|TUESDAY 11 AUGUST 2020||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: Twitch's big music problem - although not new - has definitely become much more apparent in recent months as the livestreaming platform has increased in profile beyond the gamer community, partly because of the COVID-caused boom in livestreamed music, and partly because the Amazon subsidiary itself has been increasingly wooing music-makers... [READ MORE]|
Artists demand Jeff Bezos answer questions about Twitch's (lack of) music licences
With all that in mind, a group of US artists has demanded that Amazon boss Jeff Bezos actually provide an answer to a question he was asked during a recent Congressional hearing on the responsibilities of big tech. Because when asked about Twitch's lack of music licences at said hearing, all Bezos could say is "I don't know".
Even as a platform predominantly populated by gamers livestreaming their gameplay, the amount of unlicensed music swimming around Twitch was already an issue, especially once it had been acquired by Amazon in 2014, a company very much in business with the music industry.
Nevertheless, Twitch got away with featuring a plethora of music in its streams without licence for years, occasionally blocking videos where specific takedown notices had been received from music companies.
But as the kind of content livestreaming on Twitch has diversified - both organically and because of specific efforts by the company to reach out to other kinds of content-makers - the fact the Amazon business operates without music licences has become a much bigger issue.
There have been some talks to secure some licences to cover some aspects of the Twitch service, but for now much of the big music problem remains.
Which is why, during the aforementioned Congressional hearing, representative Kelly Armstrong asked Bezos whether it was correct to say "Twitch allows users to stream music but does not license the music". The Amazon overlord responded "I don't know", and then promised to definitely look into it. It was with that in mind that the US Artist Rights Alliance yesterday sent an open letter to Bezos asking for an answer to Armstrong's question.
The letter notes how Amazon has, in many ways, been a good partner of the music industry by operating various services fully licensed by the record companies, music publishers and collecting societies. But, it notes, "Amazon's Twitch subsidiary ... is not one of those services".
"We have closely followed the rising controversy surrounding Twitch's hosting and delivery of unlicensed music and the company's apparent unwillingness to do anything beyond the most minimal and inadequate effort to process takedown requests and shift responsibility for systematic unpaid use of music on the platform to its users", the letter goes on. "For this reason, we were grateful that Representative Kelly Armstrong raised Twitch's licensing issues during your recent testimony before the House Judiciary Committee's Antitrust Subcommittee".
"We were appalled, however, by your inability or unwillingness to answer even the most basic question about Twitch's practices in this regard", it then states. Again noting that Amazon at large is super aware of how music licensing works, and that "Twitch itself has long been aware of its licensing challenges and shortcomings according to a recently surfaced memo on audible scanning operations sent to its users the year Amazon acquired the company".
The letter continues: "As Twitch uses music to grow its audience and shape its brand, the company owes creators more than the willful blindness and vague platitudes you offered during your Congressional testimony".
"For working songwriters and performers, fair royalties on a growing platform like Twitch can literally be a matter of life and death – the difference between having a place to live and homelessness, and having access to health care or being uninsured. For others it's the difference between being able to work as an artist or having to give up a lifetime of dreams".
"For all these reasons", the letter concludes, "we ask you to provide a public answer to Congressman Armstrong's question – does the Twitch platform allow users to post or stream unlicensed music? If the answer is 'yes' we further ask you to explain what you are doing or plan to do to proactively stop that from happening and ensure that artists and songwriters are paid fair market value for the work when it is performed on Twitch?"
Like Armstrong and the ARA, we await with interest to see how Bezos responds.
Cox Communications reckons alternative maths should save it $243 million in its big copyright bust up with the labels
Cox, of course, is one of a number of American ISPs that have been sued for copyright infringement by the record industry on the basis they did not fulfil their obligations under law to get safe harbour protection from liability for the infringing activities of their customers.
BMG set the precedent in this domain when it sued Cox. On the back of that the majors sued Cox, Grande, Charter, Bright House and RCN, with most of those cases ongoing.
The majors won their lawsuit against Cox last year securing the mega-damages of $1 billion, which equated to statutory damages of $99,830.29 for each of the 10,017 songs and recordings infringed by the ISP's customers that were specifically listed in the major record companies' lawsuit.
Cox plans to pursue all lines of appeal in relation to that judgement. Though in June, the judge who oversaw the original case declined to amend the jury's ruling or order a retrial, rejecting the net firm's arguments that the billion dollar damages were "shockingly excessive and unlawfully punitive".
However, the judge did agree with Cox that there was a case for reducing the damages bill on the basis that, in some cases, the music companies were receiving double or even triple damages for one track, because of the separation between song rights and recording rights, and some extra complexities around derivative works.
The ISP was therefore told that it could scrutinise the list of infringed tracks, identify where double or triple damages had been awarded, and amend the overall damages bill accordingly.
Cox has also been monitoring the other ISP lawsuits, where the labels have sometimes filed revised lists of allegedly infringed works. The ISPs argue that where tracks have been removed through those revisions, that probably means the labels involved in the lawsuit don't actually control the copyright in said recordings.
Cox has gone through the big list of infringed works looking for overlaps and tracks that the labels possibly don't even control and, as a result, now argues that 2438 of the works on that list should be removed. Which would equate to a massive $243 million saving in terms of the damages bill.
The ISP submitted its maths to the court - including all its workings - last week. We now await to see how the record labels respond.
In related news, the record labels last week submitted a new legal filing in another of their big ISP copyright cases, this time the one against Bright House, a former net firm that is now a subsidiary of Charter Communications.
As with the other ISP cases, in the Bright House litigation there has been a side debate over whether or not the net firm can be held liable for vicarious as well as contributory infringement. It if can, that could increase any future damages.
Bright House successfully got the vicarious infringement claims removed from the labels' lawsuit last month, but last week said labels presented various arguments as to why that shouldn't have happened.
Aggrieved Eventbrite investors settle as ticketing sector continues to tackle the COVID crisis
Investors in Eventbrite went legal last year over allegations that the company had made false or misleading statements ahead of its initial public offering in 2018, in particular in relation to its earlier acquisition of rival Ticketfly and the integration of the two company's platforms.
The litigation came after Eventbrite's share price took a bashing in March and May 2019 in the wake of official updates on revenues and revenue projections – which were lower than expected – and the ongoing challenges around the integration of the Ticketfly and Eventbrite systems.
That admission that the integration of Ticketfly was proving problematic contradicted what Eventbrite had said in the run up to the 2018 IPO, plaintiffs in the case argued. Which meant the company had deliberately misled potential investors about the business.
For its part, Eventbrite denied those allegations, called the investor lawsuit "baseless" and sought to have it dismissed. And in April the judge overseeing the case did just that, concluding that the allegations in the investor's litigation were too "vague". But the plaintiffs were told they could submit an amended complaint dealing with those issues if they so wished.
However, according to Law360, on Friday those investors told the judge that they'd agreed a settlement deal with Eventbrite, and that they'd rather get court approval of that deal rather than continue to pursue their legal battle.
The $1.9 million payout provided by that deal is less than the plaintiff's hoped to secure, but - they noted in a court filing - similar litigation against Eventbrite in the Californian state courts had also been dismissed. Meanwhile, the challenges faced by Eventbrite as a result of COVID-19 reduced the prospect of a better pay-out down the line.
They told the judge: "Dimming the prospects of any recovery, during litigation, the world was struck by the worst pandemic it suffered since 1918 - particularly bad news for a company whose business is helping customers plan live events".
"With claims against Eventbrite dismissed in state and federal court", they went on, "and the company's future uncertain, the prospect that settlement class members would recover anything looked dim. Yet, lead counsel nonetheless were able to negotiate the $1.9 million settlement".
And while a lower sum than originally hoped, that cash "will nonetheless prove meaningful for settlement class members".
Universal Music announces new deal with Tencent, but also a direct deal with NetEase
"Through this extended partnership, Universal Music Group and Tencent Music Entertainment will further explore and expand their shared commitment to continued growth across the music market in China, in order to provide value for artists and great experiences for music fans", the two companies said yesterday.
Under the deal, the major will continue to make its global catalogue available to the various subscription streaming services operated by Tencent - ie QQ Music, Kugou Music and Kuwo Music - as well as karaoke platform WeSing and some other livestreaming ventures.
To date, the latter have proven particularly lucrative for Tencent, with the music industry not really sharing in the revenues those service's generate in any tangible way. It's not clear if the new Universal deal with change that.
Beyond licensing Tencent's existing services, the new deal also sees the two companies launch a new joint venture record label which will be, and I quote, "dedicated to reaching audiences across China through cultivating, developing, producing, and showcasing highly talented domestic artists and their premium original music". Good times.
"We are pleased to extend and evolve our licensing agreement with TME for the Chinese market", says Universal's EVP of Market Development Adam Granite. "We look forward to working together with TME to help create compelling new experiences for fans across all TME platforms, and to expand on the opportunities available to UMG's global and domestic family of artists in China".
"I am delighted to announce this landmark win-win strategic cooperation with Universal Music Group", added TME CEO Cussion Pang. "Supported by our hundreds of millions music lovers, powerful promotional channels, extensive user insights, as well as well-rounded digital music services, we have been a valuable partner for the industry to engage with music lovers".
Despite the ongoing Universal/Tencent love-in, actually the much more interesting deal announced yesterday was between the mega-major and Tencent's main competitor in the Chinese streaming market, that being NetEase Cloud Music.
To date the majors have not only licensed the Tencent streaming services, but also allowed Tencent to distribute their catalogues in the Chinese market. Which means Tencent's rivals in China have had to try to negotiate licensing deals with their main competitor.
It was always a highly unusual and slightly controversial situation that could only really ever happen in a country like China. Though, even there, regulators have expressed some concerns about those arrangements in recent years.
Those concerns could have risen after Tencent announced its deal to buy 10% of Universal Music at the end of last year, which is possibly why now is a good time for the music major to drop the exclusivity deals in China and start dealing directly with the other streaming services in the country. And the obvious place to start is NetEase.
Confirming his company now had a direct deal with Universal, the boss of NetEase, William Ding, said yesterday: "This partnership further strengthens NetEase Cloud Music's position as a go-to platform for high-quality international music and marks a great step forward for China's music industry as a whole".
"As leaders in music-based entertainment, UMG and NetEase Cloud Music share a commitment to encouraging creativity and innovation, respecting the power of artistry and exploring wider opportunities for the appreciation and enjoyment of the world's most iconic, edgy and influential music", he went on. "We are confident that the partnership will bring wider choice not only for music lovers and artists, but also for the industry".
Confirming the NetEase deal from Universal's side, the aforementioned Granite said: "We are delighted to enter into this licensing agreement with NetEase Cloud Music in China, and look forward to working together to create new opportunities for UMG's domestic and international artists to reach music fans and premium subscribers across the country through NetEase".
Live events industry calls for urgent government support to stop "complete collapse"
Hundreds of venues around the UK will turn their lights red in a bid to communicate to the political community that the live industry is now on red alert, with no real clarity on when shows, concerts, festivals and other events will be able to resume, while government schemes to support employees and freelancers affected by the COVID-19 shutdown are set to finish.
The full day of campaigning - which involves nineteen trade organisations and sees the live events industry ask ministers to "throw us a line" - will also feature a number of other activities involving people from across the sector taking place in over 20 cities.
While the government has committed to spend £1.57 billion supporting those in the UK's cultural and heritage industries affected by COVID, those schemes do not cover all aspects of the wider live events sector, even though the entire industry faces the same challenges.
There also remain concerns that that sector-specific culture funding will focus on certain categories of creative businesses, and won't actually filter down to freelancers working in live entertainment, or the small businesses that provide logistical and production support.
Organisers of today's campaign state: "Unlike other industries, events, festivals and performances have been unable to safely reopen due to social distancing guidance, and may not reopen until early 2021. With no government support on the horizon for the event supply chain, redundancies have already begun. Research indicates that 25% of companies will have served redundancy notices by end of August, this rises to 70 per cent by the end of December".
Peter Heath, MD of PLASA, which represents suppliers of technology and services to the live events sector and is one of the groups leading on the campaign, adds: "The live events industry supply chain, essential to every single event in the UK, is set to completely collapse without financial support from the government, due to social distancing prohibiting mass events".
"Large scale events are not expected to reopen until Spring 2021 at the earliest, and the reality is that the sector can't wait that long", he goes on. "We've issued a 'red alert' ... because the sector is on its last legs, and now the whole industry is coming together to ask the government to 'throw us a line".
Among the specific demands being made of government is a grants scheme for live event businesses, and an extension of the the general COVID support schemes for employees and freelancers for those sectors where the impact of COVID-19 is still being felt.
Attitude Is Everything seeks to make the music industry workplace more inclusive and accessible
Attitude Is Everything is probably best known for its work making live music events more accessible to deaf and disabled music fans, however it has also looked to support deaf and disabled music-makers in more recent years.
The new Beyond The Music initiative will focus on jobs in the industry, and will investigate why just 1.8% of people working at music industry organisations consider themselves to be disabled, despite 19% of working adults being considered disabled under the UK's Equality Act.
The charity says "such a disconnect may be attributable to barriers and discrimination, but Attitude Is Everything's own research suggests many deaf and disabled people may also lack confidence to make their impairment known".
Based on its aforementioned work with music-makers, it also notes that "last year we revealed that 70% of disabled musicians hid details of their impairment for fear of losing opportunities, and that two-thirds had compromised their health to perform in inaccessible conditions".
With funding from the National Lottery, the Beyond The Music initiative will undertake further research on the music industry workplace, while also seeking to enable deaf and disabled people to gain the necessary skills, experience, support and contacts they need to pursue a career in the music business. It will also offer support and advice to music companies on how they can build a more inclusive work environment.
The charity's Paul Hawkins says: "This is a challenging time for everyone in the music business, especially within live events. The industry's #LetTheMusicPlay campaign has highlighted the gravity of the situation, but, as we plot a pathway back from coronavirus, Attitude Is Everything believes it is crucial that deaf and disabled people have full and equal access to any employment opportunities on offer. Beyond The Music will allow us to try and identify why deaf and disabled workers are so underrepresented in the sector and to take positive action to implement change".
The programme is already being backed by a number of venues, fellow music charity Youth Music and the cross-sector trade group UK Music. The Chair of the latter's Diversity Taskforce, Ammo Talwar, adds: "The music industry has to move with pace around access, inclusive behaviour and equality. This new scheme led by Attitude Is Everything injects new energy into this field and will create positive resources and experience for all involved".
The research element of Beyond The Music begins with a survey of those in the music industry who identify as deaf, disabled or neurodiverse, or who have a mental health condition or another long-term health condition. You can access that survey here.
COVID-19 SUPPORT INTIATIVES
Record label trade body the BPI has announced another £270,000 of funding to help the music community weather the ongoing COVID-19 storm. Donations have been made by the majors, Cherry Red, Demon Music Group, The BRIT Awards, Amazon Music, YouTube Music and collecting society PPL as part of the BPI-led COVID support scheme. This round of monies will be shared out between Help Musicians, Nordoff Robbins, the Music Venue Trust, Music Support and the Music Managers Forum's ReBuild project.
Apple Music has announced that Dotty Charles will join the streaming service as Lead Cultural Curator for Black Music in the UK. "This really is my dream job!", she says. "I started in this business as an artist myself, so to be taking on a role that allows me to empower musicians is incredible".
EDUCATION & EVENTS
Trade groups BPI and ERA have published a new report, produced by Music Ally and Kids Insights, looking at how younger consumers interact with digital devices and services, and the music that is available on said devices and services. It's called 'New Kids On The Block' and you can download a copy here.
Tom Morello's "remarkable life as a guitarist, songwriter, singer and political activist" will be captured in a new 'photo memoir' being published this October called 'Whatever It Takes'. The book will feature a stack of photographs, handwritten notes and set-lists, along with commentary from Morello himself.
Glasvegas have promised that some new music is coming "very soon". It will be their first new music in seven years, the delay - it seems - the result of frontman James Allan deciding that he wanted to record, engineer and produce the next record entirely on his own. "I'm sorry it took this long", he wrote on Instagram, "I know I'm a bit daft sometimes... oblivious to my limitations. Always have been, always will be a dreamer".
Griff has posted a video for new song 'Say It Again' which "explores a world where [she] embraces a dream-like state of reality".
Hayley Williams has posted a cover of Radiohead's 'Fake Plastic Trees'. Such a cover initially seemed like "sacrilege", she says, but then she "realised that the band themselves have never once regarded what they do as precious or never-to-be-toyed with - they are never beholden to any one version of their expression".
GIGS & TOURS
Having done a series of livestreamed shows from her home, in partnership with venues and promoters around the country, singer-songwriter Roxanne de Bastion has announced another livestreamed gig, though this one will be filmed at London venue the Moth Club and streamed on 6 Sep. Tickets - on sale here - will be capped at 250, ie the capacity of the venue.
Elbow, Everything Everything, Public Service Broadcasting and The Slow Readers Club have all confirmed their involvement in the Passport: Back To Our Roots programme, which will stage a series of shows once social distancing rules are lifted in order to raise money for grassroots venues. Tickets to see these bands perform in much smaller venues than they would normally play will be distributed via a prize draw which fans can enter for a minimum donation of £5.
Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.
Rick Ross wants 50 Cent to pose in front of Wingstop to open up sync talks
50 Cent's latest TV production project is a drug trafficking drama inspired by the true story of the Flenory brothers and the US-wide drug distribution network they built, an enterprise that became known as the black mafia family. In his own recent chat with Billboard, 50 Cent admitted that he really wanted to include Rick Ross's Flenory-referencing track 'BMF' in the programme.
Asked about that in the more recent Billboard interview, Ross said that he'd do a sync deal for 'BMF' if 50 Cent first posted to Instagram a picture of himself in front of one of the Wingstop restaurants that Ross operates, and with a bottle of the Belaire sparkling wine that Ross promotes.
"Tell him to take the picture with the Belaire bottle, hold it up and hold it up high", he told Billboard. He'd then like the photo on 50 Cent's Instagram profile and subsequently begin talks about providing that sync licence.
Of course, if Ross decides to have his rival rapper plug every business venture he's involved in before completing that sync deal, we could be here sometime.