|THURSDAY 16 APRIL 2020||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: The UK's Competition & Markets Authority yesterday announced it is beginning what it calls a phase one investigation into the merger of secondary ticketing companies Viagogo and StubHub. That will further delay the consolidation of the two companies, in the UK at least, and could ultimately result in the British part of the deal being constrained or scuppered entirely... [READ MORE]|
UK competition regulator opens full investigation into Viagogo's StubHub purchase
Viagogo announced plans back in November to buy rival StubHub from its previous owner eBay in a $4 billion deal. That transaction was completed in February, but the CMA had already confirmed it was looking into the merger, meaning that the two companies couldn't formally come together within the UK. To that end, StubHub continues to operate separately from its new owner on a global basis.
The purchase of StubHub gives Viagogo a significant presence in the US market where it has traditionally been a small player in the ticket resale business. That's attractive for Viagogo because, whereas lawmakers have been cracking down on the unofficial resale of tickets for profit in multiple other countries, in the US touting - or scalping as it's known there - is generally still more readily accepted. Albeit with some increasing criticism in Washington.
In the UK, where Live Nation's Ticketmaster bailed on secondary ticketing in 2018, the combination of Viagogo and StubHub makes for a very dominant player in secondary ticketing. Viagogo has argued that it also competes with the primary ticketing companies, but the merger was always likely to raise some competition law concerns.
And that's before you consider all the criticism of the secondary ticketing companies in recent years - and especially Viagogo - which was previously taken to court by the CMA for its initial refusal to comply with UK consumer rights law.
The phase one investigation announced yesterday means that the CMA will now more rigorously scrutinise the deal. It must reach a decision by June, though that decision could be to open an even more rigorous phase two investigation. All of which means further delays to the full integration of the Viagogo and StubHub businesses.
Meanwhile, both companies are tackling the significant challenges posed by the COVID-19 shutdown of live entertainment.
That shutdown, of course, has put a great strain on the entire ticketing business as customers seek refunds for cancelled shows, while promoters investigate to what extent they are insured. The resale sites and the industrial-level touts they rely on are caught up in the middle of all that, waiting to hear what primary sites and promoters are going to do.
In the US, StubHub has already been sued over changes it made to its FanProtect Guarantee scheme regarding refunds as an unprecedented number of shows were cancelled when the COVID-19 crisis got underway.
Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band want change in the law after winning "emotionally charged" trademark dispute
That commitment comes at the end of a long-drawn out legal battle with film and documentary-maker Robert Carruthers, who had worked with the band on various shows and projects since 2005.
His company Anglo Atlantic Media had registered the band's logo as a trademark in 2015. This application was initially accepted by the trademark registry, but the band subsequently sought to have it invalidated, arguing that they had not been aware of the registration and that Carruthers had registered the mark in bad faith.
The band's ultimately successful bid to have the trademark invalidated resulted in plenty of lively back and forth, with the IPO official who oversaw the dispute noting that it had been "hard fought in an often emotionally charged manner".
Concluding that the trademark had indeed been registered in bad faith, an IPO ruling last year stated: "Unless there is an agreement to the contrary (which I have found there was not), or unless the band is created by a record company (which it was not), persons or businesses who engage with a band in the way that [Anglo Atlantic Media and Carruthers] has, should not be registering trademarks the effect of which would be to put them in complete control of the name of the band they represent and which would have the potential effect of preventing the band from undertaking the activities it should be free to do under its own name".
While noting that Carruthers had invested both time and money into the band through the various projects they'd worked on together, the ruling went on: "Honest people in the trade observing acceptable standards of behaviour would do so by relying on the remuneration from such activities to recoup their investment. If they were concerned about not gaining sufficient remuneration then some form of exclusive representation agreement should have been agreed. The use of the trademark system is not the correct mechanism for the protection they seek, even if Mr Carruthers designed the figurative elements of the mark".
But the dispute didn't stop there. In addition to the back and forth at the IPO, Anglo Atlantic Media also took the matter to the High Court. The company filed lengthy complaints about the conduct of the band during the trademark dispute and over various statements that had been made by band members and their supporters as part of and in relation to the IPO hearings.
Anglo Atlantic Media's legal filings variously accused the band and others of unlawfully conspiring to publish malicious falsehoods, misrepresenting their right to the name and infringing the company's trademark.
However, earlier this month the High Court concluded that those legal claims were "totally without merit" and that Anglo Atlantic Media's filings to the court had been "incomplete" but, somewhat ironically, at the same time "prolix" - or "tediously lengthy" to give the word its dictionary definition.
The judge also noted that "the overall impression one gets from the witness statements is that Mr Carruthers is on a mission to defeat the band and raises every point he can think of, regardless of relevance, to achieve his aim".
Welcoming the ruling, the band's Larry Smith said he and his bandmates had "suffered monstrous threats, lies and claims that should never have been issued and then allowed to be processed in the first place".
Fellow band member Rodney Slater added that while he felt "victorious" he nevertheless carries "the scars of two years of tactical, vexatious litigation from legitimately defending what was mine". He cautioned other artists "don't try this at home until the law is reformed".
One of the band's witnesses in the IPO proceedings, who then found himself caught up in the subsequent High Court action, was Richard Allen, who remarked of the whole experience: "Finding yourself being sued for fabricated nonsense by someone you have never met or spoken to is incredible enough, but I find it even more startling that the claims being made against me were based entirely on my witness statement for an IPO hearing".
"This is a case where someone weaponised the legal system to intimidate a witness with impunity", he added. "Nobody protected me and that cannot be right".
With all that in mind, the band said in a joint statement this week that, "with the assistance of Kerry McCarthy MP and The Musicians' Union, [we] now intend to assist the IPO and Parliament in closing a loophole that allows anyone to appropriate a band's name by paying a £200 fee without having to provide adequate proof of ownership. Similarly, [we] wish to see more safeguards for witnesses so that they are not subjected to intimidation via the courts".
Fyre Festival fraudster Billy McFarland requests early prison release over COVID-19 concerns
In a motion filed this week, reports TMZ, McFarland's attorneys list a number of reasons why their client should be granted "compassionate release". These include various underlying health conditions which, it's claimed, put him at a high risk of death if he contracts COVID-19. The filing states that he had asthma as a teenager, and has severe allergies and "heart issues".
It adds that, in the prison where he is currently being held, Elkton in Ohio, official figures state that 36 prisoners and 26 members of staff have already tested positive for COVID-19, and four prisoners have died as a result of the disease.
In a letter to the judge who sentenced him, McFarland insists that he is a changed man who has learned the error of his ways. He admits that he has made mistakes since his arrest on fraud charges, not least violating bail by committing further fraud. Although he insists: "I was mentally fighting back, thinking that while I was totally wrong in my actions, my intentions were good".
Nine months into his prison sentence, in July last year, he was placed in solitary confinement after being discovered with a USB hard drive - a breach of prison rules. It was this incident, he now says, that caused him to turn his life around and realise that "the true punishment is not going to jail ourselves, but that we impart our sentence on the innocent ones we love".
The filing cites the recent release of rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine, who has been allowed to serve the remainder of his (much shorter) sentence under house arrest.
His circumstances are somewhat different though. He was being held in New York, which is the American city worst hit by the COVID-19 crisis, and has asthma so severe that it has seen him hospitalised a number of times, leaving him genuinely at risk of death if he contracts the disease. Prior to his release, he was already expected to be freed in August.
McFarland had been facing up to 40 years in prison in relation to the fraud he committed via the companies that ran the failed Fyre Festival and related ventures. However, he received a reduced sentence as part of a plea deal.
That was reduced further when he was allowed to serve sentences on all charges concurrently. He was, as a result, given six years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to return $26 million to those he defrauded.
Sentencing, judge Naomi Reice Buchwald said in October 2018: "It is my conclusion based on all the submissions that the defendant is a serial fraudster and that to date his fraud, like a circle, has no ending".
She added that he had "been dishonest most of his life" and was "unique in this court's memory" as someone who had committed further crimes while out on bail.
It remains to be seen how that view affects her decision now on whether or not to grant McFarland's request for early release from prison.
Better Noise launches film division
Initial projects include 'The Retaliators', a "high-octane horror-thriller" featuring "special guest appearances by some of rock music's biggest names", and 'Sno Babies', "a gripping tale about the grim realities of opioid addiction and its effects on middle class suburbia".
When what was previously known as the Eleven Seven Label Group rebranded as Better Noise Music last October, the firm stressed that - while 'music' was still in its main brand name - it wasn't just a music company. "We are a content company that creates books, films, documentaries, theatrical productions, tours, and television, that provide opportunities to reach audiences in unique and impactful ways", it said.
Announcing the new film venture this week, Better Noise chief Allen Kovac added: "We are an artist development company and now, through Better Noise Films, we have a new platform for delivering top quality content that engages audiences and builds our brands and artists".
Joining Kovac in the Better Noise film division are Dan Lieblein as COO, Harris Masood as CFO, Michael Lombardi working on studio production and AJ Kasen on music supervision.
On the new venture, Lieblein says: "Allen has been developing artists and creative content his entire career, and Better Noise Films is a logical extension to the Better Noise brand. I am excited to work with Allen on bringing his vision and tenacity to filmed entertainment".
"This venture will also provide tremendous cross-platform marketing opportunities for our artists and other projects", he went on. "We were very fortunate that with the onset of COVID-19, we had two projects in post-production that we will be able to release in the fall when people will be looking for new entertainment".
UK Music urges government to plug "alarming gaps" in COVID-19 support for self-employed
Ensuring that self-employed people were provided with financial support during the COVID-19 shutdown was always a key priority for the music industry where 72% of people work on a freelance basis. A programme was then launched by the UK government for those formally registered as sole-traders, but since then no new support has been forthcoming for the people caught up in the gaps that were almost immediately identified.
"Many in our industry are directors of their own small firms", UK Music points out in its new statement. "However, company directors are disqualified from the self-employed scheme and cannot furlough themselves as this would stop their businesses from operating. They need urgent government help to make sure these individuals, often low earners, do not slip through the net".
It also notes that anyone who became self-employed after 28 Feb is not eligible for support, saying: "We urge Chancellor Rishi Sunak to allow the newly self-employed to file their 2019-20 tax returns now so they can get the same help as other self-employed workers and not fall victim to this unjust cut off".
UK Music then points to stats from various other music industry trade bodies highlighting the huge amount of money already lost as a result of COVID-19 - including the £50 million lost by artists affected by the live industry shutdown, and the 70% dip in income for producers and sound engineers.
Noting the various hardship funds launched by a number of music industry bodies, UK Music says that these alone are unable to keep everyone who needs support afloat in the current situation - and are certainly only equipped to provide help in the very short term.
Identifying further gaps in the government's support initiatives, UK Music says that those who earn less than 50% of their income from self-employment should be allowed to access a mix of government schemes. And beyond the self-employed, business rates relief and grants for small and middle-size enterprises should be extended to a wider range of companies.
On those latter points it says: "The Chancellor should grant a business rates holiday to private and commercial recording studios which are not covered by the rate relief scheme, as well as ensuring music SMEs that don't pay business rates due to being in shared offices can still access the Small Business Grant Fund".
The organisation says that plugging these gaps will "avoid the loss of thousands of jobs and businesses".
"We want to work with the government to help expand the support on offer and minimise the impact of coronavirus on our world-leading industry", it concludes. "The music industry has stepped up and is doing all we can. We need the government to address the holes in the safety net so no one in the music industry is excluded from the help they desperately need".
Porcelain Raft returns with album release prompted by COVID-19
Based in Italy, the first European country to be majorly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was watching the health crisis unfold that convinced Remiddi to release the album and to release it now.
Explaining his absence from music since his last album 'Microclimate', he says: "In the past three years I decided to take a break. I became a father, went to live on a mountain in LA and, after the loss of a loved one, I went back to Italy, where part of my childhood re-emerged".
"I found myself playing an organ made in the 1500s", he goes on, "I danced and played piano for a children's show". During this time he "made a collection of songs that I thought I would never share". But then, he says, recalling the days when the disease began to take hold in Italy, "the world stopped".
"I managed to come back to Italy the day before the airports were on lockdown", he says. "As I stepped in Rome I felt frightened, it's surreal to see Rome silent. You can feel how tense people are. On the other side you can tell there's a lot of solidarity. Helping the neighbour with little things for instance. We have been confined in our houses and exposed to big numbers and huge scale operations".
"This is why I decided to share these songs now", he goes on. "What a better time to hear our inner voice. This album is my rain chant in the time of drought, 'Come Rain' is an invitation to look inward, into our micro-cosmo, whatever we may find. To look for that place within us that is everything but hell, so we can give it space and let it dance".
The album was recorded by Remiddi at home with contributions from former Foo Fighters bassist Nate Mendel, cellist Gaspar Claus and drummer Matt Olsson. It's set for release on 15 May. Here's the title track.
COVID-19 SUPPORT INTIATIVES
Once all this is over, I'm not sure who's going to look after us all while NHS staff are off at all these free shows that are going to be put on for them. But anyway, Fatboy Slim has announced that he will play a show for NHS and other frontline workers at the Brighton Centre on 28 Oct. Tickets will be available from 7pm on 17 Apr.
American collecting societies BMI, ASCAP and SESAC have created a special fund as part of the existing MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund to support their respective songwriter, composer and lyricist members. Info is on the MusiCares website.
Jamie XX has released his first solo track for five years, 'Idontknow'.
Jake Shears has released new single 'Meltdown'. "I wrote 'Meltdown' on the hottest day of the summer in New York City", he says. "It's a compact little jam born from inspiration in the moment".
Norah Jones has released new single 'How I Weep', taken from upcoming new album 'Pick Me Up Off the Floor'.
A Day To Remember have released new single 'Mindreader'.
Former Maccabees frontman Orlando Weeks has released new single 'Blood Sugar'. His debut solo album, 'A Quickening', is out on 12 Jun, through Play It Again Sam.
The Walkmen's Walter Martin (with The National's Matt Berninger on backing vocals) has released new single 'Quarantine Boogie (Loco)'. Profits from the release will be donated to New York charity City Harvest. "I made this song hoping to make enough of a fool of myself to inspire people to donate money to City Harvest", he says.
Rina Sawayama has released new single 'Bad Friend'. Her debut album is out this flipping Friday through Dirty Hit.
J Bannon's Umbra Vitae have released new track 'Mantra Of Madness'. Their debut album, 'Shadow Of Life', is out on 1 May.
Pictish Trail has released the video for 'Double Sided', from his 'Thumb World' album.
Bing & Ruth has announced that he will release new album 'Species' through 4AD on 17 Jul. From it, this is new single 'I Had No Dream'.
Br3nya has released new single 'Plenty'.
Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.
Ellie Goulding leads campaign to distribute phones to homeless in order stay connected during COVID-19 outbreak
"We're all worried about coronavirus, but people who are homeless are particularly exposed to and threatened by the pandemic", says Goulding. "Over the last few weeks we have seen an unprecedented and phenomenal effort to rehouse people sleeping rough by the government, local authorities and homelessness charities, but I have remained very worried about how many people will still need support. I've been determined to help keep them connected".
Chief exec of Crisis, Jon Sparkes, adds: "The coronavirus pandemic is reminding us all how much we need connections with others, and we are relying on our phones and computers to stay in touch. But many people facing homelessness don't have a phone or access to the internet. As the outbreak has unfolded, we have spoken to people who have felt profoundly anxious and alone, unable to get hold of information or stay connected".
"Vital work has been done to move thousands of people into hotel rooms from the streets or from night shelters - but we need to ensure people continue to receive the support they need", he continues. "By giving people phones, charities like Crisis can stay in touch and provide services such as advice, help with accessing benefits, and health and wellbeing support".
As well as announcing the initiative to distribute hundreds of phones, Goulding is also urging the public to donate to Crisis's In This Together Homelessness Emergency Fund, set up in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
"Being able to stay connected may help to ward off isolation, but it will also help Crisis continue to deliver the check-in calls and wellbeing catchups that we know are a lifeline", she says. "I know phone and digital access will make a difference in this emergency, but we still need more phones, and more support. There is huge unmet need everywhere at the moment, including funding for charities like Crisis on the frontline. I urge anybody who can to support the In This Together campaign".