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.
As of this writing, there are currently 116,133 verifiable* payments owed to music creators and rights-holders that are sitting in unclaimed/undistributed royalties escrow accounts (referred to as “Black Box” funds**) in the United States.
The actual number of individual payments owed is likely closer to or exceeds 1 Million, however the actual number is unknown because the administrator(s) of some of the biggest Black Box funds have not made public their list of payees to whom they owe royalties.
Unfortunately, due to the statute of limitations on these funds many of these payments expire. Every month payees unknowingly forfeit their rights to these payments and the interest in the royalties revert back to the administrator. This happens because the payee does not contact the administrator of the fund to claim their royalties. Granted, most payees are unaware that these payments are waiting for them because the administrator is unable to reach the payee for various reasons.
It has been estimated that the global “Black Box” royalties could be in the billions of dollars owed to music creators and rights-holders.
Imagine working somewhere and then you do not receive a paycheck because the HR department does not have your new address. Not a perfect analogy, but not receiving monies that you’ve earned as a result of your hard work seems unfair.
THIS IS A HUGE PROBLEM
So, I am happy to announce that I am working on a side project called Royalty Claim. Royalty Claim will attempt to work with as many of these administrators to aggregate their databases of millions of records of unclaimed/undistributed royalties and make that information available to the public. There are other services and insight that we will offer through Royalty Claim to help educate music creators and rights-holders on Black Box funds and how to limit/prevent their earnings from falling victim to the broken global music licensing ecosystem (such as taking control of your music catalog with TuneRegistry).
Also, follow @RoyaltyClaim on Twitter.
* These 116,133 payments are specifically verifiable because the list of payee names can be gathered from several databases.
** I am currently aware of over 30 funds and sub funds being managed in the United States. However, there are definitely many more that are “private”.
On Wednesday, as part of the “GRAMMYs in My District” initiative, I will join a select group of fellow The Recording Academy / The GRAMMYs members to meet with Congressman Adam Schiff to discuss the rights of music creators. And across the United States, other members will be meeting with their district’s Congress persons as well.
I hope to be able to address the issues that I care about, which affects music creators across the US. I want to urge my Congressman Schiff to support the Fair Play Fair Pay Act, which would create an income stream for artists when their music is played on AM/FM radio (much like the rest of the world) and support the AMP Act, which would allocate royalties to music producers and engineers when the music they’ve worked on is performed on SiriusXM, Music Choice, Pandora, and over 2,500 webcasters and digital music services.
In light of the recent firing of the Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallante, which happened oddly at a time when Google and Amazon is using the loopholes of the U.S. Copyright Act to avoid paying thousands of songwriters for the use of millions of songs across their music properties, I want to address if and how Congress plans to close these loopholes that enable wealthy multinational corporations to stiff the little guys. And I would like Congress to help us move towards a system of equitable representation of songwriters and fair market royalty rates for compulsory licenses.
We will be posting updates during and after these meetings across social media. Follow the hashtag #GIMD for posts. Learn more about The Recording Academy’s Advocacy & Public Policy at www.grammy.org/recording-academy/advocacy.