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Are Your Musical Works Protected?

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Categories: Articles, Copyright, Infringement, Music Industry, Trademark, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

Music creators and rights owners ask me on a daily basis about whether their musical compositions and recordings are properly protected by copyright.  Lately, there have been some companies popping up claiming to offer protection for musical works, and these companies are promoting misinformation that actively hurts music creators and rights’ owners.  In this article, I set the record straight.

Copyright Protection

When a work created with sufficient originality to qualify for copyright protection and is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression,” it technically has copyright protection under the law.  “Fixed in a tangible medium of expression” means that the work has been reduced to a physical format capable of being reproduced, such as writing it down, recording it on an audio or video recording, etc.  

However, even though a work may have copyright protection when it is created, registering works with the United States Copyright Office provides certain benefits that one only has with a federal registration.  These benefits include:

  • Being able to sue in federal court for copyright infringement;
  • Public notice of who owns the work;
  • Listing in the United States Copyright Office’s online databases;
  • A legal presumption of ownership of the work in court (if certain conditions are met);
  • Statutory damages and attorney’s fees (i.e. more money!) can be awarded to the winner of an infringement suit (if certain conditions are met); and
  • The date of creation listed on a federal registration certificate is the strongest evidence a court will consider.

Let me emphasize two of these points again:

A person (or company) cannot sue in federal court for copyright infringement without a registration with the U.S. Copyright Office, and the date of creation listed on a federal registration certificate is the strongest evidence a court will consider.

The Nature of Copyright “Registration” Companies

To be clear, there are some companies that will provide the service of filing copyright registration applications with the U.S. Copyright Office on a creator’s behalf.  While one should still do one’s due diligence on these companies to make sure they are experienced and will file the registrations correctly, the services these companies provide is not the focus of this article.

In this article, I am specifically talking about companies that offer “registrations” with their own service in order to “protect” a work.  There are companies offering a “date stamp” – some of them even advertise an encrypted date stamp – to show evidence of the date of creation of a work.  These companies charge just a few dollars per registration and make it appear that using their service will save the user a lot of money in comparison to the fees of the U.S. Copyright Office (currently ranging from $45-65 per application).

However, here is the problem:

First, as already explained,  the date of creation listed on a federal registration certificate is the strongest evidence a court will consider.  While a court may look at other outside evidence, there is absolutely no guarantee they will accept this evidence, and a court will still want the federal registration certificate.  When I have inquired with these companies about whether they have any instances of a court accepting the registration they offer as valid, I have not received a response, and the fine print on these companies websites will state there is no guarantee their registration will be accepted as evidence by a court.  In other words, the answer here is no.  

Second, also as already mentioned, a federal registration certificate is required to pursue a copyright infringement claim in federal court.  If one does not have a federal registration certificate and an infringement (or potential infringement) occurs, the owner of the allegedly infringed work will then have to immediately register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office in order to pursue the claim, AND, will have to rush the application to pursue that claim timely.  The Copyright Office calls this rushed status “Special Handling,” and charges a fee of $800 to rush the application.

While someone thought spending less than $5 on a “registration” with a private company was saving money, that person would end up having to pay $845-865 just to obtain a federal registration to have the ability to defend an infringement for one work.  If the person initially registered the work correctly with the Copyright Office, the fee would have been $45-65, and would have come with all the protections afforded by federal registration, saving that person $800 (plus the money already spent on the other “registration” company).

A Note about Trademarks

Trademarks, which in the music space mostly apply to band names and company names, have a little more leeway here because trademarks can gain protection by use “in commerce”, i.e. out in the marketplace.  However, the same benefits outlined for federal copyright registrations apply to trademark registrations as well.  

Therefore, while these trademark “registration” services provide an example of using a name at a certain time, they do not provide the good will that can only be built by using the mark in commerce, which could include performing under that name, selling music under that name, etc.  Plus, one also cannot sue to protect a trademark in federal court with out a federal trademark registration.

Therefore, the same arguments above also apply here as to why these companies are a waste of money.

What if There Is No Federal Registration?

For both copyrights and trademarks without federal registrations, there may be some protections under state “common” law, however, these protections only extend within a certain state (hugely important in the case of trademarks especially), and provide a much lower level of protection than federal registrations.

Conclusion

Music creators and rights’ owners receive bad information all the time — from friends, other people in the business, and the internet.  However, what really makes me mad is when companies – many of them owned by musicians or former musicians – make promises to music creators and rights’ owners under the guise of helping them, when really the “service” they provide does not afford the level of protection suggested and is profiting off the ignorance of music creators who are simply trying to protect their work. 

Are these companies malicious in their intentions?  Probably not.  They probably just saw what they thought was a creative business idea.  As I mentioned, the fine print usually indicates that these services only provide an indication of a date of creation and no guarantee of acceptance as evidence by a court, but let’s face it, almost no one is going to read the fine print.  Independent musicians already working with smaller budgets do not need to spend money on worthless date notations when they should be putting their money toward receiving all of the benefits afforded by federal copyright registrations.

A person can file one’s own registration applications with the U.S. Copyright Office, and those on a budget may be able to file some applications containing multiple works (if certain conditions are met).  However, because the details of such registrations can often become nuanced, one can also hire an experienced music attorney to assist with correctly protecting one’s works.

All music creators and rights’ owners deserve the real and true information on how to protect their works.  The correct information is available and can be obtained with a little research or by working with professionals acting in accordance with the definitive procedures provided by U.S. Copyright Law.

Creators and rights’ owners owe it to themselves to protect their work correctly, rather than looking for a cheap solution that will ultimately leave them and their work unprotected when it counts.

This article does not constitute legal advice.

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HOW TO CONTINUE MAKING MONEY IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS DURING ISOLATION

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Categories: Articles, Music Industry, Music Libraries, Music Licensing, Music Publishing, Performance, Royalties, Social Media, Streaming, Synchs, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By: Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

This article was previously published on Synchtank.com.

The COVID-19 pandemic is requiring people all over the world to adjust to new daily practices for public health and safety.  The pause on live events and productions has caused uncertainty and worry among many in the music community.  There is still business to do, but it will require a more creative approach.

Here is a list of ways for music creators and companies to continue doing business and earning money during this uncertain time.


For Music Creators:

1. Make time for registrations. If you haven’t registered for royalty collection services, like performance rights organizations, mechanical societies, Sound Exchange, etc., you are likely missing out on royalties owed to you if your music is being used in ways that trigger these royalties (streaming, performances in audiovisual works, etc.). If you are registered with these companies, but haven’t registered your individual songs, then you are still likely missing out on royalties. Similarly, if you know your registrations are incorrect, then – you guessed it – you are likely missing out on royalties. Quarantine or not, pandemic or not, people are still streaming music, and music is still being performed on TV and online, which means music is generating royalties. When income in other areas has decreased, royalty income can be of great help.  Now is the time to get caught up and get royalty income flowing in. If you need assistance with preparing these registrations, hire an experienced music industry professional to prepare and submit them.

2. Protect Yourself. If you haven’t registered your works for copyright, now is a good time to complete your applications to reap the benefits copyright registration provides. If you’ve been meaning to get contracts together with your collaborators to protect your work, now is a good time for that too. Again, if you need assistance with protecting your work in these ways, hire an experienced music attorney to handle these matters.

3. Get creative! You’ve likely got more time on your hands right now – use some of it to create new music! You might start writing for your next album, or maybe for libraries or placements. If you are worried about the current state of the world, channel that worry into your music as a healthy outlet for your stress. If you want to make a positive difference, write songs to uplift others in this uncertain time.

4. Collaborate (virtually). The beauty of technology means you can still collaborate with others during social isolation. Before computers, some songwriters would snail mail cassette tapes to each other to work on songs together over long distances. Now, you can send mp3, ProTools, or other files to each other via email or file transfer websites (or keep them in a shared cloud drive) to work with collaborators you already know. You can also use video chat programs such as Zoom or FaceTime to collaborate in real time. If you don’t have anyone to collaborate with, you can find people by using gig sites such as Airgigs.com.

5. Get social (from a distance)! Many consumers are spending more time on social media, YouTube, and apps like TikTok. Take some of your newly created works and post them to social platforms so that people staying at home have new music to enjoy. Maybe one of your songs about hope will resonate with people everywhere and gain you new fans. If you are a performing artist, you could also do live virtual performances for or virtual video chats with your fans. Fans would love the opportunity to connect with their favorite artists in a way they cannot under normal circumstances.

6. Check for aid. If you are really in dire straits, some organizations have put together funds to help the music community in this time of need. Here is a list of many national and state-based funds in the United States. Here’s a list for anyone affected in Canada, and the PRS Foundation in the UK also has a fund. Many companies, like Sony Music, also have established their own assistance funds for the music community.

For Music Companies:

As mentioned above, this is a good time to catch up on registrations, paperwork, or anything you’ve been putting off that will help bring in additional money. Not only will companies help themselves by doing this, but will also help their employees and their families, and their songwriters, composers, artists, and their families. Some companies, at least in the United States, may also be eligible for government assistance or deferment of payroll taxes, and should check with their financial advisors for options.

Keep business going as much as possible.

  • Do business virtually as much as possible. Set up employees to work from home if work-from-home practices have not already been established.
  • For publishers that usually set up co-writing sessions for writers, don’t stop the sessions, set up virtual co-writing sessions for them instead.
  • For companies needing cuts, keep sending songs to producers and artists to record at a future time.
  • Set up online showcases for songwriters and artists (I’ve already been invited to a few of these virtual showcases by established music companies).
  • For licensing companies or publishers who seek out placements, keep sending music to music supervisors, as it is likely that supervisors may still be looking for music to use for productions currently on hold, and can thereby make their choices and complete the licensing paperwork in advance.
  • Licensing companies and publishers can also keep building catalogue by signing new writers and composers. Not only will this practice make for a more robust catalogue for placements once films and show resume production, but it will also boost morale and provide hope to music creators during this period.
  • Companies can also focus on projects that may not require in-person productions, for example, many game developers may be working from home so new games will need music. Maybe there are new online shows or virtual shows that need music.
  • Get creative with who might need music in a virtual world and how to get it to them.

For everyone, follow the CDC guidelines and keep yourself and those around you safe by staying home except for essentials, practicing social distancing when you do have to go out, and washing your hands well and often.  You need to stay healthy to continue business.  Also, focus on hope.  Although we don’t know exactly when, this will pass and the music industry will survive.

Stay safe and be well.

This article does not constitute legal (or medical) advice.  Any advertisement is general in nature and not directed toward any particular person.

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2019 LEGAL ROUND-UP – AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE MUSIC INDUSTRY IN 2020

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Categories: Articles, Business, Legal Disputes, Legal Issues, Music Industry, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.   This article was originally published on Synchtank’s Synchblog.   It’s been an interesting year in the music legal field. Some outcomes were positive steps forward for the music industry, and some, well, not so much. Here’s a recap of some of the most talked-about legal happenings of 2019, and what they could mean for 2020.

Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” Infringement Lawsuit

Background: Christian rapper Marcus Gray, professionally known as “Flame”, sued Katy Perry and her collaborators stating that Perry’s song “Dark Horse” infringed on his song, “Joyful Noise”. Perry and her team testified that they had never heard “Joyful Noise” and therefore could not have copied a song of which they had no knowledge. The actual musical evidence was lacking in similarity as well.  However, the jury decided against Perry and her team because (1) the songs have a similar sound repeated in them, (2) “Joyful Noise” had been nominated for a Grammy in the Christian music category, and (3) Katy Perry had once been a Christian artist before she hit pop superstardom. Perry has appealed the lawsuit and the appeal is currently pending. What it Means: Copyright infringement lawsuits require two elements to be proved, substantial similarity and access. The two works must show enough similarity that one could attest one creator had copied the other, and the infringing party must have had access to, i.e. heard, the allegedly infringed song. Access is often proven by performance of the infringed song on the radio, a producer who worked with the both artists or their team sharing music with the infringing artist, or other similar manner of delivery. Perry and her team were found guilty of infringement despite a lack of compelling evidence for both elements. Copyright law also allows for independent creation, meaning that two people can write songs that sound similar, despite never having heard each other’s songs. However, it seems this tenant has been forgotten in this and many other recent infringement cases. What to Look for in 2020: While there are definitely legitimate cases of infringement, verdicts like this will encourage the filing of more frivolous cases. Many artists are already afraid that anything they create will be taken advantage of by opportunistic people looking to boost their own fame by capitalizing on the publicity of someone else’s creation. Hopefully, we will see this verdict overturned on appeal.  

Led Zeppelin “Stairway to Heaven” Copyright Lawsuit

Background: The trustee for Randy California, the late lead singer of the band Spirit, sued Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, saying “Stairway to Heaven” infringed on Spirit’s composition, “Taurus”. Despite the fact both of these songs are decades old, the case went to trial.  In this case, there was access (Spirit had toured with Led Zeppelin in the late 1960s) and some similarity, but no infringement was found. The lawyer for California’s estate appealed, and the new decision is currently pending. What It Means: Those in the music industry agree this verdict was correct. While California could have sued during his lifetime, he chose not to do so, and the evidence here was not compelling enough to prove the infringement claim. What to Look for in 2020: Hopefully, the original decision will be upheld. The industry needs some precedent for correct rulings in copyright infringement cases.  

Spotify’s Appeal of the Mechanical Royalty Rate Increase

Background: Last year, the Copyright Royalty Board (“CRB”) judges decided that music publishers and songwriters will get an increase on their mechanical royalty rates. The timing of this proceeding happened to coincide with the efforts of the music industry to pass the Music Modernization Act (the “MMA”). The digital service providers (“DSPs”), including Spotify, Pandora, Google, Apple, etc. rallied in cooperation with the music industry to pass the MMA. After the MMA was passed, the DSPs (except Apple) appealed the CRB’s decision to increase mechanical royalties.  The appeal is pending. What It Means: The CRB decision provides for a 44% increase in mechanical royalties to songwriters and music publishers, with incremental raises from the current rates until the 44% is reached in 2022. The DSPs supported the passage of the MMA to gain immunity for being sued for copyright infringement for failure to license and pay for all of the music streamed on their services. Once achieving that immunity, they appealed the CRB decision to try to avoid paying fair rates to songwriters. What to Look for in 2020: CRB decisions are historically difficult to overturn, so hopefully the music industry will receive the new rates it was promised. Despite the goliath size and bank accounts of the DSPs, they need to realize they cannot push the music industry around and must pay fairly for the content on which many of the them have built their businesses.  

Passage of the Music Modernization Act

Background: The Music Modernization Act passed in October of 2018, which promised more streamlined licensing procedures for music on streaming services, a new, centralized registration database, and hopefully a better system for creators and rights owners to be paid streaming royalties. 2019 has been all about actually turning these promises into reality. The Music Licensing Collective board was elected to oversee the operations of this new structure, they negotiated the funding for the database with the DSPs, and choose a vendor to build the infrastructure and supply the data (recently revealed to be The Harry Fox Agency). What It Means: There will be a lot of changes in data practice, and a lot of work for creators and rights’ owners to learn a new system and register their works with the new database. What to Look for in 2020: The database is slated to roll out in beta-mode, with it planned to be fully operational by 2021.  2020 will involve a lot of data uploads.  

Taylor Swift’s Master Recordings Dispute

Background: Taylor Swift hit it big while signed to Big Machine Records, and then moved on to Universal Music Group.  Big Machine decided to sell its catalogue of masters to Scooter Braun, backed by some investment funds. Swift and Braun have a longstanding personal beef, and when the sale occurred, Swift took to social media to express her horror at her nemesis owning her masters. Swift stated she was not given the opportunity to buy her masters back. The parties engaged in a public back-and-forth. Taylor announced she will re-record all of her old masters in 2020 once her re-recording restriction from her Big Machine contract has expired. Later, Swift said Braun was blocking her from performing her older songs on the American Music Awards and using the older music in an upcoming Netflix documentary. Another public battle ensued, with Swift ultimately being able to perform as planned.  Now stories have emerged that Swift is denying all licensing requests for her music until she is able to re-record her masters in 2020 and then will resume licensing with masters she owns. What It Means: Regarding the American Music Awards performance, this is the first time that a record label has publicly argued that a recorded television performance violates a contractual re-recording restriction, when normally that restriction is limited to recording new audio masters. When Swift does re-record her masters, it could negatively impact Braun’s recoupment of his investment. This dispute has opened the eyes of many artists as to what they may give up when signing a record deal, and there is a growing trend toward artists seeking to retain master ownership. What to Look for in 2020: Swift will most likely continue with her plan to re-record her masters. More public mudslinging may ensue. Artists overall will increasingly seek opportunities that allow them to retain master ownership.   Overall, 2020 will see a lot of changes in the music industry. Hopefully, the results will be just as exciting as the anticipation for their arrival.    

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Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. on Top of Mind, Sirius XM channel 143

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Categories: Interview, Music Catalogues, Music Industry, Music Licensing, Music Publishing, Record Labels, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 

Erin was interviewed on the SiriusXM show, Top of Mind with Julie Rose regarding master ownership, re-recording, how artists are affected by this, and Taylor Swift.

You can stream here:

Or listen/download on iTunes Podcasts here.

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Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. on ABC’s Nightline

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Categories: Catalogue Acquisitions, Interview, Music Catalogues, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Record Labels, Royalties, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. appeared on the 7/1/19 episode of ABC’s Nightline to discuss the current news issue of Scooter Braun’s purchase of Big Machine Records (and Taylor Swift’s master recordings).  You can see Erin’s segments at 5:40 and 6:30.
Click here to watch!

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Copyright Terminations: What Rights’ Owners Need to Know

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Categories: Articles, Legal Issues, Music Industry, Music Publishing, Terminations, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

This article was originally posted on Synchtank.

The window is open for authors and heirs to recapture ownership of their copyrights.  Terminations create a lot of new movement for copyrights in the marketplace and rights’ owners need to be just as knowledgeable as authors and heirs in order to stay competitive.

Statutory Requirements

Statutory terminations come with many complexities, but the basics are as follows:

In the United States, termination of a grant can be effected during a five year period: (1)  Beginning 56 years after the original copyright date of the work for grants made before January 1, 1978; or (2) Beginning 35 years after the date of the grant for grants executed on or after January 1, 1978.*

Both of these categories of termination require that proper notice be sent anywhere between ten and two years before the effective date of termination and notices must also follow strict requirements.  Works for hire and grants by will are not terminable and terminations under U.S. copyright law only apply to U.S. rights.

Outside of the U.S., there are some other countries that have their own rules regarding terminations, most notably, the British Commonwealth countries.  British Reversionary Rights are generally uniform throughout the Commonwealth, but vary slightly per country and must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Other countries do not have any termination rights included in their copyright laws.

Information on the recapture of music rights usually refers to composition rights only, as whether master recordings rights can be recaptured is the subject of an ongoing debate in the U.S. that will only be solved by litigation or a change in copyright law.

Information on the recapture of music rights usually refers to composition rights only, as whether master recordings rights can be recaptured is the subject of an ongoing debate in the U.S. that will only be solved by litigation or a change in copyright law. The issue here is that, as stated above, works for hire are not terminable, and most recording agreements state that the masters are works for hire for the record company.  However, U.S. law requires that for a work to truly be a work for hire, it must be either created by an employee within the scope of employment, or specially ordered or commissioned by the company, with an agreement in writing stating the work is a work for hire, and the type of work must fall within nine categories established in the law.  The problem here is that artists are not employees of record labels and master recordings are not one of the nine categories required for works to qualify as works for hire.  Until this point, labels have been successful in retaining the masters by arguing the masters qualify as collective works or compilations, and by giving artists a few additional royalty points.  However, at the time of this writing, there is a class action lawsuit pending in California to decide this very issue.

The Real Reason Why Authors and Heirs Want to Recapture Their Rights

Although the legal requirements for termination are imperative to navigating the copyright recapture landscape, most discussions on this topic fail to address why authors and heirs are so keen to exercise their termination rights in the first place.  The answer to this question is that authors and heirs are terminating because they are not happy with their current publisher or label.  This unhappiness normally is caused by the companies’ lack of attention paid to the catalogues, which results in significantly decreased earnings for those catalogues.

Authors and heirs are terminating because they are not happy with their current publisher or label.  This unhappiness normally is caused by the companies’ lack of attention paid to the catalogues, which results in significantly decreased earnings for those catalogues.

Large companies, typically the “majors”, tend to focus their efforts on acquisitions and growth, which is not bad, but they fail to increase staff and training at the same rate as their growth.  This leaves many compositions lost at these large companies because they are not being actively exploited and, in many cases, the staff isn’t even aware of the compositions.  Further, when creators or heirs do try to get a company’s attention, their efforts are often ignored because the company does not want to spend time and resources on low-earning compositions.  To further exacerbate the situation, many of these companies are not even accounting properly to the creators or heirs, and again, won’t take the time to investigate or remedy the situation because their efforts are focused solely on the highest earning compositions and further growth.

On the master side, not only are the royalty rates from the labels paltry, but in many cases, the albums are out of print and not being sold, and therefore the creator or heirs really just want a chance to do something with the music again instead of accepting the music’s fate of being locked in a vault, with the original tapes rotting away, never to see the light of day again.

In my experience, independent publishers tend to receive fewer termination notices because they do a better job with attending to and exploiting their catalogues, and usually make fewer mistakes in collection and accounting.  I work with many independent publishers (both those I represent and those who work for my author/heir clients) who do a fabulous job making sure these works continue to stay relevant and earn income.

Handling Terminations

Some companies think they can prevent authors from terminating their rights by inserting provisions in their contracts whereby the authors waive their rights of termination. However, this practice is completely ineffective because the right to terminate cannot be waived via contract. Some companies also try to prevent terminations by making new, and equally unfair, deals with aging authors and heirs.  I’ve even seen major companies effectively force creators or heirs into a new deal by using the threat of litigation against them when these companies know full well that their opponents do not have the resources to fight to reclaim their rights.

The other tactic companies take is to ignore received notices of termination or wait until right before the effective date to raise objections in an effort to deprive the authors/heirs with ample time to respond.  It’s a common joke throughout the subset of attorneys dealing with terminations that the fastest way to be ignored by a company is to send them a termination notice (or tell them they owe you money).

When rights’ owners receive a termination notice, they should address it and engage good counsel who knows how to deal with the dynamics of these situations.  Typically, once companies can no longer ignore the notices, they then dispatch the same few lawyers to repeatedly make the same narrow deals.  When I represent music publishers, I work with them on specific strategies to address the catalogue at issue and craft a deal that benefits both parties in each situation, whereby the company can retain the work and continue to reap the financial benefits, but whereby the author or heirs also feel their needs are satisfied.

Music will always be the foundation of the music business, but the music business is not the same as it was 56 or 35 (or even 10) years ago. Music has a life and legacy of its own and how these copyrights are handled can either set them up to flourish or be forgotten.

Music has a life and legacy of its own and how these copyrights are handled can either set them up to flourish or be forgotten.

The changing times require changing ways and my practice focuses on this innovation to benefit both the rights’ owners and creators so that both can continue to benefit from these magnificent musical creations.

 

* Technically, section 203 of the U.S. Copyright Law says the window opens at the end of 35 years after the date of execution of the grant, or if the grant covers the right of publication, then at the end of 35 years after the date of publication or at the end of 40 years after the date the grant was executed, whichever is earlier.

Note:  This article does not constitute legal advice.

 Erin M. Jacobson, known as “The Music Industry Lawyer”, represents and protects independent, established, and legacy songwriters and artists (including their heirs and estates), distinguished legacy catalogues, independent music publishers, Grammy and Emmy Award winners, and other music professionals at her law practice based in Beverly Hills, CA.  For more information, visit www.themusicindustrylawyer.com.

 

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5 Things to Do If You’ve Inherited a Music Catalogue

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Categories: Articles, Copyright, Legacy, Legal Issues, Music, Music Catalogues, Music Contracts, Music Industry, Music Publishing, Royalties, Terminations, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

  1.  Call Me.

Seriously.  Call me.  I regularly work with legacy artists/songwriters/composers, heirs, and estates to protect and revitalize their catalogues.  I assess what they own, what the current state of the catalogue is, and the various options for the catalogue to increase income while protecting the legacy of the creator and the works.

  1. Assess What is There.

Decisions involving how to move forward with a catalogue can’t be made if one doesn’t know what (s)he has to work with.  The first step is to know what compositions are in the catalogue, what agreements are in place, and who is collecting the income.

If the details are fuzzy, don’t worry.  Most heirs and estates do not have previous experience with music catalogues and start with a vague idea.  It’s my job to assist in making those fuzzy details become clear so that my clients know what they have, what options are available, and implement a plan to move forward.

  1. Clean It Up.

Not only are the details of most inherited catalogues fuzzy, but the money is too.  Most older catalogues have a lot of mistakes in the maintenance and management of the catalogue which prevents the catalogue from reaching its earning potential.  I’ve worked on catalogues with 50-year old mistakes not corrected by the current owner, problems with chain of title, improperly handled derivative works, and more.  I fix the problems and get income flowing again.

  1. Terminate.

Copyright law provides a valuable gift to authors and heirs, which is the right to recapture ownership of copyrights.  That’s right — authors and their heirs can reclaim ownership and control over their rights and how they are exploited.  However, this gift comes with strict requirements as to when and how rights can be recaptured.  (See articles with more information hereand here.)  An attorney with extensive experience in copyright terminations is essential here, because there is only one chance to recapture rights – and that chance is lost if deadlines are missed or the procedure isn’t followed correctly.

  1. Decide a Plan of Action.

I frequently see legacy artists and songwriters, and their heirs, who have been misguided in the management of their catalogues, who have lost rights to recapture, who don’t realize their catalogues are under-earning, and who don’t know where to start.   The right advisors are tantamount to a successful recapture process and future for the catalogue.  Each catalogue is unique and each client has different goals for the catalogue, its income, and the preservation of its legacy.  Some options include negotiating a new deal for the catalogue, selling the catalogue, or self-publishing the catalogue.  I work specifically to achieve what is best for each catalogue and each owner of that catalogue, and the results most often include clarity of mind and increased income for beneficiaries of the catalogue.*

There is only one chance to reclaim ownership of a catalogue and revitalize it – and the catalogue deserves it.

Please contact me to assist you in taking care of your legacy catalogue.

 

*  Information stated is based on past experiences.  Results are not guaranteed.

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Erin M. Jacobson re-elected to AIMP Board of Directors

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Categories: Honors and Awards, Music Industry, Music Publishing, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I am happy to announce that I have been re-elected to the LA Board of Directors of the Association of Independent Music Publishers (AIMP).

wb-aimp-luncheon-global-industry-110216AIMP is an industry group focusing on independent music publishers and songwriters.  Members (my colleagues in the industry) vote for Board members, so I am honored to have been chosen.  Keep an eye on the AIMP website for future events and to become more involved with this great organization.

 

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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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Music Industry Cases And Issues To Watch In 2018

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Categories: Articles, Legal Disputes, Legal Issues, Music Industry, Music Industry Interviews, Music Publishing, Royalties, Streaming, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

This article was first posted on Forbes.com.

It’s been a year since I wrote about Music Industry Cases to Watch in 2017 and, unfortunately, not much has changed. Here’s an update on what’s happening in the music industry and what to keep an eye on for 2018.

The Department of Justice v. ASCAP and BMI

Background: I previously wrote about this issue here and here, and there hasn’t been much forward movement. To briefly recap, performance rights organizations ASCAP and BMI asked the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) — which oversees the consent decrees governing ASCAP and BMI — to reform the decrees based on today’s digital age. The DOJ responded by ignoring the music industry’s requests for reform and instead mandating a model of 100% licensing, which restricts a performance rights organization to license rights to perform a work only if the organization has the right to license 100% of that work. BMI appealed the decision and got an immediate verdict in BMI’s favor. The DOJ appealed and oral arguments on the case were just heard. (More info here as well.)

What You Might Expect: It could go either way.

How It Could Affect the Industry: If the DOJ wins, then the music industry might need to change its business model and overhaul all of its longstanding licensing practices. If ASCAP and BMI win, then the music industry will be able to proceed with doing business as it has been for decades and continue making efforts to improve the existing system.

Potential Reform of Royalty Rates by the Copyright Royalty Board

Background: As I previously explained here, the Copyright Royalty Board (“CRB”) held hearings to potentially update the mechanical royalty rates paid to songwriters and publishers for reproductions of compositions. The current mechanical royalty rates for physical products and digital downloads are 9.1¢ for compositions five minutes or less in length, and streaming rates are at fractions of a penny. The National Music Publisher’s Association argued for rate increases on behalf of songwriters and publishers, while digital service providers (like Google, Spotify, Pandora, Amazon and Apple) offered alternative rate structures that may lower rates overall. The CRB recently raised some rates for master recording owners, but the determination on mechanical royalties has not yet been revealed.

What You Might Expect: Hopefully this first determination for master owners will predict a raise in mechanical royalties as well. Whether mechanical royalties are raised still remains to be seen, but any increases that are granted would probably not be enough to remedy the music industry’s struggle with the value gap. David Israelite, President and CEO of the National Music Publisher’s Association (NMPA), graciously provided some exclusive quotes for this article, saying: “We are cautiously optimistic the CRB will return a rate structure that values appropriately the contribution of songwriters to digital music services. This is a very important decision as interactive streaming services become the dominant format for the enjoyment of music.”

How It Could Affect the Industry: If the CRB maintains or lowers the rates in favor of the digital service providers, the music industry would continue struggling with low rates of payment. If the CRB increases the rates, it would help the music industry’s cash flow issues, but probably still not support the music industry at the level it needs. Israelite also commented to us, “Regardless of the decision, the time has come for the government to get out of the business of setting rates for songwriters and to let the free market determine the value of songs.”

Many Lawsuits Against Spotify

Background: Spotify is an interactive streaming service required to pay both mechanical and performance royalties. As detailed here, Spotify has already agreed to several settlements for failure to properly pay mechanical royalties and has been sued several times for the same reason, with those cases still pending. Spotify made the argument that it shouldn’t have to pay mechanical royalties, despite previously admitting that it needed to do so.

What You Might Expect: Spotify’s argument is flawed in many ways, but their $16 billion valuation may hold some clout, or at least the funds to continue pushing their position. The music industry hopes to quash their arguments, but acknowledges that the lawsuits are just Band-Aids, and is striving to implement a more efficient system.

How It Could Affect the Industry: A legal decision set in Spotify’s favor could mean massive losses of income to songwriters, music publishers, and the music industry as a whole.  Hopefully, the streaming giant and the music industry will find a way to work together for their mutual benefit.

Many Music Catalogues Being Sold

Background: It’s old news for music industry folks that a large number of record labels are owned by just a few major corporations. However, acquisitions of composition catalogues are now hitting the spotlight after traditionally not garnering much attention. The catalogue purchase and sale market is booming, and those of us in this space (like me) are regularly looking at either buying or selling catalogues, depending on who we are representing. Many music publishing companies are also raising a lot of money from outside investors in order to gobble up other substantial catalogues. There are even rumors of music publishing giant EMI for sale at a $3 billion valuation.

What You Might Expect: There will be a lot more of these deals happening in 2018.

What It Means for the Industry: The majors will continue to buy the indies, and the larger indies will buy competitors and smaller companies. The music publishing world might get smaller, but there will always be more copyrights to go around. The downside is that the investors coming in with the funds are usually not in the music industry, meaning that the music publishing industry may now have to answer to venture capitalists, which has been a problem for years with major record labels. The good news is that these non-industry investors will need current industry experts to manage the catalogues they have purchased, continuing jobs and revenue flows throughout the industry.

*This article does not constitute legal advice.

Special thanks to David Israelite, President and CEO of the National Music Publisher’s Association (NMPA) for graciously providing quotes exclusive to this article.

Erin M. Jacobson is a music attorney whose clients include Grammy and Emmy Award winners, legacy clients and catalogs, 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. Ms. Jacobson also serves on the boards of the California Copyright Conference (CCC) and Association of Independent Music Publishers (AIMP).

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