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Songwriters Are Owed Nearly $2B In Unclaimed Royalties!!! — Maybe More — I’ve Been Saying This For Some Time Now (Against Pushback), But Finally The Press Has Confirmed It

Over the last few years, I’ve been researching and sounding the alarm on the growing problem of unclaimed music royalties or so-called “black box” royalties.

I’ve estimated the value of the collective black box to be nearly or above $2B. I’ve presented research, have written extensively and have spoken publicly about this problem, which disproportionately affect independent and legacy songwriters.

Despite my fanfare, industry insiders and stakeholders have shrugged or have blatantly called my estimates a gross overstatement and have held that unclaimed royalties are at best a few hundreds of thousands of dollars and mostly owed to “long-tail artists” who do not quite understand how the music industry works. This is a very myopic, company-focused view. These talking heads tend to speak from their position of administering one right for some music licensees. My estimates are looking at multiple rights administered by multiple entities, which would make the collective black box exponentially greater than the escrow account of a single entity.

Also Read: State of Unclaimed U.S. Music Royalties and Licenses

Yesterday, Variety published an article on the Music Modernization Act where a very important fact was tucked away on a single sentence in a paragraph near the end of the piece:

The DSPs are holding some $1.5 billion in unmatched mechanical royalties. If the MMA passes, that money would be passed through to the MLC which would match it to the songwriters and publishers. [bold and underline added for emphasis]

via Variety

https://variety.com/2018/music/news/music-modernization-act-blackstone-sesac-congress-senate-1202881536/

$1.5B of royalties (I still believe this number is higher) is sitting in, probably, interest-bearing escrow accounts while songwriters and small-to-medium sized music rights holders struggle to understand how and why.

Last year I founded RoyaltyClaim, the world’s first search engine of unclaimed music royalties and licenses, which has recently been acquired by Made In Memphis Entertainment. We’ve helped DIY musicians and rights-holders identify thousands of unclaimed entitlements in just a few months, with one paricular music producer uncovering nearly $150k in unclaimed royalties due to him.

The problem is huge. The system is not transparent. And the people in charge could do a better job communicating these things to rights-holders.

Also Read: I’m Working On A Side Project Addressing ‘Black Box’ Royalties

I’ve been on many panels at music industry conferences where I’ve maintained my position that DIY musicians and small-to-medium sized rights-holders are owed hundreds of millions of dollars, if not several billion, and often my co-panelists have taken a position that my claims are sensational and overstated.

I disagree.

When those on the panel talk about black box we are talking about the aggregate of unclaimed royalties that occur because of any number of factors,’ and not just limited to one service or one collection society, explained moderator Dae Bogan, CEO of TuneRegistry.”

via Billboard

Source: https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/8456271/black-box-royalties-myths-panel-music-biz-2018

Read the Variety article here.

Check out my commentary on black box royalties here.

Introducing, The American Society for Collective Rights Licensing (ASCRL) — The Organization That Wants To Help Visual Artists Collect Their Unclaimed ‘Black Box” Royalties

ascrl

ASCRL homepage. Featured photo © Neil Zlozower

As many of you know, I’ve researched and have written extensively about unclaimed music royalties held in escrow or so-called “black boxes,” which are monies owed to music creators and rights-holders (and founded RoyaltyClaim to address this issue). Today, I want to draw your attention to a similar matter in the world of visual art (e.g. photography, illustration, stills, text design).

eugene-mopsikThis morning I had the pleasure of speaking with Eugene Mopsik, the CEO of the American Society of Collective Rights Licensing (ASCRL). A successful corporate /industrial photographer with over 32 years of experience, Eugene was previously the Executive Director of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP).

Eugene and I talked about issues related to the representation and rights of visual artists and the monetization of their works outside of the United States. He and his co-founders of ASCRL are working to help visual artists claim their fair share of royalties that have long gone to the publishers of visual works.

Similar to musical works (aka compositions or songs) that earn mechanical royalties when the work is reproduced, visual works, in many cases, earn reprographic royalties. Whereas mechanical royalties outside of the U.S. are collected by mechanical rights organizations (MROs) in territories under the MRO’s jurisdiction, reprographic royalties are collected by reprographic rights organizations (RROs) in territories under the RRO’s jurisdication. And, much like the complex web of legal and regulatory issues that makes it challenging for songwriters to collect their ex-U.S. mechanical royalties, similar limitations make it challenging for visual artists to collect their ex-U.S. reprographic royalties.

Antitrust laws has made it difficult to form a collective licensing body. Consequently, the U.S. does not have a local RRO to enter into reciprocal agreements with foreign RROs for the purpose of passing through ex-U.S. reprographic royalties to be paid to U.S. visual artists. Once again, this is similar to the absence of a U.S. MRO for songwriters. Notably, however, the U.S. has made an exception for the collective licensing of performance rights in musical works.

Since 1914, songwriters and composers have been able to join a performance rights organization (PRO) for the collective licensing of performance rights and payment of performance royalties. In the United States, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), SESAC, and Global Music Rights (GMR) are PROs that represent the performance rights of songwriters and publishers.

Currently, when reprographic royalties are earned outside of the United States, they are collected by RROs. RROs then distributes royalties to the publishers of visual works and authors of visual works (visual artists) who’ve joined the RRO. The RRO passes reprographic royalties for works due to members of foreign RROs to the RRO in the respective territory. In cases where the publishers or authors of works are unknown or if the author is an unrepresented U.S. visual artist, royalties are held in escrow and eventually distributed by market share to publishers. In the latter, royalties that are fairly owed to U.S. visual artists are being distributed to publishers. This is what the American Society of Collective Rights Licensing aims to address.

Joining ASCRL is free. Members can submit their works and use the ASCRL claiming portal to claim their entitlements and unlock unclaimed royalties. To learn more about ASCRL or to begin the process of joining, visit http://www.ascrl.org.

Spotify Is Launching A New Streamlined Playlist Submission Tool

An email from ADA announcing Spotify’s new playlist submission tool has gone viral on social media, passed between music industry insiders.

Here’s the full version of the email:

Starting tomorrow July 19th, Spotify is rolling out a beta feature designed to help your teams share unreleased music for playlist consideration. As part of this beta period, both the existing processes and this new, streamlined process will co-exist.

Our beta feature will give you a streamlined way to share unreleased music with our global editorial team. This feature will be available to you in Spotify Analytics and for artists in Spotify for Artists. If you don’t have access to Spotify Analytics, you can reach out to your central team to get access.

“Beta” means this is the first step in making our playlist process better for our partners and for artists. This is a big focus for us, and we’re going to continue to work to make the process better. We definitely encourage you to try out this feature and share any feedback you have with me, so we can continue to improve the product.

Click here to download a pdf overview Spotify has provided. https://adamusic.app.box.com/s/a6bg9iz4u100j9we14ua4014px3m9bc1

Current open questions communicated to Spotify:
– Visibility into which editors have listened to the track
– Ability for editors to insert feedback
– Functionality to get unfinished music to editors
– Functionality to pitch released music – Label filter

Here are guidelines/FAQs we have complied to assist you with this new process:
– How is music pitched?
Music can be pitched from within Spotify Analytics or Spotify for Artists. The track has to be delivered via our standard feed, with an upcoming release date. All pitch-able content is contained in a new ‘upcoming’ tab in the Catalog view within Spotify Analytics.

– Who can pitch music?
Anyone with Spotify Analytics and/or Spotify for Artists access can pitch music.

– What happens if the wrong track is pitched, or if we decide to change the focus track?
Pitches can be overwritten. Spotify will consider the most recent pitch. Submissions show the name of the person who submitted a track, and when the submission was made.

– How long does it take from delivery to ingestion in Analytics?
Product should be visible in Analytics shortly after Spotify has received delivery from the ADA feed.

– I have music that’s not finished but want to share with Spotify. Can this be done?
At the moment, this tool is designed only for music that has been delivered via the feed. Spotify has suggested that we submit music for ingestion via the feed as early as possible. However, music/release planning meetings for long-lead projects should continue to be utilized as a forum to play music for editors in advance.

– What about music that has already been released?
We cannot pitch music through this tool that is already released. Continue to use forms in the short term (although these will be phased out eventually) and communicate priorities directly with the Artist & Label Marketing Team, as well as editors, when relevant.

– What information needs to be provided for a submission?
The follow criteria has been outlined:
Genre
Music culture
Mood
Language
Recording Type
Instrumentation
Artist Origin
Song Description
Marketing Details

– What editors will receive my music?
All submissions are global, meaning all relevant editors based on the criteria submitted will receive the pitch. We have been advised that updates and advance music links should be sent to Artist & Label Marketing team as well as appropriate editors when applicable, but the new process should also be followed.

– If submissions are global, what if local markets want to pitch different tracks?
We will not be able to submit different tracks in different markets. The repertoire owner will be responsible for which track is pitched, but please follow up with local editors to reiterate these track priorities.

– How much music can be pitched each week?
There is no cap on how much music you can pitch weekly. However, you can only pitch one track per product.

– What if you decide to pitch a track from an album?
A pitched track from an album will be highlighted as a priority to editorial, as well as for Release Radar. However, the full album will be available to editorial for programming.

– Release Radar Impact
Pitched tracks will be prioritized within the algorithm for Release Radar playlists. Tracks must be submitted 5 business days prior to release for Release Radar consideration.

– What will happen to the Google Forms we’ve been using?
The current Google forms will continue to run for a period as we transition to the new system. Phase-out has been tentatively scheduled for October 1, 2018.

I wonder how this will affect the numerous Spotify playlist submission services out there.

Dae Bogan To Join Panel On The Future Of Rights Technology At A2IM Indie Week In New York

a2im indie week dae bogan speaker

Dae Bogan will join Shanna Jade (Director of Brand Strategy, Stem) and Rob Weitzner (Head of North America, The state51 Music Group) on the panel “Future of Rights Technology” on Wednesday, June 20th at A2IM (American Association of Independent Music) Indie Week conference taking place at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center in New York. The panel will be moderated by Anna Siegal, SVP FUGA North America.

For more details, visit https://a2im.org/event/a2im-indie-week-2018/

Congress Is Giving Musicians First Chance of Fair Pay in Decades


“‘The MMA gives a digital service like Spotify or Amazon a more convenient way of licensing songs,’ Dae Bogan, founder of music management platform TuneRegistry and a longtime music rights advocate and executive, explains. ‘And it opens a potential windfall of income to legacy artists who were left out of the digital boom.’ But Bogan adds that the legislation doesn’t come close to fixing all, or even most, of the problems in music royalties for labels, publishers and musicians; the simplified processes just make it more likely they’ll get the money they’re due.” via RollingStone

Read the full piece here: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/congress-is-giving-musicians-first-chance-of-fair-pay-in-decades-w520301

5 Ways The Music Modernization Act Could Be Fairer To ALL Music Creators

music modernization act

 

Today, the Music Modernization Act has passed the U.S. House of Representatives with a unanimous 415 – 0 vote (16 reps abstained from voting at all).

The mega bill — which consists of a bundle of Titles that were previously independently proposed bills — will change the way in which musical works are licensed by digital service providers and provide a safe harbor for infringement under a blanket licensing mechanism (Title One – Musical Works Modernization Act); it will bring recordings made before 1972 under federal copyright protection (Title Two – Compensating Legacy Artists for their Songs, Service, and Important Contributions to Society Act or CLASSICS Act); and it will codify an allocation of digital radio royalties to music producers and sound engineers (Title Three – Allocation for Music Producers Act or AMP Act).

On its surface the MMA sounds amazing, when summarized this way.

Accordingly, the passing of the MMA in the House was widely praised by executives from the most recognizable U.S. music rights organizations and trade associations (e.g. NMPA, RIAA, DiMA).

However, there remains many uncertainties in the language of the bill presenting an opportunity for the Senate to course correct before the bill becomes a law that would take over 20 years to improve, again (the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was the last piece of legislation impacting the music business — it was enacted in 1998).

 

Also read: I Was Interviewed By The Congressional Budget Office Regarding The Music Modernization Act, And Now I’m Even More Concerned For DIY Musicians

 

So, what could the Senate do to make the bill more fair to the tens of thousands of music creators who are not represented (or underrepresented) by the industry sponsors of this bill? Well, there’s at least five issues that can be addressed immediately:

  1. Ban the practice of distributing by market share unclaimed royalties that rightfully belong to DIY musicians and songwriters.
  2. Mandate that record companies provide complete and accurate (at the time of release) publishing information for each track within the metadata delivered to distributors/aggregators, and that the latter provides that information to DSPs.
  3. Do not expunge all past copyright infringement claims, only future claims upon the date of the enactment of the law.
  4. Maintain a representative MLC board of 50% publishers and 50% songwriters (with at least 1 unsigned songwriter on the board (e.g. Chance the Rapper)) as opposed to the BS 10 publishers, 4 songwriters (who’ll likely come from the major publishers anyway) that has been written in the bill.
  5. Respect the Berne Convention by not disregarding the musical works of non-US songwriters who have not (and will not) register each of their songs with the USCO or MLC.

How else could the MMA be improved? Or do you feel that it is fair enough? Let’s discuss in the comments.

I Was Interviewed By The Congressional Budget Office Regarding The Music Modernization Act, And Now I’m Even More Concerned For DIY Musicians

cbo1

I just spent the last hour giving a copyright law and music publishing crash course to a Principal Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office who’s tasked with determining the economic impact of the revised Music Modernization Act (which, by the way, now includes the Musical Works Modernization Act (which is an update to the originally proposed MMA, affecting songwriters and publishers), AMP Act (affecting producers and engineers) and CLASSICS Act (affecting recording artists of Pre-1972 records)) on states, DSPs and music creators.

He emailed me yesterday and asked to speak with me about the magnitude of the unclaimed royalties market, although we ended up discussing much more than that. Apparently he had discovered a presentation that I gave at the Music Industry Research Association’s MIRA Conference last year titled “The State of Unclaimed Royalties and Music Licenses in the United States.”

Screenshot (533)

Email from a Principal Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office

At the top of the one hour call he began by stating that he’s had to learn copyright and music publishing in 2 days (2 days!!!). The guy who’s going to contribute to a recommendation to Congress that will impact whether or not 3 different bills will be enacted and change our copyright law has spent only 2 days learning about the complex web of regulations and customs that govern an entire industry and its millions of constituents. I guess this is how legislation is vetted; economically.

The good news is he had a lot of great questions and had did a significant amount of research prior to our call. To be fair, I meet plenty of music industry professionals who have (or at least demonstrate) less knowledge of what’s going on in the world of music rights administration and music publishing than this gentleman; and they’ve spent years in the industry! It is refreshing to know that the government does inquiry with non-lobbyist from time to time when considering the impact of proposed legislation.

At any rate, he was open to hearing my advocacy on behalf of music creators (specifically songwriters, music producers, and recording artists of Pre-1972 records) as well as my substantiated opposition to some features of the revised MMA (generally those features that would disproportionately benefit music licensees (primarily, DSPs) and major publishers while leaving DIY music creators to fend for themselves).

[This paragraph was omitted on 4/20/2018 as a result of a clarification that I received for Title 3 of the MMA]

Another issue I have is with the ownership of the unclaimed mechanical royalties fund(s). The Musical Works Modernization Act (Title 1 of the MMA) would, for the first time, codify the existence of a mechanical royalties black box in the United States. The current US Copyright Act does not give copyright owners a right to earn or collect mechanical royalties if their musical works are not registered with the US Copyright Office.

Here’s an excerpt from one of my articles on the matter:
After the NOI has been filed, it is then the copyright owner’s responsibility to become aware of and locate the NOI, and then take action in order to receive mechanical royalties. The law states, “To be entitled to receive royalties under a compulsory license, the copyright owner must be identified in the registration or other public records of the Copyright Office.” (17 USC 115(c)(1))
The law also makes it clear that the licensee is not required to pay mechanical royalties until after the copyright owner has been identified. “The owner is entitled to royalties for phonorecords made and distributed after being so identified…” (17 USC 115(c)(1)) What’s worse, the law does not require the licensee to pay retroactively for mechanical royalties earned before the copyright owner is identified. “…but is not entitled to recover for any phonorecords previously made and distributed.” (17 USC 115(c)(1))

However, intermediaries (e.g. Harry Fox Agency, Music Reports, Loudr) that process NOIs (Notice of Intent to Obtain a Compulsory Mechanical License) on behalf of their DSP clients do encourage their clients to set aside unattributed mechanical royalties into an escrow account (the so-called “black box”). The royalties sit there until the copyright owner raises his/her/their hand to collect the earnings or until the entity decides to disburse or absorb the uncollected funds.

Generally, this is a “good faith” policy.

Now, since the MMA will codify the black box as a matter of law, this private sector matter will become a government matter. The question, then, is will federal government or state governments have the right to maintain the unclaimed royalties black box?

Currently, unclaimed property laws enable states to receive and hold unclaimed property (such as money) when the property owner can not be reached. For example, California’s Unclaimed Property Law requires corporations, businesses, associations, financial institutions, and insurance companies (referred to as “Holders”) to annually report and deliver property to the California State Controller’s Office after there has been no activity on the account or contact with the owner for a period of time specified in the law – generally (3) three years or more. I’ve had a few refunds from services that I used and cancelled when I moved from one place to another. I did not provide the service with a forwarding address, so my refund became unclaimed property and ended up with the California State Controller. By searching the CSC’s database, I was able to find and then claim the property (pictured below).

If your property goes unclaimed too long (each state has their own statute of limitations), the state has the right to liquidate the property (e.g. sale an unclaimed vehicle) and absorb proceeds as miscellaneous revenue to the state’s budget [lawyers, correct me in the comments if I’m wrong].

Because states unintentionally (benefit of the doubt) benefits from unclaimed property, I could see states with significant music industries (e.g. California (Los Angeles), New York (Greater New York City), Tennessee (Nashville), Georgia (Atlanta)) suing the federal government or the Mechanical Licensing Collective (the entity that would be granted under the MMA to administer a new blanket licensing system along with a centralized database of musical and sound recording copyrights to match works with usage reports submitted by digital services) over the right to collect unclaimed royalties, especially if the black box is hundreds of millions of dollars (which I believe it is).

There are many other issues that I have with the MMA such as the proposed formation, structure (especially the imbalance of representation on its board where there would be 10 publishers and only 4 songwriters (why not 7/7?)), and governance of the MLC and similar unclaimed royalties issues related to the CLASSICS Act; among other issues. I’d be happy to discuss, but this post is already yuge!

In a word, I am all here for improving royalty rates, ensuring the fair treatment of music copyrights and moving towards a more equitable representation of music creators. However, the MMA is not quite there yet and passing it as-is, with all of its ambiguity, would be a shame. I don’t know if the music industry will have another shot to make this kind of update to the Copyright Act in the next 20 plus years (the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 was the last significant update).

We should probably get it right — now.

My Thoughts On The MMA In Light Of The CRB Mechanical License Rate Decision

In light of the CRB’s ruling today to increase mechancial royalty rates for on-demand DSPs, I would caution against passing the Music Modernization Act without first amending it to include some very necessary guarantees for DIY musicians.

Given the recent ruling to increase mechanical rates, penalize DSPs for late payments, and remove the TCC cap DSPs will be more incentivized to cling to the safe harbor components of the MMA to limit their financial responsibility to songwriters.

I also fear that the blanket license (combined with the elimination of the statutory damages provision against infringement) would hurt more DIY musicians than protect compared to the existing compulsory licensing schema where today an independent can fully self-administer his/her mechancial rights via a service like TuneRegistry or with a third-party administrator like Songtrust. Why? Because the unclaimed/unpaid (aka “black box”) royalty fund will also increase by 44%, giving major publishers a bigger windfall of market share distributed gains from a royalty pool that generally belongs to unidentified independent songwriters.

What incentive does DSPs, who must pay the rates anyway, and major publishers, who will undoubtedly control the mechanical licensing collective body, have to ensure the works of DIY musicians are properly represented and accounted to and what power do DIY musicians have to assert their limited rights?

I could be completely and utterly wrong.

However, the devil is in the details and the MMA, while it does streamline the process of mechancial licensing in the United States for DSPs it also effectively limits the warranties and representations of DIY musicians.

Every article written about MMA is generally written from the perspective of publishers and NMPA members. As an advocate for and service provider to DIY musicians, my perspective is a bit different and more nuanced.

The decision today by the CRB was a win for all songwriters. The MMA is a win for major publishers. It must be amended.

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