TODAY'S TOP STORY: The UK's Competition & Markets Authority provisionally cleared Sony Music's acquisition of AWAL on Friday having concluded that the deal "does not substantially reduce competition" in the UK music industry "and may not be expected to do so in the future"... [READ MORE]

TOP STORIES UK competition regulator provisionally clears Sony's acquisition of AWAL
LEGAL US court awards majors nearly $83 million in damages in stream-ripping case
Music industry's anti-piracy operations putting the focus on NFTs and the metaverse
DEALS Swizz Beatz allies with premium vinyl brand 12on12
MEDIA New global organisation for the radio sector launches
GIGS & FESTIVALS Adele says Vegas residency will “absolutely 100%” happen this year
ONE LINERS TCAT, Doja Cat, Central Cee, more
AND FINALLY... Ted Nugent backs Joe Rogan and Spotify against Neil Young
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UK competition regulator provisionally clears Sony's acquisition of AWAL
The UK's Competition & Markets Authority provisionally cleared Sony Music's acquisition of AWAL on Friday having concluded that the deal "does not substantially reduce competition" in the UK music industry "and may not be expected to do so in the future".

Sony announced it was buying the recordings division of Kobalt - consisting of the AWAL label services set-up and a neighbouring rights agency - just over a year ago in a deal worth around $430 million. For Kobalt, the sale was part of its decision to refocus all energies on its original song rights administration activities, while for Sony it was the latest in a long series of acquisitions to boost the label services side of its business.

All of the majors have grown their distribution and label services operations over the years, of course, but none more so that Sony, mainly via its The Orchard company. Though, while in theory The Orchard and AWAL compete, the former primarily provides services to independent labels, while AWAL primarily provides services to artists running their own single-artist labels.

With that in mind Sony acquiring AWAL did kind of make sense. Although the majors expanding ever more into label services does raise various concerns elsewhere in the industry, given it further increases the market share of the big three and means the majors basically have a certain amount of control over a slice of the independent sector.

And both of those things mean that the majors have more power when negotiating deals with the streaming services and access to ever more usage data to inform marketing activity and business development. Plus such services operations can also provide a funnel via which a major can hook in an artist who might subsequently sign to one of its more conventional labels.

Given those concerns, it wasn't too surprising when the UK competition regulator announced it was launching a phase one investigation into the deal in May, setting out to assess whether this latest consolation in the music distribution and label services sector raised any competition law issues.

That investigation meant that, although Sony's AWAL acquisition had been completed, the two businesses couldn't properly integrate. And that delay in integration extended when, in September, the CMA said that it had identified a sufficient number of concerns regarding the Sony/AWAL deal to instigate a more detailed phase two investigation into the transaction.

At the time CMA Senior Director Colin Raftery said: "The music industry forms an important part of the UK's flourishing entertainment sector, and it's essential that distributors continue to compete to find new and creative ways of working with artists. We're concerned that this deal could reduce competition in the industry, potentially worsening the deals on the table for many music artists in the UK, and leading to less innovation across the industry".

For its part, Sony said that the decision to instigate a phase two investigation was "perplexing" and "based on an incorrect understanding of AWAL's position in the UK". It added: "We strongly believe this transaction is unambiguously pro-competitive and that our investment in AWAL is key to its continued growth and future success". And the good news - for Sony at least - is that, after doing some more detailed investigating, the CMA now seems to more or less agree.

In a statement on Friday, the CMA said that its inquiry into this deal had focussed on two ways in which the Orchard and AWAL businesses overlap: "It assessed the extent to which The Orchard and AWAL may be expected to compete to provide artist and label services. It also looked at how closely Sony and AWAL may be expected to compete to sign successful artists, and those with the potential to become successful, where higher levels of support and investment are provided".

The CMA added that it found that "while not currently competing closely due to their different areas of focus, The Orchard may have become a stronger rival to AWAL in the supply of artist services in the future". But, "there are many other providers who will continue to compete effectively with both firms - including independent artist and label services companies, the artist and label services branches of the other major labels (like Warner Music's ADA and Universal Music's Virgin) and independent labels".

In fact, the regulator mused, "in the course of its investigation, the CMA also found that many other firms have begun providing similar services which can be expected to make up for the limited loss of competition from AWAL".

In terms of its rivalry with Sony Music at large, the CMA went on, "AWAL is still a relatively small player when it comes to signing artists who require higher levels of support and investment. Despite trying to expand its offering, AWAL was expected to continue to compete with Sony only on a limited basis".

With all that in mind, the CMA's provisional finding is that Sony's purchase of AWAL is all fine and lovely. "Our provisional finding is that the deal is not likely to affect competition in a way that will reduce the choice or quality of recorded music available, or increase prices", said Margot Daly, Chair of the independent CMA Inquiry Group on Friday afternoon.

"We think that a combination of other major labels and independent providers will continue to closely rival Sony, so our provisional decision is to clear the merger", she added. The decision is provisional because interested parties now have one last chance to input on the AWAL deal and respond to the CMA's initial decision. The regulator will then announce its final conclusion by 17 Mar.

"Sony Music Entertainment welcomes the CMA's provisional determination that its acquisition of AWAL raises no competition concerns and, in doing so, its recognition of the competitive and dynamic nature of the UK music market", said a spokesperson for Sony Music.

"Our investment in AWAL will deliver real benefits for artists and consumers, amidst intense competition at every level of the music industry", they went on. "We look forward to continuing to work with the CMA throughout the final stages of their review".

All that talk in Sony's statement of "the competitive and dynamic nature of the UK music market" and "intense competition at every level of the music industry" is possibly there as much to influence another CMA study as it is to respond to this one.

Because the CMA's decision on Sony's AWAL deal comes as the regulator gets going with its market study into the streaming music business, which was announced in response to the UK Parliament's inquiry focused on the economics of streaming last year.

That CMA study will look at the digital music supply chain and - among other things - the impact the dominance of the majors in both recordings and music publishing has on the way streaming services license music and the way digital income is shared out between stakeholders within the music community.

All three majors will be keen to stress in that market study just how competitive the music industry is today, with artists having a multitude of options when it comes to picking business partners to work with on their recordings and music rights.

But others in the music sector will counter that the dominance of the majors - and things like the big three's hold over the old music catalogues and the lack of transparency in the way streaming works - means there are legitimate competition issues in the digital music sector, impacting on artist and songwriters, and entrepreneurs trying to launch and grow independent music businesses.

Responding to the CMA's provisional ruling on the AWAL deal, Paul Pacifico - boss of the UK's Association Of Independent Music - said: "Whilst the CMA has ruled that AWAL's acquisition is not enough to substantially reduce competition by itself, it is part of a pattern that threatens to gradually erode competition and diversity in UK music if independent entrepreneurs continue without much-needed access to capital".

Honing in on one specific argument put forward by Sony during this investigation, he added: "Sony arguing that even a hugely successful independent like AWAL would have struggled to maintain its position alone highlights the sector's need for better support to scale-up. Without pathways for growth for independent entrepreneurs, we can expect to see a gradual erosion of competition across the sector, damaging innovation, diversity and leading to less favourable conditions for artists".


US court awards majors nearly $83 million in damages in stream-ripping case
A court in Virginia last week ordered the Russian owner of stream-ripping sites FLVTO and 2conv to pay nearly $83 million in damages to the major record companies. Judge Claude M Hilton also issued an injunction ordered Tofig Kurbanov to stop infringing the music companies' copyrights and to destroy any infringing copies of their recordings that might be in his possession.

A very quick recap. The majors went legal against Kurbanov and his stream-ripping operations through the US courts back in 2018. He argued that the American courts did not have jurisdiction over his Russia-based websites, and that argument initially worked. But not for long.

Once discovery was under way, the labels demanded access to the FLVTO and 2conv user-logs. Kurbanov insisted there were no such logs. The majors argued that there should be. So the courts ordered Kurbanov to start storing and sharing the kind of data that the majors were asking for. And in response, Kurbanov bailed on the case and ended his formal defence.

That meant the labels won a default judgement in their favour and could then start working out what damages they thought they were due. With 1618 specific copyrights identified as having been infringed in their original lawsuit, the labels pushed for $51,250 in damages per work, which comes out at just over $82.9 million.

A magistrate judge called Theresa Buchanan then considered that maths and, in December, concluded that the damages being claimed by the majors were reasonable. Needless to say, legal reps for Kurbanov did not agree, countering that the labels had failed to actually prove that any infringement of their recordings occurred on his stream-ripping sites within the US.

"In her report and recommendation, the magistrate held improperly that plaintiffs did not need to prove any infringements of their works because such proof was presumed by virtue of her having ordered the default against Mr Kurbanov", those lawyers argued last month.

That was an "improper" conclusion, they added, because "the law on this point is exceedingly clear: regardless of the fact that the court defaulted Mr Kurbanov, plaintiffs were required to prove the facts that would entitle them to recover the damages sought".

And even if the court did conclude that Kurbanov was liable for copyright infringement, the damages demanded by the labels and approved by Buchanan were way too high, the lawyers went on. They reckoned something like $200 per alleged infringement would be much more appropriate.

But ultimate decision maker judge Hilton was not impressed with those arguments, and last week endorsed the recommendation of Buchanan to basically give the majors everything they asked for.

"It appears to the court that the magistrate judge's report and recommendation is neither clearly erroneous nor contrary to law", Hilton wrote in his judgement, "and it is hereby ordered that the plaintiffs are awarded statutory damages for violations of the Copyright Act of 1976 and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in the amount of $82,922,500".

"Defendant Kurbanov", the ruling went on, "is enjoined from directly or indirectly infringing in any manner pertaining to plaintiff's copyrighted works [and] must permanently delete and destroy all electronic copies of any of plaintiff's copyrighted works, or derivate works thereof, that defendant Kurbanov has in his possession, custody or control".

Elsewhere the ruling added: "Defendant Kurbanov is enjoined from directly or indirectly circumventing any and all technological measures that effectively control access to or protect a right of any plaintiff in any and all plaintiffs' copyrighted works".

That latter point relates to the claim that stream-ripping services circumvent measures put in place by websites like YouTube to stop people from grabbing permanent downloads of temporary streams, such circumvention being prohibited by the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

A small portion of the damages claimed by the majors in this case relate to the specific breaching of that rule, rather than the actual copyright infringement.

Though, in this and other stream-ripping cases, the stream-rippers argue that YouTube doesn't really have any technological measures in place to stop stream-ripping, and therefore nothing is being circumvented. The labels, of course, do not agree.

It remains to be seen how Kurbanov now responds, if at all, to Hilton's ruling.


Music industry's anti-piracy operations putting the focus on NFTs and the metaverse
With increased concerns within the music community over a whole new form of music piracy happening via NFT services and inside the metaverse, the Italian music industry's Digital Content Protection agency used the recent Sanremo Music Festival to announce that it now has a unit focused on monitoring and acting upon unlicensed music activities happening on all these new fangled platforms.

The recent HitPiece debacle brought the potential issues around copyright and music NFTs into the spotlight. Although the HitPiece website wasn't making available any actual music - either to stream or download or linked to any of the NFTs it was selling - it was utilising the record industry's artwork, while also arguably exploiting artist trademarks and publicity rights. All without permission.

HitPiece quickly went offline after multiple artists and labels started accusing it of infringing their rights, although since then the spotlight has fallen on some other music NFT services that seem to be utilising songs and recordings - or at least implying official connections to artists and their music - without any of the proper licences in place.

All of which means NFTs - not to mention the metaverse - are now on the radar of the music industry's anti-piracy agencies, including those run by the record industry's trade organisations. The Recording Industry Association Of America sent a big old cease and desist letter to HitPiece earlier this month.

Confirming that letter had been sent to HitPiece, RIAA COO Mitch Glazier said: "Given how fans were misled and defrauded by these unauthorised NFTs and the massive risk to both fans and artists posed by HitPiece and potential copycats, it was clear we had to move immediately and urgently to stand up for fairness and honesty in the market".

The Italian industry's Digital Content Protection unit's announcement at the Sanremo Music Festival confirmed that NFT services, metaverse virtual worlds and other Web3 activities are now being monitored as part of its anti-piracy operations. As with other such activity, where unlicensed music is discovered, a takedown notice or cease-and-desist letter may be sent, or - where there is rampant infringement - legal action could be considered.

The unit's CEO Luca Vespignani spoke to Torrentfreak last week, saying: "Basically, we crawl Web3 resources such as NFT markets, virtual reality platforms and in-game platforms looking for unauthorised NFTs, bad actors and rug-pulls" - 'rug-pulls' referring to various scams in the world of blockchain and crypto.

"After the monitoring", Vespignani adds, "we either send a notice and takedown request or we compile a forensic archive of copyright infringement evidence, to support potential legal action".

Having unveiled the agency's latest anti-piracy focus at the Sanremo Music Festival, the DPC then apparently detected and had taken down some unofficial NFTs linked to clips recorded at the very same festival that were on sale on the NFT platform OpenSea. Good times!


Swizz Beatz allies with premium vinyl brand 12on12
12on12 - a company which, and I quote, "invites notable figures in culture to curate and design limited edition vinyl records of twelve songs" - has announced its latest curator, who is also becoming a business partner of the firm. And that curator come investor is Swizz Beatz.

In his role as curator, the producer has put together a limited edition two disc vinyl release called 'Long Live Jazz' which celebrates, perhaps unsurprisingly given the title, his "love and passion for jazz".

According to the official blurb, his selections on the record will take the listener "on a journey from iconic recordings of jazz standards - including Miles Davies's 'Round Midnight' and Kenny Dorham's 'Alone Together' - through to a reworking of The Weeknd's hit single 'Call Out My Name' by a group of today's leading jazz musicians".

12on12 also talks up the importance of the visuals on its vinyl releases. Swizz Beatz can help there too, because the producer is an avid art collector and has his own collection of artworks and photographs that he has acquired and commissioned over the years. And the cover of 'Long Live Jazz' features a image from that collection, taken in 1968 by photo journalist Kwame Brathwaite.

Says Swizz Beatz: "Jazz has always been magic to our ears. I feel like it should definitely get more attention! This is the first step to pay homage to the great craft and art. Photography is also one of the best expressions of art and should be shown more often. Art and music are brothers and sisters, so I thought it was a great match. I'm a big fan of Kwame and I also love I'm able to share pieces from my [art] collection through music!"

12on12 founder Claudia Moross adds: "Our goal is to create transcending experiences through music and art, the combination of playing the record while exploring the thoughtfully curated artwork commissioned for the sleeve allows for a precious moment of cultural enjoyment. 12on12's are very much pieces of art that can be collected and treasured".

Noting Swizz Beatz's wider involvement in her company, she goes on: "With Swizz's finger on the pulse and his well-documented history within music and art, the brand will be upping the ante as we look to work with the very best artists, both visual and musical, to curate future vinyl works. I am really looking forward to the next chapter for 12on12, and with the expertise and passion Swizz Beatz brings to the table I'm really excited for what's to come for the brand".

You can pre-order 'Long Live Jazz' here.


New global organisation for the radio sector launches
It was World Radio Day yesterday. Did you celebrate it? I marked the occasion by listening to Spotify and watching YouTube, which wasn't really embracing the spirit of the day I guess. But I did also check out the website of the World Radio Alliance, the new global trade organisation for the radio industry. So, that must count for something, right?

The World Radio Alliance is one of those trade bodies of trade bodies, bringing together organisations that represent the radio industries of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, the UK and the US. The European association for TV and radio ad sales houses, EGTA, is also joining in.

The Alliance will, and I quote, "widely promote and demonstrate the power and value of radio/audio in the media landscape by sharing best practices and speaking with a unified voice". Good times.

Its inaugural President is Lucy Barrett, Client Director at UK commercial radio sector trade group Radiocentre. She says: "I am honoured to be the first President of the newly formed World Radio Alliance. The time is absolutely right to join forces and speak with a collective voice".

"Over the last decade we have seen the rise of more commercial audio formats such as music streaming services and podcasts, yet commercial radio's dominance in the sector remains pretty much intact", she adds. "But, as is so often the case in the world of media, expectations and perceptions relating to the growth of the new formats are disconnected from this reality".

"As the world has become smaller, with media decisions often taken across whole regions and continents, it's crucial we come together to tell the success story of radio in a consistent and unified manner", she concludes.


Setlist: Comedians sue Pandora over joke copyrights
CMU's Andy Malt and Chris Cooke review key events in music and the music business from the last week, including the lawsuits filed against Pandora by three comedians - and the estates of comedy legends Robin Williams and George Carlin - over allegations the American streaming service is streaming comedy routines by those performers without all of the proper licences in place, and the RIAA's legal letter to music NFTs website HitPiece that was both a cease-and-desist on behalf its members and a demand for information about all of the outfit's activities and revenues to date.

Listen to this episode of Setlist here.

Adele says Vegas residency will "absolutely 100%" happen this year
Adele has said that her postponed Las Vegas residency will "absolutely 100%" happen this year, because she has other plans for 2023 already. Mainly having a baby.

Her run of shows at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas was supposed to begin in January, but was pulled at the last minute. In a tearful video announcing this news the day before the date of the first show, she said that delays and staff shortages due to COVID-19 meant that the residency was simply not ready to launch.

No new dates have yet been announced for that residency, leaving many ticket-holders worried that they may have to wait years rather than months. But now Adele has insisted that they will go ahead in 2022.

"It has to happen this year because I've got plans for next year", she told Graham Norton on his BBC One show last week. "Imagine if I have to cancel because I am having a baby!"

Speaking about the decision to postpone the run, she added: "I tried my hardest and really thought I would be able to pull something together in time. I regret that I kept going until that late in the day. [But had I gone ahead] it would have been a really half-arsed show and I can't do that. People will see straight through me up on the stage and know I didn't want to be doing it. I've never done anything like that in my life and I'm not going to start now".

"We are now working our arses off, but I don't want to announce a new set of dates until I know everything will definitely be ready", she went on. "The sooner I can announce the better, but I just can't in case we are not ready in time. It is absolutely 100% happening this year".

Norton suggested that people would be happy if it was just her and a piano up on stage, but she said this would not be grand enough for Las Vegas, and that she wants the show to be a progression from her last performances. Maybe her, a piano and a juggler then?



Former major label exec Nick Stewart - who has run his own music business consultancy since 2007 - has been appointed as CEO of TCAT, or To Catch A Thief, an anti-piracy business majority owned by One Media iP Group which has, and I quote, a "ground-breaking AI software, which monitors millions of music tracks across the world, saving rights holders millions in unpaid or fraudulently claimed royalties".



Doja Cat has released her cover of Hole's 'Celebrity Skin', which appeared in an advert during the Super Bowl this weekend.

Central Cee has released new track 'Khabib' from his upcoming mixtape '23'.

Ho99o9 have announced that they will release new album 'Skin' on 11 Mar. Produced by Travis Barker, it'll feature guest appearances from Corey Taylor, Saul Williams and more. Here's new single 'Nuge Sight'.

Vio-lence have released new single 'Let The World Burn'.

Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.


Ted Nugent backs Joe Rogan and Spotify against Neil Young
As if things weren't bad enough for the people working at Spotify following all the recent controversies around the Joe Rogan Experience podcast, now they've got Ted Nugent coming to their defence - and via the daily podcast he records for the pro-hunting lobby group he advises and represents. Lovely stuff.

On Friday night's edition of the 'The Nightly Nuge' podcast, Nugent's co-host Keith Mark brought up how that Canadian Neil Young is again talking politics in the USA, before musing how a musician that has in the past spoken up for free speech is now pro-censorship.

Which isn't true, of course, but it was Young who instigated the artist boycott of Spotify over the COVID misinformation contained in Rogan's Spotify exclusive podcast.

Young and other artists who have spoken out about the controversial COVID conversations that have occurred on Rogan's programme insist that they are not calling for censorship.

However, they argue, platforms like Spotify have a responsibility to counter misleading information that could negatively impact on people's health, and they'd rather not be associated with any platforms that aren't fulfilling that responsibility.

Asked what he makes of Young and his Spotify boycott, Nugent initially said some nice things about his fellow musician, but then added "the guy is a complete punk". And actually, when it comes to COVID matters, it's Young delivering misinformation, he reckoned.

Name-checking Young's track 'Rockin In The Free World', Nugent continued: "If you've done that much mind-altering chemicals throughout your life, then you can proudly claim in one moment that you should be rocking in the free world but then in the next moment witness all the evidence supporting everything that Joe Rogan's been saying, that I've been saying - the truth, logic, common sense, the indisputable evidence to support it - and then claim that we're guilty of misinformation when, actually, the stoner birdbrain punk, he delivers misinformation".

As for the Spotify boycott, Nugent added: "So this is a funny moment because he made an ultimatum to Spotify - whatever that big tech is - and he said, 'If you don't take Joe Rogan off Spotify, then you have to take my music off Spotify'. That's a pretty easy decision, Neil! Thanks for making it so simple, because Neil Young on Spotify - adios mofo".

So worry not Team Spotify, Nugent's got your back. And if you want to shoot some animals any time, he'll be there to back you on that too.


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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