|MONDAY 9 AUGUST 2021||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: Universal Music has launched an internal investigation into inappropriate behaviour at its Australian offices according to the Sydney Morning Herald. It follows a similar investigation being instigated at the Australian division of Sony Music back in June.... [READ MORE]|
Universal Music Australia launches investigation into inappropriate workplace culture
The investigation at Universal was seemingly prompted by posts last month to an Instagram account called Beneath The Glass Ceiling, which collates "real life experiences working beneath the glass ceiling of the Australian music industry". According to the Herald, a more formal internal complaint was also made by an employee in relation to a past incident within the company.
Among the bad conduct alleged at Universal Music Australia are multiple incidents of bullying, harassment, racism, homophobia and discrimination, as well as more serious allegations of sexual assault.
The President of the major's Australian division, George Ash, acknowledged the various allegations that had been made online in a memo to staff at the end of last month, stating "as the leader of this company I take full responsibility for creating a respectful workplace culture for everyone".
Then last week it was confirmed that law firm Seyfarth Shaw had been hired to investigate the various allegations that have been made regarding the major label division's corporate culture. Staff were encouraged to raise all and any concerns they have through internal and external complaints channels.
Speaking to the Herald about the investigation, Ash said he was "heartbroken" to read the allegations that had been made about bad conduct and discrimination at his company, most of which related to incidents that happened while he was in charge.
"My initial response was ‘I don’t know whether the allegations are true or not’", he told the newspaper, "but it made me think we haven’t done enough and we need to do more in our company. I need to step up and take responsibility".
Staff say that issues with the corporate culture at Universal Music Australia were previously raised during an internal survey conducted by KPMG eighteen months ago. Respondents to that survey reportedly complained about a "toxic" workplace, and how the major's Australian division was basically a "white male boys’ club".
Ash told the Herald that he hoped the new investigation would be a "catalyst for change", both within Universal and for the music industry in general. He added: "Before these [issues] were raised I thought we were doing an amazing job, [but] with these things being raised I need to make sure I respond to them. If there is any positive to come of this, it creates that catalyst for us to speak openly about things and hopefully address things to create a workplace culture that people can be proud of".
Universal has revamped its HR operations in Australia since the KPMG survey was undertaken, and Ash insisted that he was confident the company is now in a position to deal with the issues that have been raised. As proof of that he noted a complaint that had been made about comments he himself had made during a Zoom call. "I had a complaint recently raised against myself around a joke I made in a Zoom meeting", he admitted. "It was insensitive, and that went through the appropriate processes and I apologised to everyone in the company who was impacted by it".
Sony Music's global HQ in the US confirmed in June that an investigation was underway regarding the corporate culture at its Australian division. That confirmation followed the sudden departure of Sony Music Australia's long-time chief Denis Handlin, who has been criticised for overseeing a toxic corporate culture at the major for decades.
Four Tet and Domino in court over sales v licence digital royalties dispute
There are actually three elements to this particular streaming debate - in that the specific issues are different for artists on new record deals, artists on old record deals, and session musicians.
The dispute between Domino and Four Tet relates to a 2001 record contract, which puts it in the middle category where the big question is this: how do you interpret a record contact that doesn't mention streaming when it comes to sharing out streaming income?
This is a tricky question because record contacts traditionally pay artists different royalty rates on different revenue streams. A common distinction used to be made between sales income and licensing income, with a lower royalty on the former and a higher royalty on the latter.
There were a flurry of lawsuits on this issue in the 2000s - mainly involving major labels in the US - when the iTunes Store first started to boom. They related to contracts that didn't mention any kind of digital income, but which did make the distinction between sales and licence.
Most labels were paying artists the same royalty on a download that they did on a CD, ie treating a download as a sale. But many artists argued that the deals negotiated between the labels and Apple were licensing deals, so the higher licensing royalty rate should be paid.
Many of those lawsuits were settled out of court with some artists doing secret deals that got them a much better payout on digital. Though some became class actions, resulting in public domain settlements. The latter arrangements did see labels commit to pay artists a slightly better royalty rate on digital compared to CDs, but certainly not a licensing rate, which would often be 50%.
Most of those lawsuits focused specifically on downloads, though some of the later ones also talked about streaming, where many artists - and their managers and lawyers - would say that there is an even stronger case for arguing that a licensing rather than sales royalty should be paid.
Four Tet's lawsuit deals with both downloads and streams, citing both specific terms from in his 2001 record contract with Domino and the label's then Standard Royalty Provisions.
He basically argues that terms covering licensing income in the contact and those provisions - both of which provided him with a 50% royalty - should have been applied to at least some and probably most of the digital revenue that has come from the albums he released with the label. Instead Domino has applied the sales royalty of 18% on both downloads and streams.
The licensing terms Four Tet hones in on relate to both international and 'flat fee' exploitation of his music. The record deal says that - with monies received from "our licensees outside the UK" - the label will pay Four Tet a 50% royalty. And if the label should "licence any recording hereunder for use on a flat fee basis - ie any basis other than one of a royalty per record based on the price of the recording - then [the] company shall account to [the] artist for 50% of the net proceeds received by it".
These two terms combined, Four Tet argues, mean that a 50% rate should have been applied to most of his digital income - downloads and streams - rather than 18%. Or, alternatively, if it was to be decided that the contract didn't actually set out any provision at all for the payment of royalties on digital, especially streams, then the label should have instead paid Four Tet a "reasonable market rate".
And, the lawsuit adds, because labels have lower costs in the digital domain compared to when they were releasing physical products, "the royalty rate payable by labels to musical artists on streaming or download revenue is typically significantly higher than the rate payable on physical formats. Typical royalty rates payable by labels (comparable to Domino) to artists on streaming or download revenue are around 50% (or higher) of the label's net receipts".
Needless to say, Domino does not concur. In its response, it argues that the contract term regarding international income was meant to apply if the label allowed another record company to release a Four Tet album in another market under licence, because its own "international divisions were not fully established at the time of the 2001 agreement". And that term should be interpreted in that specific way, rather than covering any licensing deal with a digital music service that is not based in the UK.
Meanwhile, it goes on, the 2001 Standard Royalty Provisions did cover downloads, which it said would be treated as a sale. The Four Tet side does acknowledge that fact, however argues that term only applies in the UK, because of the separate international income term.
But the label insists that is not so, while also adding that the principle set out in the Standard Royalty Provisions for downloads should also apply to streams. Because "a stream to a consumer involves the download by the consumer of data packets", it's just that "streaming differs from some other forms of downloading in that the record acquired by the consumer is not permanent but transient".
As for the other argument about "reasonable market rates" - if the court were to conclude that the 2001 agreement doesn't actually cover streams at all - Domino counters that "royalty rates agreed between record labels and artists for different forms of distribution are negotiated on a case-by-case basis and are influenced by a range of factors".
"There is, and was in 2001, no 'typical' royalty rate for streaming or download revenue", it goes on, "and the royalty rate for streaming or download revenue in any particular agreement may not exceed the rate for other forms of distribution notwithstanding that these may involve lower costs of product manufacture and distribution".
So there you go, a very timely sales v licence legal battle, this time in the UK courts. These disputes are always interesting, not least because a ruling one way or the other might set a precedent that could then be applied to other similar record contracts of the same era. Although - if the litigation does go all the way through to a judgement in court - whichever side loses would almost certainly argue that the specifics of Four Tet's 2001 contract limits the impact of any judgement on any other deals.
For a review of the big sales v licence lawsuits of the 2000s, check this Setlist special from 2018 here.
Britney Spears' father says there are "no grounds whatsoever" to remove him from her conservatorship
The musician's new lawyer Mathew Rosengart began proceedings to have his client's father removed from his role as conservator of her estate last month. Spears Senior has played a key role in running the conservatorship ever since it was put in place thirteen years ago, with just one short period where he stood down from his formal position of conservator due to ill health.
It was when he sought to resume his responsibilities after that break that legal wrangling began regarding the increasingly controversial conservatorship. That ultimately led to the headline-grabbing testimony from Britney herself in which she dubbed the conservatorship "abusive" and told the court that she wanted the arrangement to be brought to an end.
Rosengart's attempts to have Spears Senior removed as the conservator in charge of the pop star's finances is seen as a first step in making that happen. Requesting that removal last month, the lawyer said that "serious questions abound" concerning Jamie's "potential misconduct" during the conservatorship.
But in response, Jamie said in a legal filing last week that his daughter's new lawyer "does not - and cannot - specify what the wrongdoing is" that justifies having him removed from his conservator role.
He also took issue with his removal from the conservatorship being supported by Jodi Montgomery, who is currently the conservator responsible for Britney's personal affairs and well-being. Montgomery's recent support for his removal was "ironic", he argued, because just last month she had called him expressing concern about his daughter's mental health and requesting his help.
"Ms Montgomery sounded very distraught and expressed how concerned she was about my daughters’ recent behaviour and overall mental health", Jamie said in a personal declaration to the court.
"Ms Montgomery explained that my daughter was not timely or properly taking her medications, was not listening to the recommendations of her medical team, and refused to even see some of her doctors. Ms Montgomery said she was very worried about the direction my daughter was heading in and directly asked for my help to address these issues".
However, in response to the new legal filing, Montgomery has said that she reached out to Jamie last month to express concern that an investigation he'd called for into Britney's recent claims regarding the conservatorship would be detrimental to his daughter's health.
And she has reiterated that, in her opinion, removing Spears Senior from his conservator role is a sensible step, adding: "Having her father Jamie Spears continuing to serve as her conservator instead of a neutral professional fiduciary is having a serious impact on Ms Spears’ mental health".
The application to have Jamie Spears removed from the conservatorship should be heard in court on 29 Sep, though Rosengart has requested that a hearing take place sooner.
BBC jingle maker says PRS royalty distribution policies are "heavily influenced by the interests of its more powerful members"
Delicious Digital - aka DeliMusic - has sued the collecting society through the UK courts, alleging that when it comes to setting policies regarding how royalties are shared out between the rights organisation's members, the bigger publishers - especially the majors - have too much influence.
According to The Times, the lawsuit - which was filed earlier this year but has only now been made public - centres on music and idents the production company made for the BBC's 5 Live and 5 Live Sport radio stations.
When broadcasters commission music, the performing rights element of any song copyrights created will usually be allocated to the music-maker's collecting society, so PRS in the UK. Which means that whenever that music is subsequently broadcast, additional royalties are due through the collective licensing system. Given jingles and idents are broadcast a lot, those subsequent royalties can really mount up.
However, quite what royalties are due and how they work will depend on the licensing deals negotiated between each society and each broadcaster, and also the policies of the society regarding how any monies that come in from any one broadcaster are allocated across the membership.
In its legal filing, Delicious Digital says that PRS is "heavily influenced by the interests of its more powerful members" when it comes to setting those policies, and that the society's distribution committee "comprises chiefly the major publishers".
Smaller music companies like itself, Delicious then adds, "are unable to put forward their interests effectively due to the lack of representation and transparency".
As a result, it alleges, the more powerful PRS members, and especially the majors, "have a significant competitive advantage and influence in dealings with and which affect smaller members such that decisions are taken which favour the interests of the powerful members and contrary to the interests of [smaller and middle-sized] publishers and composers".
However, in its formal legal response to the lawsuit PRS denies that is the case. It argues that the society's distribution committee has seventeen members, and no more than three of those members come from the majors. And any 'principal voting member' of the society, which includes Delicious Digital, can seek election to the committee.
The society's defence document also adds that the organisation’s membership agreement "does not ... contain any express term requiring the [society] to adopt policies in a manner which is fair, reasonable or transparent, or to consult with right-holders who would be affected by the policies". Which is presumably true and possibly a legitimate defence to the Delicious Digital legal claim. Although, at the same time, it's not a great thing to admit.
Confirming to the Times that the legal battle is ongoing, Delicious Digital directors Ollie Raphael and Ed Moris told the paper they were pursuing the litigation in a bid to "stand up for the small indie publishers and composers against the might of the PRS".
Meanwhile, commenting on the legal battle earlier today, PRS told CMU: "PRS For Music is owned and controlled by its 155,000 songwriter, composer and publisher members and we collect and distribute royalties on their behalf. We are governed by the PRS Members' Council and PRS Board, which each include an equal number of songwriter and publisher members, appointed by the membership. As a collective management organisation, PRS is aware of and complies with its duties to members and its statutory and other obligations regulating its licensing, distribution and governance activities".
"PRS entirely rejects the claim which has been brought, and is defending itself against all of the allegations which have been made", it added. "As the parties are engaged in litigation, it would not be appropriate for us to comment outside the context of those legal proceedings on the contents of our defence - or, for that matter, the claimants’ pleaded claim - generally or specifically".
Stream-ripping sites FLVTO, 2conv and Y2Mate all block users in the US and UK
Stream-ripping services - websites and apps that allow people to grab permanent downloads of temporary streams - have been the music industry's top piracy gripe for years now, of course. Various stream-ripping sites, and the people running them, have been targeted with litigation, and that included the Russian owner of FLVTO and 2conv, who was sued in the US by the majors.
Whereas some stream-rippers have just gone offline as soon as any litigation is filed, FLVTO and 2conv owner Tofig Kurbanov decided to fight, initially getting the case being pursued by the labels dismissed on jurisdiction grounds. However, the lawsuit was then reinstated on appeal.
Kurbanov initially continued to fight the labels' lawsuit, reckoning that neither FLVTO nor 2conv were actually liable for copyright infringement. However, last month lawyers working for Kurbanov confirmed that their client would no longer participate in the legal battle, because he objected to a court order that demanded he store and share server logs that identify what content is being ripped via his websites, and where the individual rippers are based.
Unsurprisingly, that resulted in the labels seeking a default judgement in their favour. According to Torrentfreak, the record industry's legal reps said in a filing with the court that: "Defendant’s conduct amounts to a failure to defend and has effectively shut down the continued prosecution of this lawsuit. His contumacious and continuing discovery abuses are precisely the kind of conduct for which the default judgment sanction ... exists".
The labels will likely get the default judgement in their favour allowing them to claim damages from Kurbanov, which he'll almost certainly never pay. The record industry could then also seek to seize the domain names Kurbanov's uses and possibly seek an injunction forcing ISPs in the US to block access to FLVTO and 2conv, even though web-blocking of that kind remains somewhat controversial Stateside.
It was perhaps to pre-empt any future web-blocking efforts by the labels that Kurbanov last week decided to himself block US users from accessing his websites. His sites were already part of a web-blocking order that was issued in the UK earlier this year, which is possibly why he is now geo-blocking British users too.
Torrentfreak also notes that FLVTO and 2conv aren't the only stream-ripping sites now blocking users in both the US and the UK. Rival stream-ripping set up Y2Mate likewise withdrew its services from American and British users last week. From a UK perspective, the Y2Mate development is perhaps more significant, it having been identified as a particularly popular stream-ripping site in a study about ongoing music piracy in the UK published by PRS last year.
Hipgnosis acquires Christine McVie catalogue
McVie first joined Fleetwood Mac in 1970, having previously worked with the band as a session musician. She then wrote songs for and appeared on most of Fleetwood Mac's albums. She left the band in the 1990s, but then rejoined in 2014. In addition to her extensive work with Fleetwood Mac, McVie has also released a number of solo albums over her career.
Confirming his company's latest catalogue acquisition, Hipgnosis founder Merck Mercuriadis said: "Christine McVie is one of the greatest songwriters of all time having guided Fleetwood Mac to almost 150 million albums sold and making them one of the best-selling bands of all time globally".
"In the last 46 years the band have had three distinct writers and vocalists, but Christine’s importance is amply demonstrated by the fact that eight of the sixteen songs on the band’s greatest hits albums are from Christine. It’s wonderful for us to welcome Christine to the Hipgnosis Family and particularly wonderful to reunite her once again at Hipgnosis with Lindsey Buckingham. Between Christine and Lindsey we now have 48 of 68 songs on the band’s most successful albums".
McVie herself added: "I am so excited to belong to the Hipgnosis family, and THRILLED that you all regard my songs worthy of merit. I’d like to thank you all for your faith in me, and I’ll do all I can to continue this new relationship and help in any way I can! Thank you so much!"
De La Soul back in control of their masters
Kweli wrote: "Ladies and gentlemen, I spoke to Maseo from the legendary De La Soul today and it's official... after years of being taken advantage [of] by the recording industry in the worst possible ways, De La Soul now owns all the rights to their masters and is in full control of the amazing music they have created".
"Let's salute Plugs 1, 2 and 3", he added, "for sticking to their guns and showing us that we can all beat the system if we come together as a community. Let's hear it for black ownership of black art! Congratulations fellas".
The news follows the recent acquisition by Reservoir of the label that released most of De La Soul's albums, that being Tommy Boy. At the time, many people wondered whether that deal could bring to an end the long running dispute between De La Soul and Tommy Boy which has meant that the group’s classic albums have been unavailable on the streaming services.
Following the deal, a rep for Reservoir told Variety: "We have already reached out to De La Soul and will work together to the bring the catalogue and the music back to the fans". Meanwhile a post on the De La Soul Instagram around the same time read "woke up feeling a greater sense of peace of mind".
Kanye album now "expected" on Sunday
Only one of the album's 24 tracks is properly listed in the Apple Store at the moment, that being 'Hurricane' featuring The Weeknd and Lil Baby.
Meanwhile, elsewhere on the Kanye-net, fans have been chattering about the 'Nah Nah Nah' remix that features DaBaby not being available on the streaming services anymore. Many have concluded that it's been removed because of all the recent controversy around DaBaby's homophobic remarks at the Rolling Loud Miami festival.
I should probably have done some digging as to what's going on there, but, you know, constantly refreshing the iTunes Store for updates on the 'Donda' release date and track listings is a pretty time consuming exercise.