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By: Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I am proud to announce that my most recent article, Attention Legacy Artists: 6 Things You Need to Know to Recapture Your Copyrights, has been published by Billboard!
By: Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.
This article was first published on Billboard.com.
There has been a lot of buzz recently about songwriters and artists (or their heirs) recapturing copyright ownership of their songs – and youcanbelieve the hype. Copyright law provides a chance for authors (or heirs of authors) to recapture ownership of the copyrights to works granted away many years ago, and the window allowed by the law to recapture those rights is now. Recapturing rights can allow for an author or author’s heirs to negotiate better deals with higher royalty splits in their favor, sell catalogues for large sums of money, or finally regain control of how a catalogue is exploited and increase profits with the right team in place.
However, recapturing rights is a complicated business filled with many requirements and nuances. Here are six things authors need to know about recapturing rights.
An author (or author’s heirs) can terminate grants of copyrights made before January 1, 1978 during a window beginning 56 years and ending 61 years from the original copyright date. However, notice of termination must be served on the current owner anytime between ten and two years before the date the author intends the rights to revert. For grants made after January 1, 1978, the calculation of when rights can be recaptured is based on the date of the grant, not the original copyright date. These post-1978 grants may be terminated beginning at 35 or 40 years after the grant date (depending on the language in the grant)with a five-year termination window. Again, notice of termination must be served on the current owner anytime between ten and two years before the date the author intends the rights to revert.
Being proactive is one of the most important factors when it comes to recapturing rights. As mentioned above, serving notice on the current owners of the copyrights is required to recapture rights. Because of the additional requirement that this notice must be sent between ten and two years beforethe date the rights will revert, anyone intending to recapture rights must look at leasttwo years ahead. If someone intending to recapture rights misses the notice window – rights cannotbe recaptured and the opportunity is forever lost.
The termination provisions that are the subject of this article are part of United
States Copyright Law and therefore only apply to U.S. rights. That means one can recapture U.S. rights, but not foreign rights. Also, as of this writing, the chance to recapture is only applicable to U.S. contracts.
Most discussions around recapture of copyrights refer to composition copyrights because compositions are generally more straightforward to recapture than master recordings. Most record company contracts say that masters are works made for hire for the record company, and as explained above, works made for hire are not eligible to be terminated. However, copyright law dictates that works made for hire must meet certain requirements to qualify as a work made for hire: (a) it must be made by an employee within the scope of their employment, or (b) it must be specially commissioned by the owner of the work for hire, it must be agreed in writing, and the type of work must fall within one of nine categories designated by the law. “Master recordings” is not one of those nine categories.
While there have been a few instances where labels have quietly relinquished rights to masters and sworn all parties to secrecy, most record labels refuse to release rights to masters and instead negotiate with the artist to increase their royalty rates. A higher royalty rate does not help artists whose masters are not being exploited and not earning money, but it is all in an effort for the labels to avoid setting a precedent. Master recordings are record labels’ main assets and businesses cannot give away their assets without also giving away power and profit.
Unfortunately, this is an issue that will only be decided by litigation and/or copyright reform, and neither of those has happened yet.
For pre-1978 grants, one author’s share may be terminated, rather than requiring co-writers to terminate together. However, if an author’s heirs are the ones effecting termination, then a majority of those heirs must terminate together.
Post-1978 grants signed by more than one author require a majority of those authors to terminate the grant together, and if any one of more of those authors is deceased, then a majority of the heirs of each deceased author must sign instead. However, there are exceptions to this rule if separate grants were signed.
Requiring multiple parties to sign the termination notices can be problematic if co-writers, or heirs fighting about estate issues, no longer speak. Even if the parties may have lost touch over the years, it benefits everyone involved to coordinate and cooperate to recapture rights.
If not already apparent by reading this article, assessing eligibility for filing terminations and carrying out the proper procedures to recapture rights is extremely complex. Furthermore, there are numerous nuances and requirements not discussed here that could also affect whether an author or an author’s heirs may recapture rights. Anyone seeking to recapture copyrights needs an attorney specifically focused on the music industry that also has extensive experience with assessing these issues and recapturing rights. Not all entertainment attorneys understand music and not all music attorneys are experienced with terminations.
I regularly recapture rights for my clients, as well as advise them on protecting and revitalizing their catalogues, as I am in a unique position where I am deeply familiar with both older music and how to navigate those catalogues within today’s marketplace. Being in this space also means I frequently see legacy artists and their heirs who have been misguided, who have lost their chance to recapture their rights, 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.
There is only one chanceto recapture copyrights, one chanceto regain control of one’s legacy, and one chance to get it right. Choose wisely.
Post-1978 grants are terminable at 35 years after the date of the grant, however, if the grant’s language includes the right of publication for the work, then that five-year period begins either on 35 years after the date of publication, or 40 years after the date of the grant, whichever is earlier.
U.S.C. 17 §203(a)(3) (1998).
There have been a couple of high profile disputes on this matter involving U.K. contracts (namely Duran Duran in one instance and Sir Paul McCartney in another), but Duran Duran lost in a U.K. lower court and subsequently settled, and McCartney settled without litigation. Some other countries do have their own provisions for recapture of rights, but they vary by country and differ from U.S. law.
Disclaimer: This article does not constitute legal advice.
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.
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.
Twitch and the broadcaster split all income from subscriptions, bits, and Prime tokens, usually on at least a 50/50 basis.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.)
Thanks to the Association of Independent Music Publishers (AIMP) for highlighting my recent recognition as a Rising Star and one of the Top Women Attorneys in Southern California by Super Lawyers.
The AIMP is a great organization supporting the interests of independent music publishers and I am proud to serve on the AIMP LA/National Board.
Super Lawyers rates outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. This selection process includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations.
Erin will be featured in Los Angeles Magazine as a Super Lawyers Rising Star, and again later this year as one of the Top Women Attorneys in Southern California.
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).
The Women’s International Music Network interviewed me in their “Front and Center” profile.
I will be speaking at the 2017 Taxi Road Rally, November 3-4, 2017!
Here is my schedule:
Friday, November 3, 2017 from 2:45-4:15 pm / La Guardia Room (Mezzanine Level / 2nd Floor)
Don’t Get Screwed! How to Protect Yourself as an Independent Musician with Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. An explanation of the most common types of ways independent musicians and songwriters get screwed and how to protect yourself before it happens. This class will include real examples from artist’s careers, as well as a discussion on what contracts are necessary to prevent these scenarios, along with an opportunity for Q&A with music attorney Erin Jacobson.
(I will also participate in the mentor lunch on Friday.)
Saturday, November 4, 2017 from 4:30-6:00 pm / La Guardia Room (Mezzanine Level / 2nd Floor)
Understanding Music Library Agreements with Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. Music attorney, Erin M. Jacobson will talk about the types of deals offered and explain what contract terminology and certain clauses mean. You may bring printouts of particular clauses that have you stumped and Ms. Jacobson will read them and explain what they mean! This class could save you a world of hurt down the road. It’s a Do-Not-Miss session if you’re pitching to music libraries!
Looking forward to seeing you there!