|THURSDAY 24 SEPTEMBER 2020||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: TikTok has asked a federal judge in the US to issue a preliminary injunction that would stop Donald Trump's big ban of the video-sharing app from coming into force this weekend. The legal filing was made as negotiations continue with governments in Washington and Beijing over a deal that would restructure the global TikTok business... [READ MORE]|
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TikTok seeks injunction to put app ban on hold while Oracle deal is scrutinised
Trump, of course, issued an executive order last month banning Americans from transacting with TikTok and its China-based parent company Bytedance, based on concerns that the Chinese government has access to TikTok's global audience and userbase. That ban was meant to come into force last weekend, but was postponed for a week after Bytedance sent in its plans for the aforementioned restructuring of the TikTok business.
Under those plans, there would be a new TikTok Global company which would be 20% owned by American firms, including technology outfit Oracle and supermarket giant Walmart. That company would subsequently IPO on a US stock exchange. Meanwhile, Oracle would become TikTok's global technology partner, taking responsibility for ensuring that the Chinese authorities can't access data relating to American users.
Although Trump last weekend said those plans had his "blessing", there remains some confusion over the specifics of the Oracle deal and some of the accompanying sweeteners, such as TikTok financing a new educational programme.
And, earlier this week, Trump said that the deal would only be formally approved if Oracle and other American investors were in total control of TikTok. Which they won't be, really, under the current deal. Although, because Bytedance itself is 40% owned by American investors, technically TikTok Global will be more than 50% owned by non-Chinese entities.
Anyway, all these shenanigans - not to mention rumours that the Chinese government could as yet also seek to block the proposed deal - mean the precise future of TikTok in the US is still unclear, and that big ban is still - as of yet - due to kick in this weekend.
Concurrent to all that, Bytedance has gone to court seeking to overturn Trump's executive order, arguing that it is an overreach of his legal powers and unconstitutional. It's with those arguments that the company's lawyers are now seeking a preliminary injunction, putting any ban on hold pending the ongoing talks around the Oracle deal and Bytedance's legal action against Trump.
In a legal filing yesterday formally requesting the injunction, Bytedance and TikTok said they had "made extraordinary efforts to try to satisfy the [US] government's ever-shifting demands and purported national security concerns, including through changes in the ownership and structure of their business, and they are continuing to do so".
Meanwhile, they alleged that Trump's big TikTok ban wasn't even really "motivated by a genuine national security concern", but instead was the result of "political considerations relating to the upcoming general election".
Bytedance's lawyers are presumably hoping that the US courts will intervene on the TikTok ban in the same way they did last weekend on another of Trump's executive orders targeting a Chinese business, that being Tencent-owned messaging app WeChat.
The injunction temporarily putting the WeChat ban on hold was secured via legal action pursued by a group of WeChat users who argued that the ban would infringe on their First Amendment free speech rights.
We await to see how the court responds to TikTok's injunction request, while also continuing to closely follow all the chatter and confusion around the big old Oracle deal. Good times.
Renowned civil rights lawyer joins Let's Get It On song-theft case
The Townsend estate first sued Sheeran, his label Warner Music and publisher Sony/ATV back in 2016. It alleges that 'Thinking Out Loud' stole the "melody, harmony and rhythm compositions" of Marvin Gaye's 'Let's Get It On', which Townsend co-wrote.
The lawsuit has plenty of parallels with the other big song-theft cases that have been heard in the American courts in recent years, including the 'Blurred Lines' case - which involved another of Gaye's records of course - and the 'Stairway To Heaven' case. Precedents set in the latter could as yet directly impact on the 'Thinking Out Loud' litigation, most likely in Sheeran's favour.
As the case slowly works its way to court, the Townsend estate's legal team are seeking to capitalise on the recently renewed debate over the way the music industry has historically treated black musicians. That renewed debate was sparked, of course, by the industry-wide Black Out Tuesday initiative, which was in turn a response to the death of George Floyd and the resulting Black Lives Matter protests.
As part of that, earlier this week the estate announced that renowned civil rights lawyer Ben Crump - who is representing the Floyd family on legal matters - is now also working on the 'Thinking Out Loud' litigation.
Confirming that, Crump told reporters that he feels the song-theft case is important because "it marks a refusal to perpetuate the rampant theft of black musicians at the hands of the music industry".
He added: "The music industry has a dark history of exploiting black musicians and profiting wildly from the theft of their creative genius. And despite in depth conversations with Sony leadership about the ongoing and pervasive mistreatment of black artists, our words have fallen on deaf ears. This suit is a line in the sand".
As well as confirming the involvement of Crump in the case, the estate also announced earlier this week notable backing from the artist community, with George Clinton formally lending his support in the legal battle.
Hitting out at the music industry in general - and echoing some of the recent statements made by Kanye West in his still ongoing Twitter battle with the major labels and publishers - Clinton said: "Record companies have made a fortune stealing from unsophisticated artists with stars in their eyes who were just happy to have the attention".
He then added: "But the bad deals and outright theft in some cases have cheated performers and their families from wealth that should belong to them".
Of course, however valid the criticism by Crump, Clinton and the Townsend estate regarding the past and current conduct of the corporate end of the music industry - towards artists in general and black artists in particular - the lawsuit being fought here is entirely based on copyright law technicalities.
Aware of that, alongside the announcements of Crump's involvement and Clinton's support, the Townsend estate also this week issued a statement from a University Of Vermont professor and musicologist, Dr Alex Stewart, who is adamant that 'Thinking Out Loud' is sufficiently similar to 'Let's Get It On' to constitute copyright infringement.
The evidence in the case, Stewart said, "points conclusively toward the creators of 'Thinking Out Loud' having copied important musical expressions from the song 'Let's Get It On'. This unauthorised taking accounts for the foundation, groove, and core musical expression of both songs and, by itself, constitutes a violation of the artistic integrity of the original song".
Of course, in every song-theft case there are expert musicologists on hand to agree with both sides of the argument. And it remains to be seen how Stewart's analysis fairs in court - and what other copyright technicalities come into play, copyright law generally struggling when it comes to song-theft allegations.
Assuming it gets to court, of course. If the Townsend estate can successfully link this case to the unfair treatment of black musicians in general, maybe Warner, Sony and Team Sheeran will be increasingly keen to settle.
Either way, another lawyer working on the case, Keisha D Rice, said this week: "'Let's Get It On' was one of the most successful Motown records of all time, and it influenced a generation of music. But it goes beyond influence to produce another mega hit by copying the melody, rhythms, harmonies, drums, bassline, backing chorus, tempo, syncopation and looping as blatantly as Sheeran did".
While Crump concluded: "Financial empowerment is one of the primary ways black Americans will improve their position in our society and the lives of their families and the generations to follow them. So many important black artists at the heart of American music have lost the rights to their music or have had their music literally stolen from them. It's time [the industry was] held accountable".
CISAC formally launches revamped ISWC system
The ISWC - or International Standard Musical Work Code - is the data standard for, well, musical works. It's the code that allows us to identify each individual song because, well, you know, songwriters keep writing songs with the same title. Many collecting societies also have their own codes for identifying individual works within their databases, but ISWC is the global industry-wide standard.
Such data standards have become ever more important in the digital age where the music industry is processing billions and billions of lines of usage data every month. Ensuring the right people get paid when music is played means ensuring that every song has a single ISWC and that it is logged with all of the music industry's databases.
On the recordings side, the equivalent data standard is the ISRC. One of them needs to be assigned to every recording, likewise logged in all the databases. And then the tricky bit, every ISRC needs to be matched to the ISWC of the song it is a recording of.
Given how crucial all this data gubbins now is, two years ago CISAC announced a plan to overhaul the way ISWCs are managed, in order to increase the accuracy and speed with which the codes are issued. Speed is key because new recordings can be released so quickly these days, and it's not uncommon for recordings to be streaming in their millions on the digital platforms while the song it's a recording of doesn't yet have an ISWC attached to it.
Announcing that that overhaul was now complete and a new ISWC system is in place, CISAC said this morning that the revamp "will improve the accuracy, speed and efficiency of societies' work in tracking creators' works and paying royalties. It will help societies and music publishers manage the trillions of data transactions generated by the growth of music streaming".
CISAC added that over 100 collecting societies have already migrated over to the new system, and that said system will soon be rolled out to music publishers and digital music platforms.
Commenting on all this, CISAC President and Abba man Björn Ulvaeus says: "The upgrade of the ISWC could not come at a more timely moment for songwriters and composers, who are now depending more than ever on digital income for their livelihoods".
"ISWC is one of the most important identifiers in the music industry and I'm delighted that the upgrade is now completed and is being implemented across the sector", he goes on. "It will track music works better and faster and help put more money more quickly into creators' pockets. The key now is to make sure the system really does go global – it needs to be universally applied to bring the potential rewards it offers to all players".
Meanwhile, CISAC Director-General Gadi Oron adds: "At a time when creators need digital revenues more than ever before, we are launching a major upgrade to the ISWC system which will lead to massive improvements in the way music works are identified and licensed".
"The new system will save time and costs for all parties and most importantly, will help deliver more royalties to creators", he concludes. "We are now working closely with our partners across the music sector to make sure the upgraded system is used universally across the digital music market".
Epidemic Sound business model back in the spotlight after new statement from musician and songwriter groups
Unlike more traditional production music companies, Epidemic Sound operates entirely outside the collective licensing system. This means it doesn't have to operate according to rules put in place by the music industry's collecting societies regarding its relationship with the musicians and composers it works with, the ownership of the rights in the music they create, and how it issues licences to video-makers who want to use that music in their audio-visual productions.
As a result, Epidemic Sound can acquire all the rights in the music it commissions, whereas traditionally at least the performing rights in the song would be excluded from any deal, with the songwriter's collecting society representing that element of the song copyright.
That in turns means Epidemic Sound can provide its customers with one-stop licences, meaning said customers don't need to get additional licences from or pay additional royalties to a collecting society. But, the societies argue, that stops the musicians and songwriters from getting future royalties when videos containing their music are broadcast or streamed.
The songwriter-repping European Composer And Songwriter Alliance has hit out at the Epidemic Sound model before, as have the Ivors Academy and Musicians' Union in the UK. Yesterday the International Federation Of Musicians and the Association Of European Performers' Organisations put their name to the latest statement criticising Epidemic.
They said: "Over recent years, the Swedish company Epidemic Sound has grown extensively by selling 'royalty-free music' to various commercial companies, like video-on-demand platforms and TV stations. It uses 100% buy-out contracts - whereby music authors and performers sell their rights for the full term of protection in exchange for a lump sum payment - depriving them from payment of royalties and equitable remuneration, which are essential to their livelihoods".
Focusing on the recent Adobe deal, the statement went on: "While our organisations regularly receive complaints from music creators about these malpractices, the tech company Adobe has recently partnered with Epidemic Sound ... to launch a library of 'royalty-free' music. This partnership further hinders the music creators' ability to earn a living from the exploitation of their works and performances".
Noting the impact of COVID-19 on the music community, they added: "The expansion of Epidemic Sound represents yet another threat to the fair remuneration of authors and performers in the music sector and their ability to develop sustainable careers. We therefore firmly condemn this partnership, which relies on the expropriation of music authors and performers from their rights and legitimate revenues".
When previously criticised over its model, Epidemic Sound has countered that its critics have never sought to directly discuss its approach either with the company itself or the musicians it works with.
CEO Oscar Hoglund basically said that again yesterday in response to the new statement, telling CMU: "Yet again, ECSA has publicly condemned Epidemic Sound without checking the facts with us. Our door is always open if any organisations want to engage and hear from us - or the musicians we work with - about how we support them creatively and financially through our upfront payments and 50/50 royalty splits".
Although Hoglund didn't go into any detail in responding to the latest criticism from ECSA et al, one of the musicians who works for the company, Pär Hagström, did join a debate on Facebook that was instigated by yesterday's statement.
He argued that while the company's model means he doesn't get additional royalties from all future uses of his music via the collective licensing system, the upfront fees he receives have provided him with a degree of financial security that allows him to pursue other much less lucrative music projects.
"Working for Epidemic Sound", Hagström wrote, "has given me, for the first time, a relatively stable income that comes directly from my creative work. I deliver music to Epidemic Sound on a monthly basis and get a basic income that allows me to invest my other time in projects that are worse paid, or often even unpaid".
One Epidemic Sound critic also taking part in the Facebook debate pointed out that that financial security will only last for as long as Hagström is providing new music to the company, whereas under the traditional model if his music gets used in the long-term he'll receive additional income in the future.
Hagström conceded that was true, but argued that getting paid a decent fee for work done now rather than relying on future income relating to past work is actually the way things operate in most industries, and that it's the traditional production music business that is unusual.
Although, he stressed, he wasn't criticising musicians and songwriters who prefer the traditional approach. However, he feels music-makers should be able to choose between models.
He also noted that the collecting societies don't currently offer that choice because, to work with Epidemic Sound, you can't be a society member, because most societies' rules basically ban members from signing an Epidemic Sound-style deal.
Of course, Epidemic's critics might argue that - while choice is a good thing - the success of companies like Epidemic Sound is hitting more traditional production music libraries and the musicians who work with them. And they might also argue that that's because the nature of Epidemic's deals with its musicians allows it to compete on price.
Although there's also an argument that a key reason for Epidemic's success is that its model allows it to offer the kind of licences an increasingly online and increasingly global media industry needs, cut free from the complexities of legacy systems and collective licensing.
So a question also worth asking is how the traditional production music library business can adapt to those media industry trends. And so the debate continues!
Official Charts Company to launch new folk chart
The new monthly chart will compile digital and physical sales data relating to folk albums released by UK and Irish musicians. The first chart will be unveiled at an event hosted by Mark Radcliffe in Manchester on 17 Oct.
Confirming the new chart, Tom Besford, CEO of English Folk Expo, says: "As a genre, folk covers thousands of artists at all career stages and it's really exciting to see this represented for the first time by the Official Charts Company. For many artists, being recognised through chart placement can be an important step in raising their profile and building new audiences. Now more than ever, English Folk Expo and our valued partners, including Showcase Scotland Expo, are delighted to work with the Official Charts Company to develop initiatives like this to help to promote folk music".
Meanwhile, Charts Company boss Martin Talbot adds: "We are delighted to be supporting this fantastic new chart, celebrating all that is great about British and Irish folk music. The emergence of artists such as Laura Marling, Frank Turner and Kate Rusby as stars of the folk scene, while also taking their place in the mainstream charts and award categories, illustrates how much love there is for this genre which is simultaneously one of the most ancient and contemporary genres in music".
To celebrate all this, the OCC has compiled the top ten best selling / most streamed folk albums released so far this year, and here they are...
1. Laura Marling - Song For Our Daughter
Colston Hall becomes the Bristol Beacon
"Since 1867 we have been at the heart of Bristol's cultural life", says the venue. "We are so proud and grateful to have played such an important role in our city and the lives of our audiences for so long. And now, in 2020, we have a new opportunity – a chance to acknowledge difficult parts of our past and look forward with hope towards our future".
"We know that our former name, that of the slave trader Edward Colston, meant that not everyone has felt welcome or that they belong in their city's concert hall", it goes on. "And if we can't share the joy of live music with everyone, something must change".
"Our organisation was founded long after Colston's death, and has no direct connection to him, financial or otherwise", it explains. "We can no longer be a monument to someone who played such a prominent role in the slave trade. This is an opportunity for a fresh start and a chance to play our part in creating a fairer and more equal society. We believe in the power of music to break down barriers and cross boundaries. Bristol Beacon will celebrate this in everything we do".
The House Anxiety record label has announced a new partnership with Believe enabling it to expand its roster. New signings include Bad Boy Chiller Crew and Genesis Okuwu. "I'm so energised and inspired by this new era of the label", says founder Jaimie Hodgson. "House Anxiety has always been about breaking new talent that takes people out of their comfort zone, and we have already managed to curate a new roster of future stars who do exactly that".
Phrased Differently and Budde Music have announced a partnership to form a new joint venture music publishing business. Budde will merge its existing London office into this new operation. "I can't think of a more perfect partner than Budde Music", says Phrased Differently MD Hiten Bharadia. "It's a cutting edge entertainment company at the top of its game led by executives at the top of theirs".
US media firms PMC and MRC yesterday announced a joint venture that will bring together a number of the music and entertainment industry titles that they own or have a stake in: so that's The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Rolling Stone, Billboard, Vibe and Music Business Worldwide. A second JV will use MRC's telly-show-making expertise to create programmes utilising the brands and content of the aforementioned magazines and websites.
Anathema have announced that they are going on "indefinite hiatus" as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. "We've all - every one of you included - faced unpredictable challenges, which impacted both our professional and personal situations", say the band in a statement. "In this hardest of times, events over the last year have left us with no option [but] to go on indefinite hiatus. As individuals it is time to pursue other paths in life".
Kelly Lee Owens has released the video for her John Cale collaboration, 'Corner Of My Sky'. It only stars bloody Michael Sheen. "Michael's performance alongside John's vocals and the magic toaster portal is gold and something I'm very happy to have out in the world", says Owens. I promise that will all (kind of) make sense once you've watched the video.
Alicia Keys has released the video for 'Love Looks Better'. Her new album, 'Alicia', is out now.
Tee Grizzley has released the video for 'Trenches', featuring Big Sean, taken from his latest album, 'The Smartest'.
Dagny has released the video for new single 'It's Only A Heartbreak'. Her new album, 'Strangers/Lovers', is out on 2 Oct.
Alison Wonderland has released new single 'Bad Things'. The song, she says, is about "confronting your demons and dealing with them".
Matt Berninger has released the video for his latest solo single 'One More Second'.
I Don't Know How But They Found Me have release the video for new single 'Razzmatazz'.
Bonobo and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs have released a new track together, called 'Heartbreak'. "[Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs] was playing me a fairly stripped back idea he had for something last year", says Bonobo. "We spent a few afternoons in his studio trying ideas out and eventually 'Heartbreak' was the end result".
Static-X have released the video for 'Dead Souls', from their latest album 'Project Regeneration Vol 1'. The track features vocals from the band's late frontman Wayne Static and Ministry's Al Jourgensen.
Tim Burgess has announced that he will release new EP 'Ascent Of The Ascended' on 27 Nov. "There was an energy that came from recording the album with such a brilliant band - I didn't want it to end", he says. "I wanted to record a bit of a magnum opus, which is where 'Ascent Of The Ascended' came in". From it, this is 'Yours. To Be'.
Exit Kid - the side-project of Years & Years' Emre Turkman - has released new single 'Bleary Eyed'. "I wrote 'Bleary Eyed' in the middle of the Great British Lockdown, having consumed a daily-dose of Boris Johnson's COVID briefings, and watched in horror as Trump found a hidden sixth-gear of madness across the pond", he says. "The song is written tongue-in-cheek from the perspective of these leaders, who seem to have no clue".
GIGS & TOURS
KSI has announced UK tour dates for May next year. "Trust me, the shows are gonna be insane, from the production to the special guests, plus all the new music that I'll be dropping will improve the experience even more", he says. "I am too ready. You better be too!"
Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.
Van Morrison to donate profits from anti-lockdown songs to hard-up musicians
The musician, of course, announced plans to release three new songs - in which he claims that lockdown is a fascist agenda to enslave us and that COVID-19 isn't actually dangerous at all - over the course of the next month. The first, 'Born To Be Free', is due out tomorrow.
He has previously said that the songs are part of his own #SaveLiveMusic campaign, although it wasn't entirely clear how until now. Money raised from the release of the new singles will be donated to artists who have been hit financially as a result of being unable to perform live over the last six months.
There are various funds offering such support, of course. Although given the level of criticism that these conspiracy theory championing songs have received, you might wonder what charity would be willing to take the money. It seems, however, that he has already found one: the Van Morrison Rhythm And Blues Foundation. Whether Morrison's own charity plans to distribute grants itself, or attempt to pass on the money to other charities, is not clear.
"Lockdown is taking away people's jobs and freedoms across all sectors of society", says Morrison in a statement. "I believe live music is essential, and I worry that without positive action it will not survive. Without live music the world would be a much poorer place. It makes a huge contribution to the economy and you cannot put a price on what music does for people's wellbeing".
"Pilot events have shown there are ways in which venues can re-open safely at full capacity", he claims. "It's essential for their survival that the government allows them to do so. Surely, there is a debate to be had around whether lockdown is doing more harm than good".
There are certainly arguments that the UK government's handling of this public health crisis has been poor, with a string of failures leading to more deaths and greater economic harm than there might have been. Though there is nevertheless scientific justification for at least some of the social distancing rules currently in force that prevent full capacity shows and concerts from returning.
Maybe the government could explain that science when having this lockdown debate with Morrison. Though ministers are probably too busy trying to blame the public for causing a new COVID surge by staying in the pub an extra hour to be debating their policies with pop star conspiracy theorists.
Elsewhere in pop anti-lockdown news, Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown continues his regular tweeting on the matter. In recent days he has informed followers that there is no pandemic, and that the events of this year were in fact "planned designed and executed to make us digital slaves".
Brown's efforts also seem to be at least partly inspired by the continued shutdown of the live music industry, with him using the hashtag #NoWorkForSingers at one point. He does have a new single out though, so that's something.