plea for fairness out of concern for the reportedly billion dollar black box that is becoming an increasing focus.]

Time is running out!

This is a truly momentous time in the history of music copyright.

Fellow composers and songwriters, and those who rely upon us for their living, our Digital Mechanical Royalties are about to be collected by a new Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC).  There are billions of dollars at stake already, and billions more as the future moves towards on-demand streaming platforms where mechanical royalties become big business.

It’s confusing, because not everyone may realize that there are two submissions vying for the job of the MLC, which will collect and distribute these billions of dollars.

The NMPA-led application actually calls itself ‘The MLC,’ but it is not yet the MLC.  The Copyright Office is asking for comments to help it decide whether to appoint the indie-led submission instead, called the AMLC (or American Mechanical Licensing Collective).

The Copyright Office could very well choose the AMLC if creators from around the world send in their comments to influence the decision before April 22nd (please use this link: https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=COLC-2018-0011-0001).

Read the post on Digital Music News

Must Read Post by @zoecello on the MLC Selection: Unrepresented songwriters deserve to be heard

I took a few years away from artist advocacy (after my husband died of cancer) but recently I feel called to get involved again and I’ve joined the board of the American Mechanical Licensing Collective.

I’m not being paid to do this and I’m not on anyone’s payroll — I’m a single mom who makes a living as a recording artist and I hardly even have time to even write this — but I feel compelled to speak out because time is short and I don’t see anyone else doing it. I’ve always advocated for under-represented artists and done what I can to shine a light on the friction and roadblocks that we face in earning a living from our music. My interest in joining the AMLC is to get royalties to the people who earned them, as transparently and efficiently as possible.

This is wonky stuff but bear with me

Read the post on Medium