|WEDNESDAY 17 FEBRUARY 2021||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: The all new mechanical rights collecting society in the US yesterday announced that it had received a neat $424,384,787 relating to past streams on 20 digital platforms where songs were never matched to certain recordings so royalties could never be paid. The Mechanical Licensing Collective also got itself 1.3 terabytes in usage data that it will now have to scrutinise in order to find out who that $424,384,787 actually belongs to... [READ MORE]|
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New mechanical rights society in the US has $425 million in past royalties to distribute
In the US there is a compulsory licence covering the mechanical copying of songs which basically sets a rate for what songwriters and music publishers are due whenever their songs are streamed.
Some of that money is actually allocated to the performing rights and paid through collecting societies like BMI and ASCAP. But with the actual mechanical royalty, services used to have to identify the writer or publisher that controlled any one song, send that person some paperwork, and then make payment. Failure to do so meant the service had infringed copyright.
It was a far from perfect system because streaming services don't actually know what songs are contained in the recordings they receive from record labels and music distributors, as the labels and distributors don't tell them. This means the services had to figure out what song was in each of the millions of tracks on their platforms, and then figure out who owned each song copyright. There is a copyright registry in the US, but that only helps to a point.
Most streaming services outsourced that work to the same companies that labels use when they have to pay mechanical royalties to publishers on CD and download sales. But in many cases, it didn't go very well, lots of songs were not matched, lots of songwriters and publishers didn't get their paperwork or payments, which meant lots of copyrights had been infringed by the streaming services. And so began the lawsuits.
In much of the rest of the world streaming services outsource this matching process - identifying what songs have been streamed and who owns those songs - to their licensing partners, ie music publishers and collecting societies. Where songs can't be matched because of shitty data, the local collecting society usually takes responsibility for figuring out what to do with the royalties that were due on those songs. But in the US there wasn't a local collecting society for the mechanical rights in songs, so what are you going to do? Get sued, that's what.
This all changed as a result of the Music Modernization Act in 2018. Under the act, the digital services basically agreed to fund the establishment of a new mechanical rights society if that meant they could outsource the unmatched songs problem to the music industry. And avoid liability for copyright infringement when streaming any unmatched songs, both in the past and the future. That new society is the MLC.
Now it's up and running, the MLC will perform a similar task to other societies around the world - including the performing rights societies in the US - in taking responsibility for processing and paying royalties due on songs that haven't been otherwise paid directly to a music publisher.
Though first, it needs to sort out the mess that has occurred in the past. Which is to say, figure out which songwriters and music publishers - in the US and beyond - should have received that $424,384,787 in unpaid royalties based on the nine billion lines of usage information contained in that 1.3 terabytes of data. Good look, everybody!
"The transfer of these monies represents the culmination of a months-long effort on the part of the MLC and these [streaming services] to develop and implement the specifications for these usage reports", the MLC said in a statement yesterday. "With these historical unmatched royalties and usage reports now in hand, the MLC can begin the process of reviewing and analysing the data in order to find and pay the proper copyright owners".
The MMA and the MLC are both significant and positive developments in sorting out what was an embarrassing mess when it comes to the payment of song royalties by streaming services in the US. Basically, the US is now pretty much in line with Europe when it comes to processing streaming royalties for songwriters and music publishers. Which is good news. Except, of course, for all the issues there are with the processing of streaming royalties in Europe.
The biggest issue of them all is what happens to monies attached to any recording where the song or the owners of the song are never identified, ie the big bad streaming black box that shouldn't really exist. How does that money get distributed?
Where the industry is in control of that money, it often ultimately gets distributed across the business based on market share. But that system generally benefits superstar writers and the bigger publishers who should be on top of their data, so have already been paid for their streams, or should have been. What happens to that black box in each country is an increasingly big talking point among the songwriter community.
That community will be watching the MLC closely, to see how successfully it is able to accurately match and distribute that $424,384,787 to the songwriters and publishers who songs were actually streamed, and what then happens to any monies not matched. Critics also note that some publishers have already been compensated for past unpaid royalties via legal settlements with different streaming services, and that needs to be taken into account too.
Among those watching closely will be the US Artist Rights Alliance, which said yesterday: "Today's historic transfer of almost half a billion dollars in unmatched royalties to the MLC is a great start – but there's a lot of work still to be done to get that money to the songwriters that earned it. We are grateful to the [US] Copyright Office team that skilfully and doggedly worked through a number of complex issues in the months leading up this transfer, including major disagreements about the proper treatment of past industry settlements".
"In the months ahead we look forward to engaging further with the Office about efforts by publishers who have already been paid for historical usages via settlement agreements to seek double payment out of these new funds", it went on. "As we have told the Office in our prior filings, the major publishers that already settled with digital services and received payment from them should not be allowed to claim a further share of the monies transferred to the MLC today".
"Today's news is a huge step forward for songwriters", it concluded, "one made possible by so many stakeholders all across the music community who came together to work for passage of the Music Modernization Act and continue to work in good faith as it is implemented".
"No appetite" for touring agreement with EU, deals with individual states now "likely success route", select committee hears
And that, my friends, is a quick summary of the government's evidence to yesterday's select committee hearing in Parliament. The hearing was focused on the mighty big fuck up that is the lack of any agreement in the big UK/EU trade deal to ensure that British performers can continue to tour Europe without having to secure visas, travel permits and equipment carnets, or navigate any other tedious bureaucracy.
Minister For Digital And Culture Caroline Dinenage and her Department For Digital, Culture, Media And Sport colleague Alastair Jones both gave evidence at yesterday's hearing. As did reps for the creative industries, including Incorporated Society Of Musicians chief exec Deborah Annetts.
Much of what was discussed was simply a reiteration of everything that has already been said ever since it became clear that visa-free touring was not in the UK/EU trade deal at the end of December. Including during another Parliamentary session on the problem just last week.
There was a little extra time to dig into details and talk about blame in this hearing. But the basic thrust remains the same: musicians and live music companies are in a difficult position - particularly emerging artists and UK-based haulage companies that specialise in touring.
Travel restrictions and venue closures in place because of the pandemic have provided a window in which to sort this all out. However, with many tours organised six months or a year in advance, said Annetts, there isn't much time left, assuming COVID restrictions start to lift at some point this year.
"Musicians are already thinking, in quite desperate terms, about whether they have a career left or whether they are going to have to retrain in some other capacity", she said. Or, as another creative industry rep giving evidence - lighting designer Paule Constable - put it, they are "having to make a choice about whether [they're] British or a musician".
To address this, Annetts went on, securing an EU-wide agreement on visa-free touring needs to be urgently discussed with the European Commission. Meanwhile, talks should also begin with any key individual EU member states that currently require touring artists to secure travel permits or equipment carnets, in a bid to remove that bureaucracy before COVID rules change.
"I would ask the minister to please, please, please show leadership and put in place a visa waiver agreement", she said. "That is really straightforward. Loads of countries have one with the EU, and it would deal with one of the very serious problems around visas immediately".
As for the talks with individual member states, Annetts added "we are not suggesting that the government enter into bilateral agreements with all 27 [EU members]. What we are urging them to do, in addition to the visa waiver agreement, is pick out the top five or six EU countries and negotiate bilateral agreements with those key partners".
Dinenage was more optimistic about the latter option, later stating that overcoming the work permit issue would mean that visas were no longer a problem anyway. And to that end, she added, "we will use every power in our arsenal to engage with bilateral partners to find ways to make life easier for those in the creative industries to be able to continue to work and tour in countries across the EU".
"I think an EU-wide solution is going to be very complicated, because we have just spent many years negotiating the trade and co‑operation agreement, and there is not any appetite to re-open that", she said. "Having said that, I am sure those negotiations will continue: the Chancellor Of The Duchy Of Lancaster met last week with his EU counterpart, and those conversations will always be ongoing".
"The more likely success route is through negotiations with individual member states, not least because the biggest issue here is the work permit issue", she went on. "That is very much within the gift of the individual member states, which is why we would be targeting our work there, and specifically at those that seem to have some of the most problematic systems in place ... France seems to be very straightforward, but Spain is very much less so".
Given it's the bilateral agreements that Dinenage seems to think are a more realistic way of solving the big old post-Brexit touring problem in the relatively short term, the industry - and its supporters in Parliament - are obviously keen to know how many bilateral talks are currently underway. "To my knowledge ... there are no current negotiations taking place", Dinenage said. But "there may be informal conversations happening".
Annetts said that there was also still a lack of clarity about the need for carnets to transport instruments between countries, which could add hundreds of pounds more to touring costs for an individual instrument. "Frankly, I just do not understand why [tax authority] HMRC cannot give us definitive advice on carnets", she said. "This is an issue that has been going on since 2018. Surely it cannot be beyond their capability to read the documents and give us cast-iron advice?"
This was one thing Dinenage was able to answer, saying that HMRC had now provided that advice. Carnets will not be required for "portable musical instruments" being transported between the UK and EU. Although they will be for anything transported as freight. But so as long as a musician can carry an instrument as hand luggage, it appears that they will not incur extra costs.
Dinenage and Jones were also asked about financial support for the music industry as it tackles the post-Brexit shambles - noting that the far smaller seafood export industry has already been given a £23 million bailout. Initially, Dinenage pointed to existing schemes, such as the Music Export Growth Scheme. Pushed further, Jones said, "we are absolutely looking at our options" on further support.
You can watch the full two hour hearing here. Although if you just want to know what one of Caroline Dinenage's "greatest regrets" is, I'll save you the effort and just tell you now. It's not yet seeing the musical 'Hamilton'.
AWAL signs Payton
The firm's Head Of A&R, Pete Giberga, says: "We are THRILLED that Payton has chosen AWAL as his partner on what has already been a tremendous journey. He is a musician and songwriter at his core, and his diehard fanbase continues to be a huge part of amplifying his message globally. It's a great responsibility to help an artist continue to build towards their goals and aspirations, and we couldn't be more ready for that exciting challenge".
Payton released his debut single 'Love Letter' last year, seeking to capitalise on his thirteen million fans on TikTok. AWAL will now provide marketing, distribution and other support as he seeks to further progress his music career.
Says Payton: "Everything always felt right with AWAL from the beginning, I'm very very excited to continue this journey with them".
EMMA calls on collecting societies to fully consult the wider music community over livestreaming
In a new statement it says: "Due to the ongoing COVID pandemic, most artists and their managers have lost around 80% of their income in the past year. The live music industry has been devastated. In this environment, paid or ticketed livestreaming has emerged to be a lifeline and one of the few ways artists and crew can earn from music performance. We are therefore calling today on all collecting societies across Europe to recognise this situation, and to fully consult with artist representatives when setting new licensing rates for livestreams – especially during the pandemic".
Livestreaming isn't new, of course, but during the COVID lockdown ticketed livestreamed concerts have started to gain some momentum, meaning the industry is looking into how to commercialise such activity in a more proactive way. And that includes how songwriters and music publishers are paid for the performances of their songs that appear in any one livestreamed show.
Many of the collecting societies that represent song rights have been investigating how best to provide licences for such shows. One key question is whether, when licensing livestreams, the focus should be on the live bit or the stream bit. That's important because usually the royalties paid to songwriters and publishers on streams are somewhat higher than the royalties paid on a live show.
There are then also questions around whether societies can issue truly global licences for livestreams, which was is needed to make such ventures viable. And from a songwriter perspective, there's the debate over how livestream income is split between the so called performing rights and mechanical rights of the song, as that impacts how they get paid.
So, lots to discuss, before you even get to what a fair price is for granting a licence to artists, promoters or venues that are staging ticketed livestreams.
Much of the criticism of PRS from artists, promoters, venues and managers over its proposed new livestream licence - other than people being unhappy with the price - centres on the claim that the society didn't discuss any of those issues or debate any of those questions with the wider music community before publishing its new rate card.
As a result, it's argued, the commercial realities of staging high profile livestreamed shows haven't been properly considered, and it's not clear to what extent the licence is really global, nor how monies will flow through the system to songwriters. It's also argued that PRS only agreed to take into account COVID-related challenges - and to offer discounts on shows staged during the pandemic - once criticism started to build.
PRS has now started a series of roundtable discussions to consider the various issues. EMMA - which brings together trade groups representing artist managers in various European markets - is urging all collecting societies to properly consult artists and their representatives before launching any new livestream licences.
Noting predictions that the increased interest in livestreaming shows will outlive the pandemic, EMMA continues: "As representatives of music managers across Europe we support the growth of this format and want to see all those involved remunerated from this activity. Similar to 'in-person' live events, we believe a percentage of gross ticket sales from online shows should be paid to [societies] so that songwriters can be fairly compensated".
"However", it goes on, "the actions of certain [societies] and major music publishers are threatening the viability of ticketed livestreams across Europe. Rather than licensing these events along similar dynamics to an 'in person' show, they have determined – without consultation – that they are more akin to a digital stream, and therefore liable to a much higher audio digital rate".
"The estimated size of these payments is so high that it would make the majority of livestreams unviable", it adds. "As most artists taking part in livestreams are paid on the basis of profit shares – rather than minimum guarantees – these increased songwriter payments would come directly from their share of ticket sales after production costs are covered".
In the short term, EMMA wants societies to treat livestream shows like real world shows, while properly consulting with the wider music community regarding a longer term solution.
"During the pandemic when live music at full capacity is not legally permitted, we call on all of Europe's collecting societies to apply their standard live tariff to ticketed livestreamed events", it concludes. "We urge them to start a full consultation with the whole industry - including artists and their representatives - to find an equitable solution that will protect the livelihoods of songwriters and artists while ensuring this valuable new format can develop and thrive".
EMMA Chair Per Kviman adds: "Everyone wants live shows to return as soon as it's safe for audiences to come back. In the meantime, livestreaming has provided one of the few alternatives for artists to perform before an audience, build a fanbase, and generate revenues through ticket sales".
"EMMA is urging [societies] across Europe to be sensitive to these facts, and that the imposition of any new licensing tariffs should involve full and open consultation – including with artists and their representatives", he goes on. "Get the balance right, and we could nurture a vibrant new format that complements live events and provides artists and songwriters with a valuable source of revenue. But set licensing rates too high, and the costs of producing livestream shows simply won't stack up".
KSI launches record label, signs Aiyana Lee
"Ya boy has created his own music label", says KSI. "Looking at my resume, I've always been about making sure the people around me are eating good. So, I am proud to announce that Aiyana Lee is the first of the TOT gang and will be returning with another banger very soon".
"As an artist born of the current generation, I know what artists need and what labels lack", he goes on. "I wanted to create a safe and fair place for them to cultivate their talents and shine".
Lee adds: "Being the first artist on KSI's label is so incredible and exciting, especially when he's such a down to earth human being and inspiration to so many people including myself. Getting to work with someone like that, after years of also being a fan, is so much fun and extremely creative".
"I've been making music I've always wanted to make and exploring the inner depths of my sound", she goes on. "The new single on The Online Takeover is going to really showcase what I want to say through my music and set the tone for what I'm about artistically".
KSI has co-founded TOT with his manager, Mams Taylor, who says: "I am honoured to be working so closely with someone I respect so much and have genuine love for. [KSI] has been an amazing client and I consider him family. We have a very honest and authentic relationship. We bounce ideas off each other all the time and brainstorm effectively, so it feels like a natural progressive step for us to unite our strengths together in merging this partnership".
"It's really cool and fun to successfully work with someone you really like as a human being and makes the victories taste that much sweeter", Taylor adds. "We have some great things in the works, and I can't wait for our ideas to come to fruition".
Daughter's Elena Tonra to release new version of Ex:Re album
Released in 2018, the 'Ex:Re' album found Tonra processing the end of a relationship, with the help of classical composer Josephine Stephenson and producer Fabian Prynn. This new version was recorded during a performance at Kings Place in London, specially commissioned by the venue. Featuring Stephenson on piano, Tonra was also joined by string orchestra the Twelve Ensemble.
"Working with acoustic instruments was an opportunity to add subtle, yet tangible dynamic details to highlight Elena's words", says Stephenson. "As the Ex:Re songs are often built from loops, I enjoyed exploring the multitude of possible variations and reinventions within these, adding counter-melodies and making small changes in harmony or voicing".
"After touring with the Ex:Re band for a year, I knew the songs inside out, and had already started expanding and orchestrating them in my head", she goes on. "I also felt fearless knowing I was writing for the Twelve Ensemble, who are all exceptionally talented musicians and comfortable in all sorts of genres".
Tonra adds: "We were mixing the record while concerts and events around the world were being cancelled and postponed, so it was really moving to listen to the audio over and over during that time. The sound of a room filled with people was, and is, something we were all greatly missing".
The new version of the album is out this Friday. Watch the video for opening track 'Where The Time Went' here.
Mute has signed Sylph, the solo project of former SCUM vocalist Thomas Cohen. "On this new project I wanted to fuse the singer-songwriter format of having a verse or a chorus, with a harder electronic repetition", says Cohen, setting the scene for a series of collaborations with techno producers Regis, Terence Fixmer, Nicolas Bougaïeff and Rrose. He will release an EP titled 'Silver As It Was Before' on 3 Mar. Here's first track, 'Braid'.
Warner Music has invested in Rotana Music - the record label owned by Saudi Arabia's Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal. As part of the deal, Warner's label services division ADA will distribute Rotana's releases worldwide. "The Middle East and North Africa region is among the most culturally dynamic places in the world today, with burgeoning musical scenes and dramatic consumption growth", says Simon Robson, Warner's International President for recorded music. "We're THRILLED to be joining with Rotana, whose significant presence in the market reflects its extraordinary roster of musical icons and outstanding talent".
Blue Raincoat Music Publishing has acquired the songs catalogue of D:Ream founder Peter Cunnah. "When dance music and artists who had grown up in the clubs began to infiltrate the charts it was an exciting time and D:Ream were a huge part of this", says the publisher's Emma Kamen. "'Things Can Only Get Better' is a song people will always want to hear – joyous and catchy in equal measure. All of us here are proud to have Peter's catalogue as part of the Blue Raincoat family".
UK collecting society PRS For Music has a new Chief Commercial Officer, Dan Gopal. Having formerly worked for media firms like Disney and ITV, he was most recently at Entertainment One. In his new role he will "steer PRS For Music's licensing negotiations with public performance, TV and radio broadcasters, digital services and recorded media providers, as well as maximising the value of its joint ventures and partnerships while delivering a 'world class' customer experience".
Various Artists Management has promoted Rebecca Dixon to Head Of Marketing & Promotions. "Having been at the company for five years, I'm looking forward to working with our amazing roster of artists and managers in this new role", she says.
EDUCATION & EVENTS
Music distributor Ditto has announced a new training initiative called Industry Access which seeks "to encourage people from minority and working class backgrounds to start careers in the music industry". As well as various workshops and a networking event, one-to-one mentoring will also be provided to some participants. The programme is part of the company's $100,000 commitment to support Black Lives Matter causes and underrepresented people across the music industry. Info here.
Jpegmafia has released the video for 'Panic Room!', from his new EP, 'EP2!'
South have announced that they will release a 20th anniversary edition of their 'From Here On In' album on 26 Mar, along with a b-sides and rarities compilation, titled 'From Here On Out'. Here's a new video for 'Breaking Away'.
Jenny Hval and Håvard Volden have announced their first album together as Lost Girls (their second in total, after a 2012 album under the name Nude On Sand). 'Menneskekollektivet' will be released through Smalltown Supersound on 26 Mar. Here's the title track.
Årabrot have released new single 'Kinks Of The Heart'. Their new album, 'Norwegian Gothic', is out in April.
Valentina has released new single 'Don't Say It'. Her new EP, 'Nature', is out on 11 Mar.
Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.
Pharrell Williams did not perjure himself during Blurred Lines song-theft battle, judge rules
Did he write an anthem celebrating rape apologists? Yes, he did. Did he appear in an unapologetically misogynistic video to promote that song? Yes, he did. Did he perjure himself? No, he did not.
Or at least that is the conclusion of US judge John Kronstadt, ruling on what was a bit of a postscript to the headline-grabbing bust up over the other controversy that surrounded 'Blurred Lines', ie it being a big old rip off of Marvin Gaye's 'Got To Give It Up'.
The Gaye estate, of course, won its copyright infringement lawsuit against Thicke and Williams in a ruling that was almost as controversial as 'Blurred Lines' itself. With Thicke and Williams having ripped off Gaye's earlier work on their big hit, the estate was awarded a neat $5 million in damages.
However, the estate didn't get its legal costs covered. So last year it returned to court in a bid to pass on its legal bills to Williams. That was all based on an interview the producer had given to GQ in 2019 in which he talked about 'Blurred Lines'.
In that interview, the estate argued, Williams made comments that contradicted what he had earlier said under oath as the song-theft case went through the motions. Which means he lied under oath, aka committed perjury. And that should be grounds to force Williams to pay the estate's legal costs.
Needless to say, Williams told GQ that the 'Blurred Lines' ruling was the wrong ruling. Yes there were similarities between 'Blurred Lines' and 'Got To Give It Up', but he'd only borrowed a "feeling" from the earlier song, and you "can't copyright" that.
He also told the magazine: "What [we'd] always try to do was reverse engineer the songs that did something to us emotionally and figure out where the mechanism is in there, and ... try to figure out if we can build a building that doesn't look the same but makes you feel the same way".
"I did that in 'Blurred Lines'", he added, "and got myself in trouble ... I really made it feel so much like ['Got To Give It Up'] that people were like, oh, I hear the same thing".
But, said the estate, all this talk about reverse engineering songs contradicted what Williams had previously said when under oath. Back then he denied ever going into the studio with the idea of making something like 'Got To Give It Up'.
In a deposition ahead of the big 'Blurred Lines' trial, he said: "When I am searching for music, which I don't expect you to understand this, but we look into oblivion. We look into that which does not exist".
This and other statements made under oath were "irreconcilable" with the GQ interview, the Gaye estate said in a legal filing last year, adding "it is thus clear that Mr Williams' testimony under oath in the courtroom and in deposition was untruthful". Hence the court should reconsider the legal costs point.
But in a new ruling, Kronstadt says that the estate's claims that Williams committed perjury are "unpersuasive".
"The Gaye parties argue that Williams' statements in the November 2019 interview contradict the sworn statements that he and Thicke made about the process through which they created 'Blurred Lines'", he wrote last week. "They add that they also contradict the testimony about the general process that Williams uses in creating music. This argument is unpersuasive".
"The statements by Williams during the November 2019 interview were cryptic and amenable to multiple interpretations", the judge added. "For example, it is unclear what Williams meant by 'reverse-engineer[ing]'. Read in context, Williams statement about 'reverse-engineering' could be interpreted as a process in which he remembers his feelings when listening to particular music, and then attempts to recreate those feelings in his own works".
"This is not inconsistent with his deposition testimony, in which he claimed that he realised after creating 'Blurred Lines' that the feeling he tried to capture in the song was one that he associated with Marvin Gaye".
"Also unclear is what Williams meant by his reference to 'channel[ing]' other musical artists. Read in concert with his deposition and trial testimony, this may refer to the process in which he tries to place in his own works his earlier feelings about certain music. For these same reasons, it cannot be readily determined that the statements by Williams during the November 2019 interview were inconsistent with the one that he looks 'into oblivion' when creating music".
"For these reasons", the judge concluded, "the Gaye parties have not shown by clear and convincing evidence that there are sufficiently material inconsistencies between Williams' statements in the November 2019 interview and his sworn testimony, to support a finding of perjury".
So, there you go. Pharrell is not a perjurer. What a relief!