TODAY'S TOP STORY: Good news for anyone wanting a slice of Universal Music. And who wouldn't want a slice of Universal Music? I'd love a slice of Universal Music. I could use it to prop up my wobbly coffee table. And that dream could now become a reality. The mega-major's current owner Vivendi has published a proposal to spin the Universal Music Group off as a standalone company and list it on the Euronext stock exchange in the Netherlands... [READ MORE]

TOP STORIES Vivendi reveals proposals for Universal Music IPO in the Netherlands this year
LEGAL MIC Coalition urges Joe Biden to reject yet another review of the BMI/ASCAP consent decrees
Sean 'Diddy' Combs sues owner of his clothing brand (twice)

MPs to quiz Culture Minister on failure to secure visa-free touring in EU trade deal

DEALS Myke Towers' Whiteworld Music signs distribution deal with Warner Music
ARTIST NEWS Justin Timberlake apologises to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson
AWARDS Team confirmed to run this year's BRIT Awards
AND FINALLY... Robin Thicke won't make a video like Blurred Lines "ever again"
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Vivendi reveals proposals for Universal Music IPO in the Netherlands this year
Good news for anyone wanting a slice of Universal Music. And who wouldn't want a slice of Universal Music? I'd love a slice of Universal Music. I could use it to prop up my wobbly coffee table. And that dream could now become a reality. The mega-major's current owner Vivendi has published a proposal to spin the Universal Music Group off as a standalone company and list it on the Euronext stock exchange in the Netherlands.

Vivendi has been looking at ways to cash in on the current interest among investor types in music rights by selling off some of Universal since 2018. Initially, it said it preferred the idea of selling minority stakes in the Universal Music Group to strategic partners, a strategy that led to Chinese web giant Tencent taking 10% of the company at the end of 2019. However, in February last year it announced that an initial public offering of the music major was now on the agenda.

This weekend, having completed its deal to sell another 10% to Tencent, Vivendi published a statement firming up its plans for an IPO this year. The statement said that the Tencent deals, and the accompanying 30 billion euro valuation for the wider Universal Music company, have helped pave the way for plans to sell off more stock to generate a nice big pay day for Vivendi's investors.

"The Chairman of the management board set a minimum target of 30 billion euros for UMG's enterprise value", Vivendi said of its Universal cash in plans. "The transaction completed in recent days on that basis, for 10% of UMG's share capital, resulting in 20% of the share capital now held by the Tencent-led consortium, as well as interests expressed by other investors at potentially higher prices, have now enabled the management board to consider a distribution of 60% of UMG's share capital to Vivendi shareholders".

That would be achieved through the proposed IPO in the Netherlands. "The listing of the shares of UMG, a holding company currently being incorporated in the Netherlands, would be applied for on the regulated market of Euronext NV in Amsterdam, in a country which has been one of UMG's historical homes". That alludes to the old Dutch major music company Polygram, which was merged with US-based MCA in the late 1990s to create the Universal Music Group.

Confirming that the Tencent-led consortium that now owns 20% of UMG is supportive of this proposal, Vivendi added that an extraordinary shareholders meeting will now take place at the end of March to allow the IPO and distribution of profits from the share sale to go ahead, with plans to have it all done by the end of the year.

As Vivendi announced all this to its investors on Saturday, the boss of Universal Music, Lucian Grainge, provided an update to the major's staff around the word.

"I couldn't be prouder", he said of the development. "Not only is this a validation of our strategy, our teams, and our unprecedented record of success, it's a natural evolution in the storied history of our company that will enable our entrepreneurial and creative culture to continue to soar".

"We'll continue to drive towards our strategic goals – full steam ahead", he added. "We'll remain committed to our artists and songwriters. And we'll continue to innovate and help lead the music community towards an incredible next chapter".

And who doesn't love a next chapter? Of course, the opening section of that next chapter will involve Vivendi shareholders having a nice big payday, watched by an artist and songwriter community that's already increasingly critical about the majors cashing in on the streaming boom while COVID-hit creators struggle. Which could be interesting.

Nevertheless, as Grainge has "said many times", the good old Universal Music Group will "stay true to our mission: harnessing our collective talents and resources to shape culture through the power of music. When, in collaboration with artists, we come together as a company, what we can achieve is truly remarkable". Hurrah!


MIC Coalition urges Joe Biden to reject yet another review of the BMI/ASCAP consent decrees
The MIC Coalition - an American lobbying group repping tech and media companies, venues and other corporate users of music - last week wrote to Joe Biden urging the new US President to ensure that another review of the consent decrees that regulate collecting societies BMI and ASCAP is so far down his to do list that he'll never ever get round to it. Never! Not even if he ends up doing the full eight years in the top job.

The music industry's collecting societies are often regulated in one way or another, of course, to overcome the competition law concerns that arise when large groups of copyright owners all license as one. However, American song right societies BMI and ASCAP are among the most regulated in the world, thanks to the consent decrees they agreed with US Department Of Justice decades ago.

The music industry has long argued that those consent decrees need reforming, streamlining and ultimately deleting. However, two separate reviews of the consent decrees by the DoJ in recent years have concluded that they should stay in place as they are. The most recent review reached that conclusion just last month.

But the MIC Coalition - which very much wants the decrees to stay in force - says that it has heard on the grapevine that the music community plans "to petition – on a regular basis going forward – the Justice Department to conduct additional reviews of the existing consent decrees with the hope of one day weakening the longstanding protections embodied therein".

Needless to say, the Coalition reckons that Biden should ensure that that never happens. "Coming on the heels of a comprehensive set of reviews recently undertaken by the Obama and Trump administrations, respectively, within the past decade, members of the MIC Coalition firmly believe that launching yet another review would be a substantial waste of precious time and government resource", it wrote in its letter to the President.

And, "issues related to music licensing might seem to pale in comparison to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, the threat that elimination of the ASCAP or BMI consent decrees pose to future competition is quite real for tens of thousands of American companies and music fans everywhere. The issue is also closely intertwined with the economic business health of those who rely on these decrees, many of whom are struggling due to the effects of the pandemic".

For some in the music industry, the proposed reforms of the copyright safe harbour that are now being circulating in Washington would be a much higher priority anyway than yet another go at getting the consent decrees rewritten. Though for songwriters, some would argue the consent decrees are just as damaging as the safe harbour when it comes to song rights being undervalued in the US market. That said, getting team Biden on side for yet another review does seem optimistic.


Sean 'Diddy' Combs sues owner of his clothing brand (twice)
Sean 'Diddy' Combs has sued clothing firm Global Brands Group, accusing it of infringing a trademark owned by his political organisation Citizen Change. It is his second lawsuit of the month against the company, which acquired his Sean John brand in 2016.

In the latest legal action, Combs says that GBG Sean John LLC - the division of Global Brands that now operates the Sean John clothing line - has been using the slogan 'Vote Or Die' and is now attempting to trademark it. He says that this will lead to consumer confusion and he wants a New York judge to block Global Brands from using the phrase.

Initially, the case seems fairly simple. Citizen Change trademarked 'Vote Or Die' in 2010, having first launched a campaign of the same name in 2004. Now Global Brands is attempting to trademark the phrase for clothing and badges. However, Citizen Change's trademark was cancelled by US Patent And Trademark Office in 2016, after the organisation failed to file renewal documentation.

Combs maintains that, despite that cancellation, Citizen Change never abandoned the label and still has a right to use it. And to that end, in January, Citizen Change formally asked the trademark office to block Global Brands' application.

"Rather than develop a new trademark for defendant's politically-inspired merchandising efforts, defendant has engaged in bald opportunism by applying to register the mark 'Vote Or Die', after the USPTO administratively cancelled the registration originally obtained by Citizen Change", says the new lawsuit, according to Law360. "But that cancellation did not terminate the rights to the 'Vote Or Die' mark that are owned by plaintiffs".

This is the second time Combs has sued Global Brands Group this month, having claimed in another lawsuit that the company has been overstating his current connection with the Sean John brand.

According to WWD, Combs is suing the company for $25 million, accusing it of "false endorsement, misappropriation of likeness and violating his publicity rights".

This all relates to the launch of a women's clothing line with UK fashion retailer Missguided Unlimited last year. Promotional material for the line "misstates Mr Combs' connection to the GBG collection", says the lawsuit.

The specific gripe is that a press release included a quote from Combs, which he did not write, approve or even see before it was sent out to journalists.

"Defendants jointly authored and approved the quote falsely attributed to Mr Combs, and never provided the statement to Mr Combs for his review and/or approval", claims the lawsuit. "Because Mr Combs' name, image, likeness and persona are an extremely valuable asset, he zealously guards his publicity rights and carefully evaluates whether, and to what extent, those rights may be exploited by others".

Global Brands Group has not commented on either case.


MPs to quiz Culture Minister on failure to secure visa-free touring in EU trade deal
Digital And Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage will tomorrow be questioned again about her failure to secure visa-free travel within Europe post-Brexit for creative workers, including musicians. Such an agreement had been promised ahead of the UK's last minute trade deal with the EU.

This time, Dinenage will appear before a parliamentary select committee alongside her Department For Digital, Culture, Media And Sport colleague Alastair Jones. Representatives for the creative industries will also give evidence, including Deborah Annetts, Chief Executive of the Incorporated Society Of Musicians.

During a parliamentary debate on the subject last week, prompted by a petition on Parliament's website, Dinenage blamed the EU for the situation, saying that the UK had offered a "very straightforward" proposal for touring performers, which was knocked back by European officials. She added that "there was no specific counter-offer from the EU concerning touring for musicians or for the creative sectors".

The EU did, however, make wider proposals for visa-free business travel that were rejected by the UK. However, Dinenage insisted, these would not have achieved what the creative industries wanted, even if they had been accepted.

Still, visa-free touring was repeatedly promised and then not delivered. Or course, it was also promised that the fishing industry would thrive, there would be less bureaucracy, and that £350 million a week would be funnelled into the NHS after Brexit, none of which has proven true.

Nonetheless, music adds £5.6 billion a year to the value of the UK economy - many times more than the fishing industry, which became a key focus for the UK during negotiations - and a reduction in touring once COVID restrictions are lifted could have a far greater impact than some of the various other downsides of Brexit.

The lack of an EU-wide agreement allowing visa-free touring means that British musicians must now deal with each EU country individually. Some countries will require musicians to get travel permits and/or equipment carnets, all of which could make some tours unviable.

The one-off select committee hearing with take place tomorrow, starting at 10am. You will be able to watch it all here.


Myke Towers' Whiteworld Music signs distribution deal with Warner Music
Warner Records last week signed a distribution deal with Whiteworld Music, the independent label owned by Puerto Rican musician Myke Towers.

"Myke is a distinctive songwriter, powerful performer and incredible artist", says Max Lousada, CEO of Warner Music's recorded music division. "He's not only an exploding Latin superstar, but he's at the forefront of a new generation of global talent that's transcending languages, crossing boundaries and disrupting genres. His possibilities are limitless, and we're very happy he chose Warner Music as his partner to amplify his vision in bold, impactful, and original ways around the world".

Towers himself adds: "I'm happy to work with the global Warner family, who not only understands what I'm doing creatively, but can further expand my music's reach to other levels and work hand in hand with my team at Whiteworld Music. I'm looking forward to doing great things and continuing to do what I love, making music".

Last year, Towers released his second album 'Easy Money Baby' through Whiteworld, hitting number one on Billboard's Top Latin Albums and Latin Rhythm Albums charts. He also released six multi-platinum singles from the album, and as we speak has 37 tracks in charts around the world.


Justin Timberlake apologises to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson
Justin Timberlake has apologised to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson for failing to support them in situations that allowed him to benefit from "a system that condones misogyny and racism".

Timberlake spoke out following the recent airing of US TV documentary 'Framing Britney Spears', in which he comes in for criticism. He and Spears dated between 1999 and 2002, of course, while he was still a member of the boyband N*Sync.

"I've seen the messages, tags, comments, and concerns and I want to respond", he wrote on Instagram. "I am deeply sorry for the times in my life where my actions contributed to the problem, where I spoke out of turn, or did not speak up for what was right. I understand that I fell short in these moments and in many others and benefited from a system that condones misogyny and racism".

"I specifically want to apologise to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson both individually, because I care for and respect these women and I know I failed", he goes on. "I also feel compelled to respond, in part, because everyone involved deserves better and most importantly, because this is a larger conversation that I wholeheartedly want to be part of and grow from".

Among the various appearances of Timberlake that feature in the documentary, one aims to show how he and Spears were treated differently after they split.

Spears had previously said that she was waiting until marriage to lose her virginity, although in a radio interview Timberlake revealed that they had slept together. While Timberlake suffered no consequences for this, it was one of many things used to attack Spears - she being subsequently told by journalist Diane Sawyer that she had "disappointed a lot of mothers".

In the case of Janet Jackson, the apology relates to her Super Bowl half time performance in 2004. Timberlake guested, of course, and during the performance was involved in the "wardrobe malfunction" that exposed her breast mid-show.

Following the outrage that that incident caused, Jackson was barred from performing at the Super Bowl ever again, and was even uninvited from that year's Grammy Awards. Timberlake, meanwhile, went on to headline the Super Bowl half time show himself in 2018, and not only retained his invite to the 2004 Grammys but was able to use one of his acceptance speeches to apologise for the incident. He generally avoided criticism in the media too, despite initially making light of the incident.

Continuing his new statement, Timberlake says: "The industry is flawed. It sets men, especially white men, up for success. It's designed this way. As a man in a privileged position I have to be vocal about this. Because of my ignorance, I didn't recognise it for all that it was while it was happening in my own life, but I do not want to ever benefit from others being pulled down again".

"I have not been perfect in navigating all of this throughout my career", he concludes. "I know this apology is a first step and doesn't absolve the past. I want to take accountability for my own missteps in all of this as well as be part of a world that uplifts and supports. I care deeply about the wellbeing of the people I love and have loved. I can do better and I will do better".

As well as looking at her treatment in the media leading up to a much-publicised breakdown in 2007, 'Framing Britney Spears' also delves into the conservatorship Spears has been placed under since 2008 - leaving her unable to control her own personal and financial affairs.

Her father was given that control under the conservatorship, though his ongoing role has been subject to legal action over the last year. Last week, the court overseeing the case gave co-conservator the Bremmer Trust equal power of decision making. Ultimately, Britney is hoping to have her father removed from the running of her affairs entirely.


Team confirmed to run this year's BRIT Awards
Organisers of the BRIT Awards have announced the team that will be coordinating this year's big show, which has already been pushed back from its usual February slot into May in the hope that more might be achievable by then.

Promising a more collaborative approach than in past years, the team will be headed up by two Universal Music execs, Rebecca Allen and Selina Webb. The team also includes BRITs TV executive producer Sally Wood, and creative direction and design from Es Devlin and Yinka Ilori. The latter duo will also design this year's trophy, having a bespoke trophy design for each year being a thing again.

Commenting on all this, Allen and Webb said in a joint statement: "However the world is looking come May, our ambition is not for a 'normal' BRITs but a show which truly reflects the spirit of the past year. Working alongside the 2021 BRITs Committee, we have an exceptional creative team with Sally, Es and Yinka to deliver the best and most exciting show possible - a BRITs about collaboration, culture and community as well as a celebration of some of the brilliant music which is helping us all through".


Robin Thicke won't make a video like Blurred Lines "ever again"
If you were wondering if Robin Thicke is going to make another music video like the one for 'Blurred Lines', the answer is "no". Were you wondering that?

Well, now the thought has been pushed into your mind, maybe you're wondering why he has said that. You're still reading this, after all.

Is it because he doesn't want to repeat himself? Or because he doesn't command the sort of budgets that would allow him to make such a video now? Or maybe he recognises that the misogyny in the video coupled with that contained in the song's lyrics created a perfect storm that highlighted some damaging attitudes that are ingrained in society and culture.

If you answered c) misogyny, then please collect your souvenir beer tankard. Because even Thicke now seems to have accepted his role in pushing outdated ideas with his biggest hit - about attempting to coerce a woman into having sex - and its accompanying video - in which nude women danced around three fully-clothed men, ie Thicke, Pharrell Williams and TI.

"I had lost perspective on my personal life and my music and what was appropriate … and why I was doing it", Thicke tells the New York Post about the phase of his career that delivered 'Blurred Lines'. "I'd lost the intention, you know what I mean? I needed to regain my perspective and my positive intention of what my music was for - and what my life was for".

This change of heart comes as Thicke tries to revive is career off the back of some success as a judge on the US version of 'The Masked Singer'. Over the past eight years, he's generally defended 'Blurred Lines', of course. And he still does, to an extent.

"We had no negative intentions when we made the record, when we made the video", he says. "But then it did open up a conversation that needed to be had. And it doesn't matter what your intentions were when you wrote the song … the people were being negatively affected by it. And I think now, obviously, culture, society has moved into a completely different place. You won't see me making any videos like that ever again".

So, I guess the short version of this is possibly: it would be a bad move commercially to try that sort of stunt again. Although, you could also argue - based on Thicke's career since 'Blurred Lines' - that it was a pretty bad move back then too.

That said, in the subsequent song theft legal battle with the Marvin Gaye estate, it came up that Thicke hadn't really had much of a hand in the writing the song itself, beyond suggesting a vague sound for the track and then falling asleep on a sofa. The misogynistic lyrics, therefore, were all the work of Pharrell, who seemed to do a pretty good job of shaking off criticism about the track.

Anyway, now Thicke has a comeback album out, called 'On Earth, And In Heaven'. With this, he says, he wanted to put out something "healing and loving", that "helped people get through their hard times and see the light at the end of the tunnel". Is a new Robin Thicke album what you needed to get you through the remainder of lockdown? Only time will tell.


ANDY MALT | Editor
Andy heads up the team, overseeing the CMU Daily, website and Setlist podcast, managing social channels, reporting on artist and business stories, and writing the CMU Approved column. (except press releases, see below)
CHRIS COOKE | Co-Founder & MD
Chris provides music business coverage, writing key business news and CMU Trends. He also leads the CMU Insights consultancy unit and the CMU:DIY future talent programme, as well as heading up CMU publisher 3CM UnLimited. (except press releases, see below)
SAM TAYLOR | Commercial Manager
Sam oversees the commercial side of the CMU media, leading on sales and sponsorship, and also heads up business development at CMU Insights and CMU:DIY. or call 020 7099 9060
CARO MOSES | Co-Publisher
Caro helps oversee the CMU media as a Director of 3CM UnLimited, as well as heading up the company's other two titles ThisWeek London and ThreeWeeks Edinburgh, and supporting other parts of the business.
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