Copyright Office Extends Deadline Suspension and HFA “Transitions” Publishers

The Copyright Office announced that it is extending deadlines for certain filings including the compulsory mechanical license:

The Acting Register of Copyrights is extending the temporary adjustments to certain timing provisions under the Copyright Act for persons affected by the COVID-19 national emergency. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act authorizes the Register to temporarily adjust statutory deadlines for copyright owners and other affected parties if she determines that a national emergency declared by the President is generally disrupting the normal operation of the copyright system. Under this authority, the Copyright Office has announced adjustments relating to certain registration claims, notices of termination, and section 115 notices of intention and statements of account [as required for the compulsory mechanical license for songs].

These emergency modifications originally were set to expire on May 12, 2020. Because, however, the disruptions caused by the national emergency remain in effect, the Acting Register is extending them for up to an additional sixty days, or through July 10, 2020. For further details, please visit the Office’s Coronavirus page.

There are a number of deadlines relating to Title I of the Music Modernization Act (the massive amendment to the compulsory mechanical license that created the blanket compulsory license and the MLC which is now “The MLC”).  These deadlines are suspended under the new emergency powers of the Copyright Office.  The emergency powers last for the duration of the declared national emergency as do the suspensions of deadlines.  When do you think the national emergency will get undeclared?  Our bet is that it will last well into at least first quarter of next year because so much stimulus and state economic relief depend on the existence of a declared national emergency.

And what else happens in first quarter of next year?  Wanna guess?

The suspension of deadlines could also apply to the launch of “The MLC.”  Our bet is that the Copyright Office will not extend the hard wired January 1, 2021 “License Availability Date” (which is the date that the new blanket compulsory license is available to music services) but will extend the deadlines that The MLC is required to send statements and payments to songwriters, publishers and potentially foreign authors societies (like SACEM) who theoretically collect mechanical royalties from The MLC and not under a direct license.

There’s also the potential for new deadlines in the regulations that are currently being drafted that may include disclosures for things like whether The MLC can actually function.  Things like that.

It’s unclear if the Copyright Office is also empowered to suspend the payment deadlines from the digital services to The MLC under the “administrative assessment” that involves the payment of $60 million of startup and operating costs or thereabouts.  Even if the emergency powers could include those payments, our bet is that those millions and millions and millions will flow just fine in the time of the virus.  Songwriters may go hungry, but some payrolls will get paid.

According to the Copyright Office notification:

While the MMA’s most significant change is to establish a new, blanket license for digital music providers (DMPs) to be administered by a mechanical licensing collective (MLC), this blanket license is not yet available. DMPs and other licensees must continue to comply with section 115’s conditions on a song-by-song basis during the current transition period. The emergency relief outlined below is directed at obligations accruing during this transition period and is unrelated to activities of the MLC. [So far.]  This relief is also necessarily limited to obligations related to the statutory section 115 license and is unrelated to obligations that stem from direct licensing agreements between private parties….

The Copyright Office has become aware that, as a result of the COVID-19 national emergency, some entities, including at least one DMP and its licensing administrator, may be prevented from serving NOIs and SOAs in a timely manner due to an inability to physically process paper notices and statements resulting from a shutdown of corporate offices….

List of Affected Works and Licenses: Entities making use of this adjustment must track how they use it and must maintain a record of licenses by copyright owner for which they have made use of the adjusted timing provisions. They must also keep a list of the affected musical works. Over time, the Office expects the list of licenses with respect to the number of copyright owners to remain the same, or decrease, as copyright owners opt-into electronic delivery, while the list of affected works may increase as new sound recordings continue to be released.

Hmmm…”at least one DMP and its licensing administrator” eh?  Wonder who that is?  Why wouldn’t they just say the names?  Wouldn’t you need to know that if you wanted to look for this “List of Affected Works and Licenses”?  Particularly because maintaining a “List of Affected Works and Licenses” sounds like a potentially tall order if the DMP would happen to be Spotify and “its licensing administrator” would happen to be HFA.  Our bet is that HFA is the prime beneficiary of this emergency treatment.

(You may be asking why HFA would be Spotify’s “licensing administrator” because you thought that HFA represented publishers.  Well, they do both.  This has been a topic of discussion from time to time, particularly in some of the many lawsuits against Spotify for failing to license songs.  Don’t worry, there’s no conflict of interest there don’t you know.)

But…when you go to HFA’s website you see this new link at the top of the page above the navigation bar:

HFA Nav Bar

We expected that if you clicked on that link it would take you to HFA’s “List of Affected Works and Licenses”.  Not so fast.  Here’s what you see:

HFA COVID Notice

We gather that HFA has no intention of doing the work to post a “List of Affected Works and Licenses” even though posting that list is a key component of the benefit they get from changing the law…sorry…the emergency rules that were announced for their benefit.

Instead, this paragraph says how they’re handling the Copyright Office announcement:

HFA COVID Notice Annotated

So you’ve been instructed little publishers.  That’s all the compliance you’re going to get.

Instead of posting a list, HFA states that they have notified all the affected publishers and have given them instructions on how to set up an online account.  This probably means that the publisher was already an HFA publisher but hadn’t set up an online account to receive NOIs.  Or if you are not an HFA publisher but are a Spotify publisher who HFA services for Spotify, then it’s possible that you got a notice in your Spotify statement that you needed to set up a new HFA online account in order to receive your statements and NOIs in the future.

You will supposedly still get your HFA paper check, you just won’t get the statement for what it means until you sign up (and maybe give HFA your data if you are not already an HFA publisher).

So according to HFA’s website you already know who you are, and HFA will send you notices electronically once you sign up–even though they have already “temporarily transitioned” you to electronic statements and NOIs that you won’t get until you sign up if you happened to notice that you were “notified.”

Our bet is that your last paper statement from HFA probably had a cover letter or other “notice” that you may not have read or read closely because you weren’t expecting it.

And when the national emergency is over–whenever that may be–HFA will transition you back to paper statements.  Particularly if the national emergency ends after the License Availability Date and you get sucked into the compulsory blanket license?

And of course the service’s matching obligations to get their safe harbor under MMA will go forward smoothly and not be affected.  (You know, the one they’re being sued for by Eminem’s publishers?)

Easy peasy, right? What could possibly go wrong?  That entire process will go smooth as glass, we are so sure.  Probably not.  We’re about as sure about that as we are that absolutely no one will do anything about HFA’s failure to comply with the emergency regulations after they got the emergency suspension for their benefit announced to every songwriter and publisher in the world.  For as King Louis XIV of France said, I am the law and the law is me.

Get it? Got it? Good.

@NorthMusicGroup’s Excellent Analysis of MLC Metadata Issues

It has been patently obvious from the first discussions of the Mechanical Licensing Collective several years ago that transitioning from a century of song-by-song licensing was going to be a highly costly and highly complex process.  The MLC was sold to songwriters on the idea that there would be no administrative costs to song copyright owners for participation in the MLC.  Why?  Because the services were going to pay for those administrative costs.  Like the world’s songwriters, we take them at their word.

Zero means zero.

Now that it is time to actually implement the MLC, addressing those administrative costs have become front and center.  The Copyright Office has put a number of issues out for public comment for purposes of drafting regulations covering that implementation including what metadata must be delivered to the MLC.  Those regulations are a significant inflection point for driving the industry toward metadata standards that start in the recording studio and end at the distribution point.

If we fail to seize this opportunity, it is not a very big leap to see a true morass at the MLC.  But before we deal with the prospective solution, the Copyright Office needs to address the retrospective problem.  Remember, the MLC is charged by the U.S. Congress with the task of licensing all songs in copyright that have ever been written or that ever may be written and is exploited under the blanket license.  The first clause of that disjunct is every song in copyright that has ever been written–in any language–and that’s a lot of songs.  And even more metadata.

The MLC “global rights database” is an empty vessel that must be filled and how that vessel is filled–and the cost of filling it–must be addressed now.  It is hard to believe that an organization that in the last nine months has failed to launch a website beyond what anyone could throw up with a Squarespace account is going to hit their January 1, 2021 deadline (the “License Availability Date”).

In addition to public comments, the Copyright Office is arranging for calls with interested parties provided that the party initiating the call document the discussion in a letter that is posted on the Copyright Office website.  You can read the letters here–if you know what to look for.  These calls tend to focus on some of the more bread and butter issues that one would have thought would have been resolved before any entity was designated as the MLC.  This is particularly confusing since the services get the benefit of the MMA safe harbor immediately, but may not be able to account to songwriters for the foreseeable future.  And the blanket license was kind of the point of the whole exercise.  And, of course, the coronavirus is the tailor-made WFH excuse that will mask a thousand failures.

I want to call your attention to an excellent confirming letter by Abby North that hits many of these issues head on.  We’re really glad that she raised these issues with the Copyright Office so that the Office gets the perspective of independent publishers and songwriters who are expecting the MLC to cover the cost of preparing and delivering their metadata.

This passage is particularly illuminating:

Realistically, rightsholders with more than just a few works must have access to batch works registration tools: an excel spreadsheet template must be created and made available, and a method for that spreadsheet to be validated and then imported into the works database must be made available.

For the MLC database to have truly comprehensive, standardized and accurate works data and be compatible with global Collective Management Organizations (CMOs), the MLC must accept CWR as a works registration format. The MLC must also provide or support an affordable tool for creation of CWR files.

Common Works Registration (CWR) is the works registration standard utilized by most collection management organizations around the world.

There are multiple concerns related to the use of Common Works Registration (CWR) by the MLC. The first concern is pricing and availability of CWR software.

CWR is currently available as part of very expensive rights management software used by many mid- sized and large publishers. For rightsholders who do not have the budget or need for such rights management tools, there must be reasonably priced CWR availability to all rightsholders that need to register many musical works.

The second issue relates to whether a publisher IPI will be required by the MLC for a rightsholder to be allowed to submit a CWR file.

Currently, only publishers (as opposed to writers) may receive CWR Submitter IDs and be recognized as submitting parties. To affiliate as a publisher with ASCAP costs $50. To affiliate as a publisher with BMI costs $250. It is not reasonable to require a rightsholder to pay to get a publisher IPI, just so that rightsholder may submit CWR files to register its works.

The CWR specifications indicate a writer may be a CWR submitter. However, according to my research querying many of the world’s largest CMOs, those CMOs do not accept CWR files directly from writers, unless the writer is also a publisher with a CWR Submitter ID.

One reason for this is that the file-naming requirements within the CWR spec require a CWR Submitter ID. Another reason is simply that Writers thus far have not attempted to submit CWR files.

It would be advisable for the MLC to accept works registration files in the CWR data standard, but modify the CWR specified file-naming convention such that a submitter could be a rightsholder with no CWR Submitter ID.

I commend North Music Publishing’s comment to you as Abby North raises may critically important points that I fear will be swept under the rug.

It is important to note that there is a huge difference between ASCAP and BMI charging to affiliate and the costs of complying with the MLC’s registration formalities.  (Realize that MLC registration formality is different than a copyright registration filed with the Copyright Office.)  ASCAP and BMI compete with each other and unlike the MLC neither affiliation is required by the Copyright Act.

Another difference is that ASCAP and BMI are not funded by the music users (or collective licensees) and neither represented to songwriters that the music users would pay the entire cost of administration–including submitting metadata, tax documents, correcting mistaken registrations, and otherwise complying with the MLC’s formalities.  This is particularly mystifying to ex-US songwriters who have quite a different experience with their local collecting societies.

Because if “the services will pay for it” doesn’t include these out of pocket costs taken–there’s that word again–by the Congress by imposing the formality in the Music Modernization Act, then it looks like the only thing that “administration” does cover is the tens of millions of the cost of the MLC’s rather luxurious overhead.  Overhead that looks even more luxurious with each passing day in the time of the virus.

If these issues that Abby North raises do not get fixed, there is really something wrong going on.

 

The US Copyright Office solicited comments from the public about the operations of the Mechanical Licensing Collective.  Those first round of those comments (called “initial comments”) were due in November and the second round of those comments (which are called “reply comments” because they essentially comment on the initial comments) were due December 20.

The Songwriters Guild of America filed initial comments and also filed reply comments.  We’re going to post SGA’s reply comments in three parts and then we’ll post other commenters who we think made really good points (like CISAC and BIEM among others).  Note that SGA’s comment includes a post by Chris Castle, but we are going to link to that post rather than reproduce it as you may have already read it.

All the comments focus on some central themes that seem to be on everyone’s mind which can be boiled down to oversight, oversight and more oversight.  While the DLC controls the MLC’s purse strings, the MLC has been given largely uncontrolled power over songwriters that needs to be checked by the government on behalf of the governed.  SGA’s comment can be boiled down to its motto:  Protect Songwriters.

Reply Comments of the Songwriters Guild of America, Inc.
Re: Notice of Inquiry Issued by the United States Copyright Office Concerning the Orrin
G. Hatch-Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act of 2018 Titled “Blanket License
Implementation Regulations”

I. Introduction and Statement of Interest

These Reply Comments are respectfully submitted by the Songwriters Guild of America, Inc. (“SGA”), the longest established and largest music creator advocacy and copyright
administrative organization in the United States run solely by and for songwriters, composers, and their heirs. Its positions are reasoned and formulated solely in the interests of music creators, without financial influence or other undue interference from parties whose interests vary from or are in conflict with those of songwriters, composers, and other authors of creative works.

Established in 1931, SGA has for 88 years successfully operated with a two-word
mission statement: “Protect Songwriters,” and continues to do so throughout the United States and the world.

SGA’s organizational membership stands at approximately 4500 members, and through its affiliations with both Music Creators North America, Inc. (MCNA) (of which it is a founding member) and the International Council of Music Creators (CIAM) (of which MCNA is a key Continental Alliance Member), SGA is part of a global coalition of music creators and heirs numbering in the millions. Of particular relevance to these comments, SGA is also a founding member of the international organization Fair Trade Music, which is the leading US and international advocacy group for the principles of transparency, equitable treatment, and financial sustainability for all songwriters and composers.

These Reply Comments are meant to supplement the initial comments (“Initial Comments”) filed by SGA in its submission dated November 8, 2019 (see Attachment A), the full content of which is hereby repeated and reconfirmed.

The two most important points stressed by SGA in those Initial Comments were as follows:

1. The obvious and overwhelming necessity for inclusion of music creator information in
the Mechanical Licensing Collective’s (“MLC”) musical works database; and,

2. The equally imperative necessity for robust US Copyright Office oversight of the MLC’s
carrying out of its statutory duties, commitments and activities, especially regarding the
identification of unmatched works and royalties.

It was originally anticipated that SGA’s Reply Comments would focus chiefly on the recommendations submitted by other individuals and organizations as part of the initial round of inquiry. Intervening events concerning the activities of the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) since SGA’s initial submission, however, have caused SGA to recalibrate its focus. Due to the importance of conveying to the US Copyright Office (“USCO”) and the Librarian of Congress some of the very concerning information that has come to light over the past several weeks, SGA believes its Reply Comments must now of necessity deal principally and forthrightly with those issues rather than with the critiquing of submissions filed by its colleagues.

II. Additional, Recent Developments Illustrating the Necessity for Close Scrutiny and Oversight of the MLC by the USCO and the Library of Congress

A. The Resignation of Recording Artist/Songwriter/Music Creator Activist David Lowery from the MLC, and the Process of Replacing Music Creator Members on the MLC Board and Committees Prior to its designation by the USCO and the Librarian of Congress as the organization that would serve as the MLC, the entity established principally by the major music publishing conglomerates and known as the NMPA/MLC conducted an extensive campaign aimed at gaining industry support for its MLC candidacy.

As part of that campaign, it and its affiliated music creator and publisher organizations frequently raised the participation of recording artist/songwriter/music creator activist David Lowery on the Unclaimed Royalties Oversight Committee (“URO Committee”) as potentially the most compelling proof of the entity’s commitment to ensuring that the voice of the independent music creator would always be heard.

Throughout his career, Mr. Lowery has been an outspoken advocate for the rights and interests of musical artists and creators. His mere presence within the NMPA/MLC’s proposed Committee structure legitimized for many the group’s candidacy among independent songwriter and composer groups. Those organizations might otherwise have objected more strenuously to an entity controlled in large part by the multi-national music publishing conglomerates being designated to serve as the MLC.

On July 5, 2019, the NMPA/MLC was indeed selected as the official MLC, and Mr. Lowery was simultaneously approved to serve on its URO Committee. Within a few short weeks after that announcement, however, Mr. Lowery resigned from the URO Committee and disassociated himself from the MLC with the statement that he “lacked the bandwidth” to carry out the watchdog role he had hoped to fill. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Lowery began to publish commentaries highly critical of certain decisions and activities being carried out by the MLC (and highly revealing of his apparent reasons for resigning), the gravity of which issues will be discussed further, below.

Mr. Lowery’s sudden and unexpected departure from the MLC and the URO Committee,
however, has raised even more immediate concerns within the independent music creator community, not only as to the reasons why he might have resigned, but also over the process by which he will be replaced. It is the position of SGA that a system which would allow the MLC board of directors (consisting of ten music publisher representatives and just four music creators) to select and/or approve replacement directors and committee members on behalf of the creative community, without meaningful input from creators or approval by the Librarian of Congress and the Register of Copyrights, is an absurdity. Such an unbalanced, unchecked process would virtually guarantee the removal of what little influence actual music creators have over future MLC activities and decision-making—a result wholly inconsistent with Congressional and Executive intent (especially as regards the crucial work of the URO Committee).

As SGA pointed out in its comments to the US Copyright Office dated April 22, 2019 concerning the original designation of the MLC (see Attachment B):
With the knowledge that ‘permanently’ unmatched royalties will eventually be
distributed on a market share basis to them, [the] largest music publishers will almost certainly do all they can to influence, hamstring and obscure the search process…. It will take highly experienced, non-conflicted and strongly independent-minded board members of the Mechanical [Licensing] Collective to resist this pressure, and to act in ways that fulfill their duties up to the mandated standards of fairness, transparency and accountability set forth in the Act.

The necessity for those characteristics in board members is amplified by the fact that the Mechanical Collective board may even override the recommendations of its own, statutorily established Unclaimed Royalties Oversight Committee if it sees fit to do so. It thus falls to the Register of Copyrights to serve as investigator, analyst and arbiter concerning this crucial, threshold issue of appropriate board and committee member selection as part of its evaluation of the competing candidates for designation as Mechanical Collective.

In honing in on its concerns regarding that specialized duty of the Register, members of Congress took the opportunity in both the Senate and House Reports to elaborate on their expectations regarding the qualifications of board and committee members proposed for service by any Mechanical Collective candidate, and the obligation of the Copyright Office under the direction of the Register to use its own, appropriate judgement in independently evaluating and verifying the credentials of those directors and committee members proposed. That Congressional posture was undoubtedly taken to ensure that all board and committee members of the Mechanical Collective possess the proper background and abilities to execute their duties to protect the rights of creators and other interested parties without conflict, pursuant to the terms of the Act.

Specifically, the applicable section of the Senate Report reads:

The Board of Directors of the new collective is required to be composed of individuals matching specific criteria. The detailed requirements concerning the overall framework of the Board of Directors of the collective and its three committees, the criteria used to select individuals to serve on them, and the advance publication of their names and affiliations all highlight the importance of selecting the appropriate individuals. Service on the Board or its committees is not a reward for past actions, but is instead a serious responsibility that must not be underestimated. With the advance notification requirement, the Register is expected to allow the public to submit comments on whether the individuals and their affiliations meet the criteria specified in the legislation; make some effort of its own as it deems appropriate to verify that the individuals and their affiliations actually meet the criteria specified in the legislation; and allow the public to submit comments on whether they support such individuals being appointed for these positions. It has been agreed to by all parties that songwriters should be responsible for identifying and choosing representatives that faithfully reflect the entire songwriting community on the Board.” (emphasis added) S. Rept. 115-339 at 4-5.

The otherwise identical section of the House Report concludes on the following note:

During the entire discussion of the legislation, it has been agreed to by all parties that songwriters should be responsible for identifying and choosing the songwriter representatives on the Board. The Committee strongly agrees with such an approach. (emphasis added) H. Rept 115-651 at 5.

Further, it seems of particular importance that the Executive Branch also regards the careful, post-designation oversight of the Mechanical Collective board and committee members by the Librarian of Congress and the Register as a crucial prerequisite to ensuring that conflicts of interest and bias among such members not poison the ability of the Collective to fulfill its statutory obligations for fairness, transparency and accountability. The Presidential Signing Statement, in fact, asserts unequivocally that ‘I expect that the Register of Copyrights will work with the collective, once it has been designated, to ensure that the Librarian retains the ultimate authority, as required by the Constitution, to appoint and remove all directors.’(emphasis added)

Pursuant to such clear guidance from both Congress and the White House concerning the selection and replacement of music creator board and committee members, SGA urges the adoption by the USCO of regulations mandating inclusion in the MLC by-laws of a process that includes meaningful music creator participation in the selection process without music publisher interference, with further review and approval by the USCO and the Librarian of Congress of all music creator candidates for MLC board and committee service. To do otherwise would be akin to empowering the wolves to select the watchdogs that purportedly guard the sheep. And that is a result that is not only emphatically in conflict with Congressional intent, but one that is also guaranteed to produce exactly the opposite, long-term results Congress and the Executive Branchwere seeking by passage of the Music Modernization Act (“MMA”): remunerative fairness and justice for creators consistent with the principles set down in Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution.

To be continued in Part 2.

via @SGAWrites Suggestions to @CopyrightOffice on MLC Operations Part 1 — 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.