May 21, 2024 4 min read

NPMA's Judiciary Committee letter in full

The NMPA has provided CMU with a copy of the letter that it sent to members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees relating to legislative changes it says are needed to resolve the Spotify audiobooks bundle dispute

NPMA's Judiciary Committee letter in full

As the dispute over Spotify’s audiobook bundling tactics continues to build, the US National Music Publishers Association has sent this letter to the Judiciary Committees of the US Senate and House Of Representatives.

The letter argues for a change in US copyright law to allow publishers to opt out of the compulsory licence utilised by streaming services.

The letter was sent to: Senators Richard Durbin and Lindsey Graham, and Congressmen Jim Jordan and Jerrold Nadler.

The full text of the letter reads:

May 21, 2024

Dear Chair Durbin, Ranking Member Graham, Chairman Jordan and Ranking Member Nadler: 

The Music Modernization Act (MMA) has offered not only songwriters and music publishers, but also digital service providers, unprecedented benefits. However, the bill has amplified the need for corrections to the century-old compulsory license governing their work. 

Large, foreign-owned companies, like Spotify, should not enjoy unfair advantages over American songwriters because of outdated federal policy. By making one simple change, Congress can undo a more than 100-year old mistake in the compulsory license, and ensure songwriters and music creators continue to benefit from their creative efforts. 

How did we get here? Almost six years ago, members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees came together to pass the MMA, a landmark piece of copyright legislation for the age of digital music streaming. The MMA took important steps forward in improving the compulsory license imposed on songwriters and music publishers by creating the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) to administer a blanket license under Section 115 of the Copyright Act, which is taken by digital music services. 

The MLC increased transparency through a public database, furthered licensing efficiency through a central administrator, and improved the process for distributing musical work royalties. However, the benefits did not extend to, or remedy, the ongoing issues faced by rightsholders subject to the government rate setting process.

The continued abuse of the statutory system by digital services, most recently Spotify, has made clear that additional action by Congress is needed. The royalty rates paid to musical work copyright owners for uses of those works under the Section 115 blanket license are set in a proceeding before the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB), within the Library of Congress, once every five years. In these proceedings, music publishers and songwriters must face off against some of the biggest tech companies in the world: Spotify, Apple, Amazon, Google, among others to establish rates for the use of musical works.

Because the law prevents private negotiations in a free market, publishers and songwriters have seen ongoing abuse of the statutory system and CRB rate setting process with little ability for recourse. Most recently, Spotify has found a new way to game the statutory rate system to underpay rightsholders by hundreds of millions in royalties.

In March, Spotify began manipulating the compulsory licensing rules and reclassified its premium subscription music service, along with almost 50 million subscribers, into what it is calling a “bundle.” The benefit to taking this action is, under the compulsory royalty rates, bundles attribute less revenue – and therefore pay less in royalties – to the music than a premium subscription music service. Spotify has taken a part of its music service that was previously offered to consumers for free, audiobooks, and it is now calling audiobooks a bundle with its music service to substantially reduce the musical work royalties owed.

Those who do operate in a free market, such as record labels, have negotiated protections against these bad faith tactics. However, music publishers and songwriters have no such leverage under the CRB to do so.

Fortunately, there are solutions Congress can enact that would preserve the benefits of the MMA and the MLC while providing songwriters and publishers a better chance to compete on a level playing field with Big Tech firms like Spotify. Rather than picking who wins and who loses, Congress should allow rightsholders the choice to license through the MLC using the statutorily set royalty rates or to withdraw from the MLC and operate in a free market if they meet certain conditions.

If copyright owners chose to withdraw their copyrights from the blanket license, currently administered by the MLC, they would be required to do the following:

  • Require all rightsholders who exercise this option to provide 6 months’ notice to the Register of Copyrights and the MLC;
  • Require that the withdrawing rightsholders ensure their musical work copyrights and ownership interests are registered in the MLC’s public database;
  • Require the MLC to flag those rightsholders and their catalogues as withdrawn from the MLC blanket license and subject to voluntary license negotiations; and
  • Require copyright holders to maintain with the MLC database current, up-to-date contact information, which would be used to contact for licensing.

This would give rightsholders the option to stay within the current compulsory system or to operate within a free market. It would also restore basic principles of fairness to the market by requiring streaming platforms to deal with music makers as partners. Finally, it would provide a needed point of leverage for songwriters and music publishers to negotiate with streamers, like Spotify, who can otherwise use their power to bend government regulations to their advantage. All of this could be accomplished by building on the successful infrastructure created by the MMA and the MLC.

David Israelite
President and CEO, NMPA

Read CMU's earlier coverage of David Israelite's comments

Publishers look to politicians as Spotify battle heats up
As the bust-up between the music publishers and Spotify over the streaming service’s audiobook bundling continues, the National Music Publishers Association has said it will propose legislative reform to “permanently fix the power imbalance” songwriters face because of a compulsory licence in the US
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