|MONDAY 8 FEBRUARY 2021||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: Triller hit back at Universal Music on Friday after the major announced it was pulling its music from the social media app. Triller's CEO expressed surprise at the news, while a spokesperson for the company said that ongoing licensing talks with the music company were only a "courtesy" anyway... [READ MORE]|
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Triller hits back at Universal after major pulls catalogue, says recent licensing talks a mere "courtesy"
When announcing that it was bailing on Triller on Friday morning, Universal issued a pretty stern statement accusing the video sharing platform of "shamefully" withholding payments and refusing to negotiate a new licensing deal. "We have no alternative except to remove our music from Triller, effective immediately", it said.
Triller has entered into deals with various music companies in recent years, including all three majors. Although some music publishers publicly criticised the digital firm last year for not sorting out all the necessary song right licences. The publishers got all the more pissed off as Triller's userbase spiked, partly as a result of its main rival TikTok's political woes, especially in the US. Independent publisher Wixen then went legal in November.
It's thought the majors did relatively short-term experimental deals with Triller, as is quite common with new services that are still working out their exact business models. Those deals included the majors getting equity in the Triller business.
A spokesperson for the social media app confirmed that that initial deal expired earlier this month, but nevertheless seemed surprised by Universal's Friday announcement. CEO Mike Lu was similarly surprised, telling reporters that he had found out about the major's decision via its press release, despite him being under the impression his company had a "solid relationship" with the world's biggest record company.
In their subsequent statement, Triller's spokesperson was pretty damning of Universal, its announcement and the major's recent negotiating tactics. It was sufficiently damning about those negotiating tactics, in fact, that an imminent bust-up should probably have been pretty foreseeable.
"We can confirm our deal with Universal Music Group expired approximately one week ago", the spokesperson said. "We have been negotiating since then in an attempt to renew".
And then the dissing began.
"The renewal, however, was just a formality and a courtesy to UMG", they added, pointing out Universal is a shareholder in Triller. Not only that, they went on, "Triller does not need a deal with UMG to continue operating as it has been since the relevant artists are already shareholders or partners on Triller, and thus can authorise their usage directly. Triller has no use for a licensing deal with UMG".
Of course, when it comes to working with Universal-signed artists as influencers and creators on the Triller platform, those direct relationships may be all that is required. But to include Universal recordings in the app's in-built music library - or, indeed, in any videos uploading by those partner artists, a licensing deal with UMG is very definitely required.
Disputing one of Universal's specific claims, the Triller spokesperson went on: "We categorically deny we have withheld any artist payments - our deal has only been one week expired - and, if anything, it is UMG using their artist names as a front to extract ridiculous and non-sustainable payments for themselves and not their artists. They did this exact same thing to TikTok for two years and virtually every other social network".
"It is unfortunate UMG decided to use the press as its 'negotiating leverage' when they realised we aren't going to be held hostage", it went on. "UMG is well aware any agreement was just out of respect and courtesy, not necessity. We have been operating without it and there has been no change in our business".
So, that's an entertainingly bold statement isn't it? Although, according to Universal, Triller's comments are well and truly "removed from reality". We await with considerable interest to see what happens next.
Key post-Brexit touring issues highlighted ahead of Parliamentary debate
Today's debate comes off the back of a petition, signed by more than 280,000 people, calling for the government to return to the negotiating table with officials from the European Union to secure visa-free travel for touring musicians and their crew.
There has been much discussion about this, as avoiding barriers to touring artists was one of the many things the British government promised but failed to deliver on in its post-Brexit EU trade deal. The UK blames the EU for this, while the EU says it's the UK's fault.
The MU and ISM say that they have already held "constructive" meetings with politicians and civil servants. Ahead of today's virtual meeting in which MPs will respond to the petition, the two organisations have broken down the problem into three specific areas: permits, carnets and other logistics.
First, with no EU-wide deal, each EU country is now operating different rules regarding UK artists. While member states can chose to require both a visa and work permit when UK citizens enter their country for paid work, some offer an exemption for cultural activities. However, many do not, which makes planning for tours complicated and expensive. It also means that travelling to some countries at short notice is now all but impossible.
Secondly, there is still uncertainly around the paperwork required and extra costs that will be incurred when transporting instruments and equipment around Europe. It is unclear if musicians will have to purchase a 'carnet' in order to move instruments through customs. If required, the cost can vary depending on what is being transported, but it starts at around £400 - an amount that would make performing financially unviable in many situations.
Thirdly, while many fears are focussed on smaller artists, there are also concerns that new rules will make it much more difficult to organise bigger European tours using large vehicles.
"The MU welcomes this collaboration with the ISM", says the union's General Secretary Horace Trubridge. "The future of touring in the EU depends very much on achieving changes to the situation we find ourselves in arising from the conclusion of the negotiations for the [UK/EU trade deal]".
"We urgently need both the EU and the UK to agree provisions for musicians and crew that will avoid costly and complicated bureaucracy", he adds. "As things stand, work visas, work permits, restrictions on haulage and uncertainty regarding carnets all present barriers for our world leading musicians. We were promised frictionless mobility for musicians and their crew and now we need the EU and the UK to deliver just that".
ISM Chief Executive Deborah Annetts says: "We are delighted to join with the Musicians' Union to ensure that politicians listen to the concerns of our sector. We urge the UK government to take the necessary steps to ensure border arrangements after Brexit do not negatively impact the creative industries, harming both musicians' livelihoods and the music industry itself".
"Collaborative solutions to address issues around visas, administrative and financial challenges are desperately needed for a sector which has been so badly affected by COVID-19", she goes on. "Now is the time for the UK and EU to come together to fix these problems and ensure that close cultural collaboration can continue after Brexit".
Whether or not any of this will be sorted out before COVID restrictions lift and touring begins again remains to be seen. Last week Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden offered little hope - although following a meeting with Elton John he apparently seemed quite keen on setting up a website.
You'll be able to watch the debate on the UK Parliament YouTube channel at 4.30pm today.
Labels v Charter dispute results in debate over whether P2P file-sharing is still an issue
Isn't P2P file-sharing all a bit 2009, and kind of old news now that the majors are cashing in big time on the streaming boom, enabled - of course - by the super duper internet access provided by the likes of Charter? Well, that's what the ISP is asking. "No, not at all!", say the labels. Piracy is still a problem. As are pesky net firms that don't enforce their own repeat infringer policies.
Why's this all relevant? Good question. After all, the labels are suing Charter Communications over the past infringement of its users. The ISP - like rival Cox Communications - is accused of having a shoddy system for dealing with repeat infringers among its userbase.
If that is proven, Charter - like Cox - loses safe harbour protection under US copyright law, meaning it can be held liable for its users' past infringement. In Cox's case, that liability led to a billion dollar damages bill. Though Cox is very busy appealing that ruling.
Charter is also understandably keen to avoid any liabilities for its users' past copyright infringement and/or being forced to pay mega-bucks damages to the majors.
Among other things, Charter's lawyers argue that the fact piracy is no longer such a big deal for the music industry could be a factor in deciding any damages the ISP may or may not have to pay in the future.
The logic there is that, with piracy less of a problem, there is less of a need for a financial deterrent to encourage ISPs to be tougher on infringers, which in turn should result in lower damages being awarded. Or something like that.
According to Torrentfreak, Charter's legal rep said: "The snippet of time in which this case involves, because of the total length in the claim period, is a time when this P2P issue was at its most pronounced. Today it's no longer a problem. Today plaintiffs ... are making a ton of money off of the internet streaming capabilities ... Charter's internet is actually giving them a vehicle by which they make a huge amount of money".
This is coming up now because the case is going through the discovery phase and both sides are trying to access internal documents from the other. Charter wants access to information about the major record companies' recent revenues, and the impact streaming has had on their businesses.
The record companies counter that, while P2P file-sharing may not be as significant a threat as it once was, it's still an issue, alongside other forms of online piracy.
To prove their point, they want Charter to hand over information about the infringement notices they are now receiving, the internal conversations they have had about infringement, and the revenues they generate from users accused of infringing copyright.
Charter has objected to that request and a judge recently concurred with the ISP that there are no grounds to force it to hand over that kind of information to the labels. However, last week the record companies returned to court to again argue that Charter should provide the requested documents and data.
They said: "Plaintiffs should be permitted this limited discovery to rebut Charter's argument that peer-to-peer piracy is no longer a phenomenon to which Charter contributes and which contribution must be deterred".
UK labels seek web-blocks against stream-ripping services
Web-blocking, of course, is where copyright owners get injunctions ordering internet service providers to block access to copyright infringing websites. Stream-ripping is the services that allow people to grab permanent downloads of temporary streams.
Stream-ripping has been the music industry's top piracy gripe for a while now. And web-blocks have been the labels' anti-piracy tactic of choice in those countries where such injunctions are available. So web-blocks against stream-ripping sites are no surprise.
When stream-ripping sites are directly targeted with copyright infringement litigation - or the threat of such litigation - sometimes they immediately cease operations, other times they argue that they are not, in fact, liable for any infringement.
When the latter strategy is employed, the stream-rippers generally argue that they are not directly involved in any infringing activity and that their services have both legitimate and illegitimate uses. Those are pretty much the same arguments employed, generally unsuccessfully, by the early file-sharing platforms.
Among the stream-ripping sites targeted by the UK record labels in their latest web-blocking frenzy are FLVTO.biz and 2conv.com.
The Russian operator of those two sites, Tofig Kurbanov, has been fighting back against a copyright lawsuit pursued by the majors in the US, most recently taking the case to the country's Supreme Court. Although in that specific case Kurbanov is trying to have the labels' lawsuit dismissed mainly on jurisdiction grounds.
In this new UK case, of course, it's the ISPs that the labels want to block FLVTO.biz and 2conv.com that are technically the defendants. According to Law360, those net firms have said they do not oppose the web-blocking injunctions in principle, but want to have an input in the drafting of any resulting court order.
Hipgnosis raises another $100 million
And before you say, 'that bubble's going to burst', company founder Merck Mercuriadis says that it's all going very well thank you very much, so shut the fuck up you doom-sayers. Well he did put it exactly like that.
"2020 was a transformational year for Hipgnosis", says Mercuriadis in a statement. "Against one of the most challenging economic backdrops of our lives, we raised more capital than any other listed investment fund, outperformed the FTSE 250 index by 21.5%, and paid a fully covered dividend of over five pence per share, which places us as the 35th highest dividend-yielding company on the FTSE 250".
"Whilst we would not have wished for a pandemic to prove our thesis that music is a highly investable asset class generating uncorrelated returns, it has done exactly that. In just over two years from IPO to our latest results announcement as at 30 September 2020, we have generated a total NAV return of 37.9% for our shareholders, a 40.4% outperformance of the FTSE 250 over the same period".
So, yeah, eat up those stats, people. And if you don't know what the hell he's talking about, well, you probably don't need to. Saying that the company has begun 2021 with its "strongest start ever", thanks to some big catalogue acquisitions, Mercuriadis adds that marketing and further fundraising will now be the key focusses for the rest of the year.
"We look forward to investing further into our pipeline of proven and culturally important songs and actively managing these incredible songs to enhance their legacy and maximise income as we seek to provide exceptional risk adjusted returns for shareholders", he concludes.
BMG announces US management streamlining
The move sees Thomas Scherer promoted to President, Repertoire & Marketing, Los Angeles and New York, and John Loba named President, Recorded Music, Nashville. At Sherer's office in LA will be two new EVPs, with Monti Olson responsible for US publishing and Dan Gill overseeing recorded music for the West Coast. Jason Hradil, meanwhile, will be EVP responsible for recorded music in New York.
"The US continues to be BMG's richest repertoire source and largest revenue generator", says BMG CEO Hartwig Masuch. "After a very strong 2020, we are determined to be in a position to accelerate out of this pandemic rather than resting on our laurels".
"This new streamlined structure will allow us to raise the bar of excellence when it comes to servicing our artists", he adds. "I would like to thank Thomas, Jon, Monti, Dan, and Jason for all their contributions to the company and wish them continued success in their new roles".
Scherer - who has been with the current iteration of BMG ever since its launch back in 2008 - says of his newly expanded role: "BMG US just enjoyed its best year yet, so it's an honour to take on responsibility for our New York operation as well as LA".
He goes on: "I look forward to working alongside Jon Loba as we pursue our objective to provide a real partnership for our artists and songwriters: inspire, help them build, and own their creative works and offer them new opportunities to express their talents into books, podcasts, films and documentaries, video games and beyond. More than ever, BMG is the most artist-friendly alternative to the traditional music business".
Music Venue Trust calls for action on venue ownership, as Doncaster's Woolpack Live is sold
"The loss of this building is a reminder to the music industry, the government, and the cultural sector that the issue of ownership remains the most significant cause of grassroots music venue closures", says the Music Venue Trust. "It isn't new, we have been discussing it with those stakeholders for six years. [The COVID] crisis is simply magnifying the problem so we can see it very clearly".
It adds that 93% of music venues rent the property they use and landlords "very often, don't share our ambition for live music to thrive in our local communities".
"They are invested in bricks and mortar and the income it can generate", it goes on. "Music Venue Trust isn't here to criticise them. But we need to have a very public discussion about whether this model of ownership supports creativity, culture, or music in the way we all need and want it to".
"No other cultural sector in the UK is owned in this way", it insists. "Not our theatres, art galleries, museums, libraries, opera houses. No other grassroots music venue network in the world is owned to this extent in this manner. The UK is unique in allowing such an ownership model. The UK is also the country in the world suffering the highest number of permanent closures of its music venues; everywhere has challenges, ours are magnified and amplified five-fold by the issue of ownership".
Back in 2018, the MVT announced a 'pipeline investment fund', calling on the music industry to provide money to support small venues - which in part would include buying up freeholds, in order to provide such venues with protected status. Then in 2019, it also called on the government to act, by providing funding, tax relief and extending a 'statutory right of consultation' that exists for theatres to music venues.
Obviously, not long after that, the pandemic hit and the MVT's main focus became making sure that grassroots venues can avoid going out of business while being shut down for months on end. But the closure of The Woolpack Live shows that the issues faced by venues before the pandemic still remain.
On a positive note, working with the MVT, the Woolpack's management have managed to remove their PA, lighting and other equipment before losing access to their former home. They will seek new premises once restrictions on live music are lifted.
In some other good news, the MVT also had an update last week on those venues specifically at risk because of COVID. It has now removed thirteen venues from its previously published 'red list' - those being the venues at imminent risk of permanent closure.
On that development, MVT CEO Mark Davyd said: "We want to thank every artist, every audience member, every member of our community for taking direct action which means we are able to remove these thirteen venues from the red list right now".
"The love shown for these venues continues to demonstrate how important they are to people and to our towns and cities", he added. "Music Venue Trust is committed to reopening every venue safely and we are going to carry on working through this crisis until that outcome is achieved".
The now safe venues are: Arden Inn, Accrington Backstage, Kinross Boulevard, Wigan Four Horsemen, Bournemouth Gellions, Inverness Hootenanny, Inverness Plot 22, Sheffield Rossi Bar, Brighton, Strange Brew, Bristol The Brunswick, Hove The Grand Elektra/The Crypt, Hastings The Railway Inn, Winchester Waterloo Bar, Blackpool
Bruce Springsteen breaks longstanding refusal to appear in adverts by promoting Jeep (and unity)
It took some doing to get him to crack though, admits Olivier François, who is Chief Marketing Officer for Jeep's parent company Stellantis. "I wasn't aware of the one thing that all of America was totally aware of, which is that Bruce Springsteen doesn't do commercials", Francois tells the New York Times, recalling when he first broached the idea of a Jeep ad with the musician's manager John Landau a decade ago.
Still, apparently not one to give up on an idea, Francois says that he continued to "respectfully pitch" to Landau over "many drinks and dinners" for the next ten years, despite knowing that changing his mind was "a very long shot". And guess what, kids? Persistence pays off.
Now, perhaps earlier I painted a picture of Springsteen standing in a showroom, detailing all the latest Jeep-type features in this Super Bowl commercial he's in. But that's not what happens at all.
I'm sure that's not what Francois was pitching for all those years anyway. But if the marketing chief did suggest any specific ideas for the ad, they did not feature. Because Springsteen's big condition to take part in the commercial was creative control to the point that Jeep did not even know what he was doing.
That's quite a big ask of the brand when making a two minute advert, given that securing just 30 seconds of air time during the American football game costs more than $5 million. But, says Landau, "Bruce made the film exactly as he wanted to, with no interference at all from Jeep".
Having reached the agreement over creative control, Springsteen resisted the urge to then deliver something entirely unusable. Instead he took the opportunity of having an audience of 100 million people to extend the same message of unity he delivered during the recent US presidential election.
In the advert, he drives a Jeep around the town of Lebanon, which sits in the exact centre of the United States, to tell everyone to start getting along.
"Fear has never been the best of who we are", he says in a voiceover. "And as for freedom, it's not the property of just the fortunate few. It belongs to us all. Whoever you are, wherever you're from, it's what connects us and we need that connection. We need the middle. We just have to remember the very soil we stand on is common ground".
Springsteen is alone for the entire advert - the only other people in it briefly appearing through the window of a diner. I'm not sure what that means. Is he waiting for everyone to agree with him? Or maybe he wants everyone to unite against him? Who knows? It all looks a bit like an episode of 'The Walking Dead' to me.
It also has a level of sentimentality that I think might usually be considering just a little too much. These aren't normal times, though, and with the ad airing during a football game where most of the audience in the stadium was made up of cardboard cutouts, maybe people might be up for a bit of sentimentality and unity.