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How Amazon’s Twitch.tv Cheats Music Creators

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Categories: Articles, Copyright, Infringement, Legal Issues, Music, Music Industry, Music Publishing, Performance, Record Labels, Royalties, Streaming, Videos, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

This article was originally posted on Forbes.com.

Music creators (songwriters and performing artists) and rights’ owners (music publishers and record labels) are not collecting a new and substantial source of income – and most of them are not aware they are not collecting it. Enter Twitch, the website exploiting creators and owners without paying for a single cent of music usage.

What is Twitch

Twitch, a subsidiary of Amazon, is a live-streaming video platform that has “over two million broadcasters and 15 million daily active users.” Anyone can become a Twitch “broadcaster,” meaning users set up their own channels and live-stream various content, which includes, but is not limited to, video-game play, card games, pranks, craft tutorials and more.

The broadcasts start out as live streams and are saved on the channel for re-broadcasts and on-demand watching. Watching videos and channels on Twitch is free and publicly accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. Anyone can become a Twitch broadcaster for free and earn money directly from viewers. Broadcasters that contract with Twitch to become a partner or affiliate will earn money from Twitch directly, as well as from viewers. All revenue streams are described in the next two sections.

Income Earned by Twitch and Twitch Partners/Affiliates

  1. Ad Revenue: Twitch serves ads on all video content, which includes video-on-demand and pre-rolls, and collects ad revenue from showing these ads.
  2. Subscriptions: Viewers can subscribe to a particular broadcaster’s channel at pricing tiers of $4.99, $9.99, and $24.99, with these charges recurring monthly.These subscriptions allow viewers to support broadcasters and use special emotes (chat icons like emojis) that are accessible only to subscribers of a particular broadcaster’s channel.
  3. Bits: Viewers can contribute “bits” to a broadcaster during a stream. Bits are a digital currency within Twitch bought by users for real money, and contributing these bits to a broadcaster is basically like adding money to that broadcaster’s tip jar.
  4. Amazon Prime: Because Twitch is owned by Amazon, Prime members can use “tokens” from their Prime membership to subscribe to broadcaster channels on Twitch. Tokens renew every month, so a Prime member can re-subscribe to a broadcaster’s channel on a monthly basis using Prime tokens.

Twitch and the broadcaster split all income from subscriptions, bits, and Prime tokens, usually on at least a 50/50 basis.

Income Earned Directly by Broadcasters

  1. Donations:Viewers can contribute money directly to a broadcaster through third party services like StreamLabs, Muxy or StreamElements without buying bits.
  2. Media Share: Viewers can make “media share requests” through StreamLabsand StreamElements, meaning viewers can request a broadcaster to play a certain song, YouTube video, or other media within a live stream (hereinafter “Media Share(s)”). Prices for Media Shares are set by the broadcaster, and some broadcasters will start their pricing at $5 per request.

A Twitch Broadcaster’s Earnings

Twitch’s most popular broadcaster is 26-year old Tyler Blevins, known on Twitch as “Ninja.” Ninja reportedly earns over $500,000 per month on Twitch revenue alone, not counting his recent sponsorship deals by Red Bull and Uber. A recent Forbes article reported Ninja’s earnings calculation: “160,000 subscribers at a higher $3.50 rate per sub means he’s pulling in $560,000 a month from that revenue stream alone. Not counting Twitch bits. Not counting donations. Not counting 4 million YouTube subscribers.”

Ninja and most other broadcasters also use music in their streams. None of this music is licensed and none of this money is going to the music creators or rights’ owners.

Music Licenses Required

Platforms with user-generated audiovisual content require performance licenses for the compositions from performance rights organizations ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and GMR. Music users must obtain synchronization and master use licenses from the music publishers and record labels, respectively, along with paying negotiated fees to “synchronize” the audio with the visual elements. Also, rights’ owners may share in ad revenue in addition to or in lieu of those fees.

It should also be considered whether a broadcaster who repeatedly uses a particular song as a theme song or channel staple (like when Ninja does a victory dance at every game win to the song, “Pon Pon Pon”, performed by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu) is implying an association with or (false) endorsement by an artist, similar to when political candidates use certain songs in their campaigns.

How Music Rights are Being Violated

First, there is no evidence that Twitch has valid performance licenses in place from ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, or GMR (although they may be working on it). Therefore, Twitch is not paying for the repeated performances of music to audiences of millions.

Second, it is not known that any broadcaster using music on Twitch obtains synchronization or master use licenses, or pays any fees for the use of music. Also, neither Twitch nor the broadcasters are sharing ad revenue with rights’ owners.

Third, Twitch does not have its own content ID system like YouTube to track and claim uses of music. Twitch leverages Audible Magic to track audio uses after a live stream is over and will mute infringing content in the on-demand re-broadcasts, but not all content is recognized and removed. Also, there is no system to flag these infringing uses or mute them during a live stream.

All of the money earned by Twitch and its partner/affiliate broadcasters for subscriptions, bits, and Prime membership is retained entirely by Twitch and its partners/affiliates, and money earned from donations and Media Share song requests is kept entirely by the broadcasters. None of these funds are allocated to music creators and rights’ owners whose music is being used in these broadcasts.

Current State of Affairs

On June 22, 2018, the Twitch community received a shock when a group of its most popular broadcasters were banned from Twitch for playing a leaked version of a new song by rapper Juice Wrld that was initiated via Media Share song requests. Interscope Records issued DMCA takedown notices, and per Twitch policy, each infringer was banned for 24-hours.

This incident has shed a light on the use of uncleared music by Twitch broadcasters, but many have either continued with playing uncleared content or will not include certain music in the broadcasts. Ninja has turned off music content so he can then repost videos to YouTube in order to avoid YouTube claims by rights’ owners and keep his YouTube ad revenue. Ninja has publicly stated, “I’ve already reached out about getting rights to music … you can still get screwed over for playing music that doesn’t belong to you. … It’s such a nightmare, that it’s just not worth it.”

Interscope later supposedly stated the DMCA takedowns were an accident and Juice Wrld apologized to the Twitch broadcasters, saying “I will do what I can to prevent it from happening again.”

The National Music Publisher’s Association (NMPA) is rumored to be in negotiations with Twitch for licensing, but has not confirmed or commented as to the details.

Furthermore, Twitch isn’t the only site on the market. There are other, similar sites such as Mixer (owned by Microsoft), Facebook Gaming, YouTube Gaming, and Caffeine. There are also other music-centric sites, like Smule, using music in audiovisual content purportedly without permission or payment. More of these websites, as well as phone apps, with user-generated content, continue to emerge and the rate at which more new platforms are introduced is unlikely to slow due to the prevalence of streaming.

The Real Problems

First, rights’ owners are not enforcing their rights and making sure they receive payment for uses of their content. As stated at the beginning of this article, many creators and rights’ owners do not even know about these infringements. Those rights owners’ that are aware, like Interscope, have allowed the rumors of “accidental” takedowns to be the last word on the subject instead of taking a stand to protect their rights.

Second, Juice Wrld is an example of at least one artist condoning the Twitch broadcasters’ unauthorized use of his work instead of getting paid. Artists and songwriters can and should benefit from these uses, and condoning the infringing behavior allows for more of it, as well as a further loss of income to the creators and rights’ owners.

Third, streamers are often ignorant of how to obtain permission. Noah Downs, a video game lawyer at McDonald, Sutton & DuVal in Richmond, VA observes, “Some broadcasters reach out to artists directly, thinking that if the artist tweets ‘Sure, use my music!’ then it must be okay to use. It does not matter if a broadcaster has that kind of permission from the artist – generally the decision is up to the label.”

Fourth, many streamers feel entitled to play music without permission under the belief they are actually helping artists by giving them exposure. Famous artists and songs do not need free promotion from Twitch broadcasters – they are already famous. While exposure might be helpful for new artists to gain fans, it still doesn’t need to be for free.  For example, music service Pretzel Rocks and music company Monstercat have agreements with artists allowing music to be played legally on Twitch broadcasts with compensation being paid to the artists and songwriters.

In an ironic twist, Twitch viewers and broadcasters frequently use and repurpose clips of other Twitch broadcasters’ content without permission. The broadcasters complain about this practice and will submit content claims when their content is used without permission, but they fail to realize that they are doing the same thing to music creators and rights’ owners. Downs agrees, stating, “In many ways, broadcasters and musical artists are the same, and both deserve to be paid fairly.”

The bottom line is that allcreators and rights’ owners need to be properly compensated for uses of their work. Rather than ignoring or condoning infringing behavior, creators and rights’ owners need to keep up with new uses of music and take a stand to protect the value of their music and their livelihoods.

It’s time creators stopped feeling entitled to steal from and deprive each other of the fruits of their labor. It’s time people realized that using music without permission or payment not only cheats the creator or performer, but also impacts everyone that works for them or with them. It’s time the culture of all creators shifts to one of respecting one’s own work enough to get paid for it and respecting the work of others enough to get the proper permissions and pay the proper compensation. It’s time that everyone gets serious about valuing music.

 

*This article does not constitute legal advice.

Click here to contact Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. if she can assist you in your career with this issue or other music industry issues. (Ms. Jacobson does not shop, litigate, or accept unsolicited material.)

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Sync Licenses Explained!

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Categories: Articles, Copyright, Film, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Music Publishing, Performance, Royalties, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

A synchronization license is a license to use a composition in an audiovisual production. (A master use license is a synchronization license for the master recording.) A placement can be quite lucrative, but it’s important to understand how your music is being used. Here’s a basic overview of the main points in a synchronization license:

  1. Licensor

The licensor is the person who owns the music and giving permission for it to be used in the audiovisual project. The music publisher owns the composition and the record label owns the master recording. Independent musicians might own both.

The licensor’s information will also include the licensor’s ownership share of the composition or master that is the subject of the license. Also, the writers of the composition and their performance rights organization information will be listed.

  1. Licensee

This is the person receiving the permission to use the music in the audiovisual project. This is usually a production company, studio, or network.

  1. Timing

Timing is how much of the song will be used in the audiovisual project; for example, it could be thirty seconds or an entire song.

  1. Type of Use

This is basically how the music will be used. There are many different terms thrown around to designate the type of use, but without using a bunch of industry-specific terms, examples would be playing in the background, with or without people talking over it; a live performance; played on a radio; an opening or closing theme; or in the credits.

  1. Territory

The territory covers where in the world can the music be used within the audiovisual project. This might be worldwide, for a specific country, or even a local area.

  1. Term

The term is for how long can the music be used within the audiovisual project. This might be in perpetuity or only for a specific length of time.

  1. Media

This is a big talking point because it includes the types of media in which the music can be used as part of the audiovisual project. This can include TV (and what types of channels), theatrical (movie theatres), film festivals, the Internet, all of these, or only some of these. The rights section also includes language about whether the music can only be used in the specific project itself, or also whether it can be included in promotions for the projects and if so, what types of promotions.

  1. Money

Everyone’s favorite topic, i.e. the fee you are getting paid for the use of your music!  This is going to be a negotiated fee based on the type of use, popularity of the song, and other factors.

  1. Direct Performance

Direct performance rights are not present in every sync license, but are being seen more frequently. Basically, some licensees want to pay a buy-out fee of your performance royalties in an effort to move away from paying blanket license fees to the performance rights organizations (who would normally collect your performance royalties and pay those to you). One problem with this is that the licensees still have their blanket licenses with the performance rights organizations, so a buyout of performance royalties would leave you out of any income generated from performances over the amount of the buyout.

  1. Some legal language

This is for your attorney to handle!

 

One should always have an experienced attorney look over any license you receive. Contact me if you have a license you need reviewed.

 

Disclaimer: This article is for educational and informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or matters. This article does not constitute or create an attorney-client relationship between Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. and you or any other user. The law may vary based on the facts or particular circumstances or the law in your state. You should not rely on, act, or fail to act, upon this information without seeking the professional counsel of an attorney licensed in your state. 

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Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. on TAXI TV

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Categories: Copyright, Law, Legal Issues, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Music Libraries, Music Publishing, Performance, Royalties, Streaming, Videos, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I appeared on TAXI TV yesterday discussing YouTube payments, royalty free music, cover records, and more!

Here’s the replay of the show:

 

Thanks to Michael Laskow of TAXI Music for having me on the show!

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Music Industry Cases to Watch in 2017

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Categories: Articles, Copyright, Infringement, Law, Legal Disputes, Legal Issues, Music Industry, Performance, Royalties, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

by:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

This article was previously published on Forbes.com.

Following are the top music legal cases to watch in 2017, what to expect, and how they could affect the industry as a whole.

Global Music Rights v. The Radio Music Licensing Commission (and The Radio Music Licensing Commission v. Global Music Rights)

Background: As explained here, The Radio Music Licensing Commission (“”RMLC”) sued performance rights organization Global Music Rights (“GMR”) on anti-trust grounds for creating an artificial monopoly over and charging “exorbitant” licensing fees for works in its repertoire. In a separate and non-retaliatory suit (and explained here), GMR sued the RMLC claiming that the RMLC’s committee of radio stations seeks to discourage competition amongst these stations with the common goal of keeping payments to songwriters and music publishers artificially low and using its collective power to do so.

What you might expect: The parties will probably settle, as the implementation of judicial rate supervision would significantly curb GMR’s objectives in negotiating higher rates for its writers. If GMR had to submit to judicial rate setting proceedings, it is probable Irving Azoff would find a way around the regulations to command higher compensation for GMR writers.

How it could affect the industry: If radio does not want to pay GMR’s rates, then radio stations can refuse to play works in the GMR repertoire. As a result, these artists would lose the promotion and performance income provided by radio airplay. It could also affect writers belonging to other performance rights organizations that have co-written songs with GMR writers or covered songs by GMR writers.  The band Anthrax has already issued an open letter to Irving Azoff seeking to have its name disassociated with GMR, as the band is not a GMR client but is listed in the GMR repertoire because Anthrax covered “Phantom Lord” by Metallica (a GMR client) early in Anthrax’s career. Anthrax is afraid this association could stop radio stations from playing all Anthrax songs.

However, the radio stations themselves would also suffer because it would harm stations’ popularity with listeners if stations cannot play the music their listeners want to hear, resulting in a significant loss of advertising revenue.

The Turtles v. SiriusXM

Background: Flo & Eddie of The Turtles sued SiriusXM for playing their sound recordings without paying royalties. In the United States, all sound recordings made after February 15, 1972 are protected by federal copyright law. Prior to that date, sound recordings only had protection under state laws. In 1995, sound recordings were granted a digital performance right to earn royalties when played on digital media like satellite radio or streamed online. This case raised the question as to whether all sound recordings were entitled to the performance right or only those recorded post-1972. Flo & Eddie have been successful in several states to champion the right to royalties for owners of older recordings, but a New York appeals court just ruled against themsaying that the pre-1972 recordings are only entitled to protection provided by state laws.

What you might expect:  The outcome could go either way here, but its definitely one to watch. A settlement might also be possible for those involved in the lawsuit, however, a settlement would not dictate the future of royalties for other pre-1972 recordings not included in this class action suit.

How it could affect the industry: If it is found that pre-1972 sound recordings are entitled to a digital performance royalty, then owners of these recordings and the artists who recorded them would be entitled to an income stream much needed for older catalogues that do not currently make much money in terms of sales or other uses. Satellite radio and other Internet services would have to pay an appropriate amount of royalties, which seems doable for a company like SiriusXM worth billions of dollars, but potentially less so for smaller providers. If the appeal is upheld, then satellite radio and Internet services would continue to play these early recordings without paying royalties to the owners and artists of these recordings and would further the financial hardships for older artists without current hits.

“Blurred Lines” v. “Got To Give It Up”

Background: Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke wrote and recorded a song (“Blurred Lines”) that they, as stated in interviews, wanted to sound like Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.” The Estate of Marvin Gaye sued Thicke and Williams for copyright infringement and the closely followed trial yielded a jury verdict in favor of the Gaye family, with a judgment ultimately set at $5.3 million plus future royalties. The verdict inspired a string of similar lawsuits, including one challenging the originality of “Stairway to Heaven.”

A major issue within the trial was whether to consider only the lead sheet (musical notes) deposited with the Copyright Office (protocol at the time “Got to Give It Up” was registered) and not the recording of the song. Insiders of the music community debate the finding of infringement when many of the actual notes were not an exact match in both compositions versus looking at patterns and other music elements that were similar and repeated within both songs.

The case is now up for appeal. Thicke and Williams’ attorney claims that the trial court’s verdict will “chill” creativity. The attorney for the Gaye family argues in his appellate brief that the copyright for “Got to Give It Up” is not “thin,” and states a reminder that the
test for infringement is substantial
similarity and not virtual identity.

What you might expect: This case will once again be closely followed, but the verdict cannot be predicted at this time. A settlement is doubtful because the stakes have become too high for both sides.  This case has become much bigger than just the two songs involved.

How it could affect the industry: The impact of this decision could set an important precedent. If Thicke and Williams win, it would open the door to frequent usage of elements from older songs with little recourse for the copyright owners of the original songs. If the Gaye family wins, it would probably inspire even more lawsuits for infringement. Regardless of whichever party wins, this case may influence all future copyright infringement lawsuits involving music, as it may dictate which sources (lead sheets, recordings, etc.) can be considered in a copyright infringement suit and based on what is included in those sources, which elements of a composition can be protected and/or infringed.

The Department of Justice v. ASCAP and BMI

Background: Performance rights organizations ASCAP and BMI asked the Department of Justice (which oversees the consent decrees governing ASCAP and BMI) to reform the decrees based on today’s digital age. Music publishers asked for the ability to negotiate directly with companies licensing music for digital uses. The Department of Justice ruled against all that was asked for by the music community and decided to implement a model of 100% licensing, which mandates that a performance rights organization can only license rights to perform a work if the organization controls 100% of that work.

BMI appealed the decision and got an immediate verdict in BMI’s favor allowing the industry practice of fractional licensing to continue. The Department of Justice has appealed BMI’s victory and that appeal is currently pending.

What you might expect: This is going to be an ongoing fight to the bitter end.

How it could affect the industry: As explained in more detail here, a ruling in favor of the Department of Justice would force the entire music industry to completely change the way it does business, render hundreds of thousands of works to be unlicensable by ASCAP and BMI, place incredible burdens on composition owners to track performances, potentially require hundreds of thousands of contracts to be amended, and would also affect the music industry throughout the world due to the reciprocal agreements ASCAP and BMI have with performance rights societies in other countries.

*This article does not constitute legal advice.

Erin M. Jacobson is a music attorney whose clients include Grammy and Emmy Award winners, legacy clients and catalogues, songwriters, music publishers, record labels, and independent artists and companies. She is based in Los Angeles where she handles a wide variety of music agreements and negotiations, in addition to owning and overseeing all operations for Indie Artist Resource, the independent musician’s resource for legal and business protection.

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The Significance Of Irving Azoff Calling The Radio Industry A Cartel (Forbes.com)

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Categories: Articles, Business, Legal Disputes, Legal Issues, Music, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Performance, Royalties, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

This article was originally published on Forbes.com.

Global Music Rights (“GMR”), a performance rights organization founded by music industry mogul Irving Azoff, sued the Radio Music Licensing Committee (“RMLC”) this week for antitrust violations, claiming that the RMLC’s committee of radio stations seeks to discourage competition amongst these stations with the common goal of keeping payments to songwriters and music publishers artificially low and using its collective power to do so.

As I explained in a previous article, the RMLC recently filed a lawsuit against GMR claiming that GMR has created an artificial monopoly over works in its repertoire since GMR can dictate license fees and deny licenses to perform the music it represents if music licensees are not willing to pay GMR’s fees. Azoff founded GMR to offer a more boutique experience for the writers in its repertoire and seek higher licensing fees than ASCAP and BMI who are subject to government consent decrees and judicially restricted rates. The RMLC argued that the license fees required by GMR are exorbitant and seeks to lower them by forcing GMR to submit to judicial rate-setting proceedings, which would require a judge to mandate the rates GMR can charge its licensees.

GMR has been in negotiations with the RMLC since its inception, but still have not reached a deal because GMR will not agree to judicial rate-setting proceedings. GMR’s complaint states that its lawsuit is not in response to the RMLC’s previously filed antitrust suit against GMR, but rather “the group’s illegal conduct including price fixing, information sharing and threats of group boycotting.” GMR, who did reach a deal with two individual radio stations, argues that all stations should compete for the music they play, rather than banding together to force the music industry to succumb to low rates in order for music to be played. According to a press release from GMR, radio stations currently pay only about 4% of their revenue to songwriters and music publishers. To further put things into perspective, the RMLC represents over 10,000 radio stations that collectively bring in about $16 billion in advertising revenue annually, whereas GMR is an independent performance rights organization representing 70 songwriters and earns under $100 million per year.

As also explained in my prior article, radio stations rely on music for their content. Radio stations and other music content platforms repeatedly seek to reduce compensation to the songwriters and music rights owners that create the very music that establishes their listenership and drives their revenues. Although the stations behavior makes sense from a profit margin standpoint, it is still surprising that radio would seek to so significantly undervalue the music that comprises the foundation of its product.

The parties are at a standoff because if radio does not want to pay GMR’s rates, then radio stations can refuse to play works in the GMR repertoire. This is unfortunate for the artists in the GMR repertoire because they would lose the promotion and performance income provided by radio airplay. However, the radio stations themselves would also suffer because it would harm stations’ popularity with listeners if stations cannot play a requested new single by a GMR writer like Drake or Pharrell Williams, or even classic compositions by John Lennon or The Eagles. If radio listeners stop listening to stations because they do not play the music their listeners want to hear, then advertisers will stop buying advertising on those stations and move on to whatever other platforms their target markets have adopted. The RMLC is banking on being successful with this lawsuit as they were in their recent and very similar fight with performance rights organization SESAC. However, if the RMLC is unsuccessful at forcing GMR to submit to judicial rate proceedings, then radio stations will have the choice of either paying higher license fees for GMR artists or losing advertising revenue, a dilemma in which it would probably be to the stations’ advantage to pay the higher license fees requested by GMR than losing its advertisers.

Azoff said, “I will not stop the fight for fairness to artists and songwriters,” and he is not alone in his principles. Both creators and professionals within the music industry have seen rates steadily decline and are tired of accepting undervalued rates. Simultaneous to GMR’s battle for higher rates, songwriters and performance rights organizations have been combatting the United States Department of Justice amid other restrictions on music licensing. While the music industry is not dead yet, many within the industry are concerned about the viability of music as a career because without proper payment to songwriters and music publishers, the creation of music may be relegated to a hobby if the majority of creators cannot make a living from creating music.

*This article does not constitute legal advice.

Erin M. Jacobson is a music attorney whose clients include Grammy and Emmy Award winners, legacy clients and catalogues, songwriters, music publishers, record labels, and independent artists and companies. She is based in Los Angeles where she handles a wide variety of music agreements and negotiations, in addition to owning and overseeing all operations for Indie Artist Resource, the independent musician’s resource for legal and business protection.

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Radio Seeks to Pay Songwriters Lower Rates — Again (Forbes.com)

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Categories: Articles, Business, Legal Disputes, Legal Issues, Music, Music Industry, Music Industry Interviews, Performance, Royalties, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Radio Seeks to Pay Songwriters Lower Rates — Again

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

This article was originally published on Forbes.com.

A committee representing roughly 10,000 commercial radio stations has sued performance rights organization Global Music Rights (“GMR”) in an effort to further reduce the amount radio stations pay to music composition creators and rights owners for performances of their works. This committee is the Radio Music Licensing Committee (“RMLC”) and it claims that GMR has created an artificial monopoly over works in its repertoire.

Performance rights organizations (“PRO’s”) are organizations that track and collect performance royalties on behalf of songwriters and music publishers. In the United States, there are four PRO’s: ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and GMR. ASCAP and BMI are the two largest U.S. PRO’s and are also non-profit organizations. Since 1941, ASCAP and BMI have been subject to consent decrees issued by the Department of Justice. These consent decrees are agreements that allow the government to regulate ASCAP and BMI’s license fees and how they operate in order to prevent monopolization and encourage competition. SESAC and GMR are both independent, privately owned companies that operate on a for-profit basis and are not subject to consent decrees.

Music industry mogul Irving Azoff founded GMR in 2013 in order to provide a more boutique experience for managing performance rights licensing and potentially command higher rates for the performances of works in its repertoire, which includes compositions written and/or performed by artists such as Adele, The Beatles, Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry, Madonna, and many more.

Because GMR is not subject to a consent decree, it can deny a license to perform the works in its repertoire and can also negotiate license rates as it sees fit. The RMLC argues that the license fees required by GMR are exorbitant and seeks to lower them by forcing GMR to submit to judicial rate-setting proceedings, which would require a judge to mandate the rates GMR can charge its licensees. This is similar to procedures mandated for ASCAP and BMI, but without subjecting GMR to a full consent decree. The RMLC previously filed a similar suit against SESAC and reached a settlement in the RMLC’s favor.

Terrestrial radio makes its money on advertising revenue, and while radio is far from dead, it no longer holds the status of its heyday. Terrestrial radio and other broadcasters regularly fight to reduce license fees, as terrestrial radio lobbyists were also part of the group in favor of the Department of Justice’s crackdown on ASCAP and BMI’s licensing platforms, the outcome of which is still pending.

Most observers of this situation usually fail to mention that the public perception of radio’s purpose is music promotion. Without music driving the listenership of certain stations, those particular stations would not earn the ad revenue from advertisers who want to reach those stations’ listeners. However, the stations repeatedly seek to reduce compensation to the songwriters and music rights owners that create the very music that establishes their listenership and drives their revenues.

Terrestrial radio isn’t the only industry trying to reduce payments to music creators and rights’ owners. Those of us who regularly handle music licenses know that attempts to undervalue music also come from Internet and digital companies, as well as small bars and restaurants. Visual productions seeking synchronization and master use licenses also regularly try to lowball license fees or request gratis uses.

It is up to music creators and rights’ owners to value music (#valuemusic) and require proper payment for uses of their music, and to those that use music to recognize the value that music brings to their project or business.

*This article does not constitute legal advice.

Erin M. Jacobson is a music attorney whose clients include Grammy and Emmy Award winners, legacy clients and catalogues, songwriters, music publishers, record labels, and independent artists and companies. She is based in Los Angeles where she handles a wide variety of music agreements and negotiations, in addition to owning and overseeing all operations for Indie Artist Resource, the independent musician’s resource for legal and business protection.

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The DOJ’s Discordant Decision: An Overview of the Ruling and Its Repercussions

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doj-decisionPerformance rights organizations (“PRO’s”) are organizations that track and collect performance royalties on behalf of songwriters and music publishers. In the United States, there are four PRO’s: ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and Global Music Rights (“GMR”). ASCAP and BMI are the two largest U.S. PRO’s and are also non-profit organizations. Since 1941, ASCAP and BMI have been subject to consent decrees issued by the Department of Justice (“DOJ”). These consent decrees are agreements that allow the government to regulate ASCAP and BMI’s license fees and how they operate in order to prevent monopolization and encourage competition. SESAC and GMR are both independent, privately owned companies that operate on a for-profit basis and are not subject to consent decrees.

In 2014, the music community asked for a review of these decrees and requested the removal of digital licensing from the blanket licenses offered by the PRO’s, allowing publishers to negotiate directly with and be paid higher rates by companies licensing music for digital uses.  This is referred to as “Digital Rights Withdrawal” or “DRW.” Digital giants like Google, Pandora, and Sirius/XM, joined by terrestrial radio, lobbied against DRW in order to pay smaller licensing fees to music owners.   The DOJ denied the music community’s request for DRW and has now mandated that music publishers be either “all-in” or “all-out” with the PRO’s, meaning that publishers must allow the PRO’s to license all types of performances of their catalogues or none at all.

In its recent ruling, the DOJ also chose to enforce “full-work licensing,” also known as “100% licensing.”   Under the practice of 100% licensing, any person with a percentage of ownership of the work has the right to license 100% of the work, not just the percentage owned. That licensor is then liable to account to other co-owners of the work for those co-owners’ share of compensation. This principle is in line with the provisions of copyright law governing joint works, and the longstanding language of the consent decrees supports the practice of full-work licensing. Despite the language of the consent decrees, the music industry has never operated on a 100% licensing basis. The principle of allowing one co-owner to license an entire work can be overridden by a contract between the parties, and the music industry has always operated on a “fractional licensing” basis where most owners agree in writing that each owner will administer its own share. Music users obtaining licenses have also historically accepted the practice of fractional licensing, and those users experienced with PRO licenses know that one must get a license from each PRO so that all shares of co-written compositions are covered. PRO’s also collect license fees from music users and pay its members/affiliates on a fractional basis, i.e. the amount collected or paid is proportional to the share of the composition controlled by that PRO.

While the language of the consent decrees and the practice of the industry have long been out-of-sync, the DOJ’s sudden decision to enforce 100% licensing may force an entire industry to change its longstanding way of doing business. The DOJ’s ruling stipulated that if a PRO cannot license 100% of a composition, then that PRO cannot license that composition at all. This means that any compositions written by co-writers belonging to different societies would potentially become unlicensable by the PRO’s.

What Problems Does This Create?

Those that lobbied against reforming the consent decrees failed to realize that their efforts to pay less may also prevent them from using or playing a large percentage of music, or may require them to remove music from rebroadcasts of older programming, because much of the music they wish to use may become unlicensable by the PRO’s.   If compositions are unlicensable by the PRO’s, then music users will have to go directly to music owners for performance licenses. While obtaining direct licenses may be feasible for more experienced users, many music users will not know where to find composition owners or how to go about obtaining licenses from them. If compositions become unlicenseable by the PROs and licenses are not obtained directly from the music owners, it is possible that many compositions may not be used, or many compositions may be used without permission resulting in copyright infringement.

All of these scenarios may hinder music owners from receiving payments for performance royalties, and without the PRO’s, music owners will be responsible for tracking and policing all uses of their music, which is normally too labor intensive and financially burdensome for most music owners.

Foreign performance societies, writers, and publishers are also affected by the DOJ’s ruling. Via reciprocal agreements, U.S. and foreign PRO’s work together to track and collect royalties for performances in a work’s home country and foreign countries. If certain works become unlicensable by U.S. PRO’s, then foreign societies and owners may have to track U.S. performances of their works in the U.S. Anyone in the U.S. wishing to use a foreign work not licensable by a U.S. PRO will have to get a direct license from the foreign licensor. In addition, U.S. owners issuing direct licenses may have to track and collect on foreign performances outside of the societies. Again, this creates burdens on all societies and owners, as well as opening the door for mass amounts of infringement and owners not receiving payments.

The DOJ proposed a solution of modifying all past agreements between co-writers of different societies to allow administration by one owner or PRO. This would apply to both U.S. and foreign writers and publishers. However, this is an impractical solution because many writers will not want another PRO that is not their chosen PRO collecting on their behalf; many writers do not speak to past co-writers or know where to find them; many writers are deceased, leaving one or more co-writers to deal with heirs that may not understand the principles involved or cannot be found; and many writers will not have the financial resources to have their agreements amended.

From a creative standpoint, many writers feel the DOJ’s decision will restrict them to only writing with co-writers from their chosen PRO. Restricting the freedom of writers to collaborate would be a fatal blow to creativity itself and cause many musicians to relegate music to a hobby rather than a career.

Where Are We Now?

The DOJ has allowed ASCAP and BMI a period of one year to comply with the new mandated changes, and if they are still non-compliant after one year, the DOJ can sue ASCAP and BMI for non-compliance with its decision. However, the one-year compliance period has not started yet, and will be delayed by the current efforts of BMI and ASCAP to get this decision reversed.

As of this writing, BMI has sued the DOJ and is appealing the ruling through legal proceedings. ASCAP is developing a lobbying strategy to seek much needed Congressional support and achieve changes from the legislative side. Those of us on the forefront of this issue feel it is best to wait until we have a definite outcome before spending time and resources on modifying agreements or making other changes to longstanding industry practices.  However, consult with me on this issue if you are concerned.

Some resources to take action and stay up to date include www.standwithsongwriters.org and www.artistrightswatch.com.

 

Disclaimer: This article is for educational and informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or matters. This article does not constitute or create an attorney-client relationship between Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. and you or any other user. The law may vary based on the facts or particular circumstances or the law in your state. You should not rely on, act, or fail to act, upon this information without seeking the professional counsel of an attorney licensed in your state.

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