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Tag Archives: music publishing

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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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Erin M. Jacobson, Esq. featured in AIMP’s July News

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

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.


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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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Erin M. Jacobson Speaking at Taxi Road Rally

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Categories: Music Contracts, Music Industry, Music Libraries, Speaking, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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!

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How Spotify Has Waged War With The Music Industry

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Categories: Articles, Copyright, Music Industry, Music Publishing, Royalties, Streaming, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

This article was first published on Forbes.com.

Spotify has waged a war with the music industry. The streaming company has a history of not paying mechanical royalties to songwriters and music publishers, and has already settled two separate class action lawsuits for failure to pay mechanical royalties – the first brought on behalf of music publishers by the National Music Publisher’s Association (NMPA) and the second, known as the Lowery/Ferrick case, brought by independent songwriters. Now, a host of top songwriters, including Tom Petty and members of Rage Against the Machine, Weezer, The Black Keys, and more, have come forward urging the court not to approve the terms of the Lowery/Ferrick case. These songwriters oppose the settlement amount in the Lowery/Ferrick case because when the costs are broken down, Spotify’s liability for not paying mechanical royalties would be to pay a mere $3.82 per infringed composition. The maximum liability under the law for copyright infringement is $150,000 per infringed composition. Quite the difference.

As I previously reported, Spotify was also hit with two independent lawsuits – again for failure to pay mechanical royalties — brought by songwriter/publisher Bob Gaudio and music administrator Bluewater Services Corporation. Even more recently, seven other music publishers have sued Spotify for the same violation.

The Gaudio/Bluewater suits accused Spotify’s practices being reminiscent of Napster, which caused Spotify to fire back with the outrageous claim that Spotify should not have to pay mechanical royalties to songwriters and music publishers at all. More realistically, Spotify has argued that copyright law does not define streaming and places the burden on the plaintiffs to show that Spotify is creating a “reproduction” and therefore required to pay mechanical royalties.

As I explained in my last article, streaming requires several licenses – sound recording licenses from the record labels; performance licenses for the compositions from performance rights organizations such as ASCAP and BMI; and mechanical licenses for the reproduction of the compositions. Spotify now argues that it is akin to other streaming services like Pandora, who only have to pay performance royalties. However, Spotify’s argument is flawed for several reasons.

  • First, Pandora and similar services online radio services are classified as non-interactive services because a user cannot choose to listen to a specific song on demand. This is similar to terrestrial radio, except it’s online instead of on the FM dial. In contrast, a Spotify user can choose and play any song the user wishes on demand, which makes Spotify an interactive service. Copyright law makes important distinctions between non-interactive and interactive services, and for the relevant purposes here, the most important difference is that non-interactive services are only required to pay performance royalties (as the use is only a performance, again, like terrestrial radio) and interactive services are required to pay both performance and mechanical royalties (because the nature of the technology actually consists of a reproduction of the data file in addition to the performance itself). Therefore, Spotify cannot rely on the requirements of a separately classified type of service when those requirements don’t apply to Spotify’s service.
  • Second, Spotify has previously stated that it “needs” mechanical rights as part of its operations and has argued in rate court proceedings to weigh in on what mechanical rate amounts it should have to pay. It is both hypocritical and faulty reasoning for Spotify to say it needs certain rights and subsequently argue the opposite.
  • Third, Spotify has previously settled the two class action lawsuits mentioned above in order to rectify its previous non-payment of mechanical royalties. Spotify’s excuse in these cases was that it was too difficult to pay everyone owed due to the lack of a comprehensive music industry database. Once again, Spotify previously accepted that it needed to pay mechanical royalties, but made excuses for its failure to do so, which is in direct opposition to its current claim that it does not need to pay mechanical royalties at all.
  • Fourth, the music industry has long ago come to a consensus that an interactive stream does require a mechanical license and there is evidence that Spotify actually does create reproductions of the files, specifically on users’ mobile phones.

While Spotify’s argument that a stream does not require a mechanical license was recently rejected in court, Spotify can still continue asserting that argument going forward. If a legal decision in Spotify’s favor set a precedent on this issue, it could mean massive losses of income to songwriters, music publishers, and the music industry as a whole. While there are several theories as to why Spotify has taken this approach, the simplest answer seems the most obvious – Spotify doesn’t want to pay. The scariest part of this whole situation is that with Spotify’s massive amount of funds, it has the power to continue litigating this issue with efforts to change the laws and practices of the industry to conform to its unwillingness to pay for the music it uses. It is unacceptable that Spotify has built its entire business on the usage of music content, but yet continually tries to get out of paying for the very content that sustains its customer base. Without music, there is no Spotify and it’s time Spotify stopped making excuses and started to value the music that built its 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 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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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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Spotify May Have To Pay Songwriters $345 Million

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

By:  Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.

This article was previously published on Forbes.com.

When you stream music on Spotify, are you aware that as you are enjoying your favorite song, Spotify might not be paying the person who wrote that song?

Spotify has been sued for upwards of $345 million by Bob Gaudio and Bluewater Music Services Corporation for failure to pay mechanical licenses when their compositions are streamed on Spotify. Gaudio, a former member of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, wrote and publishes some of the group’s biggest hits including “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Walk Like a Man,” as well as Valli’s solo hit “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” Bluewater administers the publishing for compositions like Player’s “Baby Come Back,” Miranda Lambert’s “White Liar,” and Guns ‘N Roses’ “Yesterdays.”

Streaming requires several licenses –sound recording licenses from the record labels; performance licenses for the compositions from performance rights organizations such as ASCAP and BMI; and mechanical licenses for the reproduction of the compositions. While Spotify has deals with the major labels, and blanket licenses with ASCAP and BMI, Spotify has not complied with the requirements for mechanical licenses and payments for all compositions streamed on its platform. Obtaining a mechanical license in the United States is compulsory, meaning that a person or company wishing to reproduce a composition must follow the guidelines in Section 115 of the United States Copyright Act to serve a “Notice of Intent” on the copyright owner and pay said owner the compulsory license fee. Spotify has followed this procedure for compositions affiliated with the Harry Fox Agency (the closest body the United States has to a mechanical rights society), but there are many compositions not affiliated with the Harry Fox Agency that Spotify would need to contact and pay directly – and Spotify largely has not done so.

This is not the first time Spotify has come under fire for its inadequate licensing practices. In 2016, Spotify reached a $30 million dollar settlement with the National Music Publisher’s Association (NMPA) for unpaid mechanical royalties, and Spotify just settled another class action suit for $43.4 million dollars. While maximum statutory damages rates are $150,000 per infringed composition, Bluewater claims that Spotify will only have to pay songwriters $4 per infringed composition after litigation fees are paid. Per the previous settlements, Spotify must also implement a better system to properly track and pay mechanical royalties, and Bluewater asserts this has not yet happened.

The attorney for both Gaudio and Bluewater is Richard S. Busch, most recently in the news for his representation of Marvin Gaye’s estate in the “Blurred Lines” case. Echoing my previous sentiments, a press release citing Busch’s complaint sums up the issue in a single sentence: “Songwriters and publishers should not have to work this hard to get paid or have their life’s work properly licensed, and companies should not be allowed to build businesses—much less billion-dollar businesses—on the concept of ‘infringe now and ask questions later.’”

*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 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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You’ve Inherited a Song Catalogue, Now What? (What Heirs Need to Know)

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

By: Erin M. Jacobson, Esq.


I see many spouses or children that inherit a song catalogue from a songwriter relative, and are not familiar with the music business or how to administer intellectual property rights of music.

Here is the first thing to do: Hire a music attorney experienced with managing catalogues and music publishing.

When I work with heirs on how to manage a catalogue they’ve inherited:

  • I assess the catalogue. I work with my client to know exactly what they have in the catalogue. I find out whether the heir owns the copyrights to the songs – either because the original writer never granted them away or recaptured them at a certain point before inheritance. If the heir doesn’t own the songs, I determine who does have ownership and the terms of the deals with those owners.
  • I review the old contracts and assess whether the current publisher or administrator is doing the best job for the catalogue or if the catalogue might be better at a new home.
  • I assist with inventory of all the titles, copyright years, and registration numbers (if possible); and determine all sources from which the heir receives statements and royalties. Keeping everything organized is essential to either managing or selling the catalogue.
  • I assess whether certain provisions of the copyright law apply so that an heir who doesn’t own the catalogue may be able to reclaim ownership of those copyrights, after which I can negotiate a new deal with the best publisher to manage the catalogue.
  • I coordinate a valuation appraisal of the catalogue for potential sale.

Selling the catalogue is a personal decision, it depends on whether one would rather receive royalty checks or instead receive a lump sum upfront in exchange for the catalogue. This depends the circumstances of each individual situation, both from a financial standpoint and whether the heir wants to have a continuing relationship to the catalogue.

Inherited catalogues are special for family legacy reasons, but also because they come with their own set of decisions. Many heirs have not had previous experience with the music publishing business, and either miss important milestones that would put the catalogue in a better position, or they rely on existing deals with companies that are no longer looking out for the best interests of the catalogue. Banks and other trustees often complicate matters, as well as representatives not experienced in music publishing and copyright management. Many of these personnel only look at the numbers. I personally love older music and understand the sentimental value of a catalogue beyond the income it brings in each year, as well as whether and how it can be profitable in today’s market.

Again, the first step in dealing with a catalogue you have inherited is hiring a music attorney experienced with music catalogues and who can make the right plan for your catalogue.

 

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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