I Was Interviewed By The Congressional Budget Office Regarding The Music Modernization Act, And Now I’m Even More Concerned For DIY Musicians
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.”
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.
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.
Today, I’m happy to say that after weeks of discussions, Google has come onboard toRoyalty Claim to make it possible for DIY music creators to get DIRECT LICENSING DEALS with Google Play Music and YouTube.
Read more in Royalty Claim’s Facebook post.
Royalty Claim Initiative‘s mission is clear:
“To aid in creating transparency in the global music licensing ecosystem.”
We do this by conducting research into the global music licensing ecosystem to understand where and why royalties go uncollected. The Royalty Claim Platform is a FREE online search engine empowering music creators and rights-holders with access to the data about unclaimed royalties and music licenses.
After a rocky launch weekend, we are happy to announce that we’ve just made over 22 Million more Section 115 NOI records searchable. Copyright owners (or their agents) can create a free account, search for free, and initiate claims for free.
Harry Fox Agency, Music Reports Inc, MediaNet and Loudr are among the licensee agents that will receive claim notifications via Royalty Claim for Section 115 NOIs filed on behalf of digital service providers such as Spotify, Google Play Music, Microsoft Groove Music, Pandora, iHeartMedia and Amazon Music.
Join today and search for free at www.royaltyclaim.com
To raise awareness of the Section 115 copyright issue, Royalty Claim created a Spotify playlist containing songs on Spotify for which Spotify has not paid out mechanical royalties. Read the story here.
This post was originally written for and published on Repost Network’s blog.
With the rise of music distributors and digital music aggregators, it has never been easier for an indie artist to release and monetize their music across the global digital music ecosystem. The Digital Music Era has significantly lowered the barriers to entry to the top outlets for music search and discovery; and startup entrepreneurs continue to develop and launch new platforms to innovate search, discovery, sharing, and access.
Today, music fans can easily access music from their favorite artists or discover new artists to fall in love with, pitting major established artists against their up-and-coming indie artist counterparts. And the music industry is changing for the better as a result (the Recording Academy now recognizes music released on free services for GRAMMY Award consideration and Billboard has accepted YouTube and SoundCloud streams for the purpose of charting).
Innovation in technology has made it possible for any indie artist with decent enough production tools and access to the Internet to record and release new music at any time. And with thousands of artists pumping out new music, it is no wonder that the industry has grown to over one million new tracks entering the global music market every month.
Each of these tracks begin earning royalties from its first play on any of the 400+ digital music services and 3,000+ webcasters operating around the world. And all of these royalties, billions of dollars of royalties, flow through a complex network of pipelines into various buckets of royalty collection with the ultimate goal of trickling down to the appropriate music creators and rightsholders. While this sounds straight-forward for a number of reasons this is far from a smooth process; and millions of dollars in royalties are in fact not making its way to the music creators and rightsholders to which they are due.
Part of the reason starts with you, the music creator. It is especially important for independent artists to understand the various income streams that your releases generate and the ways in which you must be setup to collect your royalties.
Here is an awesome infographic created by Future Music Coalition that visually breaks down how creators are compensated. Below it, I highlight five royalty streams that every indie artist should be setup to collect.
If you plan to release music digitally, you should be aware of and setup to collect all of the royalty streams that your music earns. Your music earns royalties for the use of two different copyrights. The first is the copyright for the composition (song). The second is the copyright for the sound recording (master). These two copyrights earn royalty streams that are collected and paid out by different sources to different income participants, as explained below.
Royalty Stream 1: Performance Royalties for Compositions
With few exceptions, virtually all uses of your composition earns performance royalties. Performance royalties are earned when your composition is played on digital radio-like services (e.g. Pandora), when your composition is accessed and played through on-demand streaming services (e.g. Spotify), and when your composition is performed in venues, bars, and restaurants. All of these companies have performance licenses from one or more performing rights organization (PRO). In the United States, ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and Global Music Rights are the PROs who issue blanket licenses for the performance rights in compositions to digital music services. In return, these services pay royalties to these PROs. The PROs then pay 50% to the songwriter(s) of the composition and 50% to the publisher(s), in accordance with the publishing splits reported to the PRO by the copyright owners. In order to collect performance royalties, you must join a PRO and register your composition (your songs) and the associated ownership splits (for example, 4 Writers might have equal ownership (25% each) or varied ownership (Writer 1 – 25%, Writer 2 – 50%, Writers 3 – 12.5%, Writer 4 – 12.5%)) to the PRO in a timely manner. One of the reasons music creators and rightholders do not receive the performance royalties that their compositions earn is because they have not joined a PRO or have not registered their songs with their PRO.
Royalty Stream 2: Mechanical Royalties for Compositions
Mechanical royalties are earned when your composition is reproduced and distributed in phonorecords (a medium in which a sound recording is stored). This includes compositions embodied in sound recordings stored in physical formats (CDs, vinyl, cassette), MP3 permanent downloads (e.g. iTunes), and interactive streams (e.g. Spotify). In the digital music sector, streaming services secure mechanical licenses either directly from copyright owners or by utilizing the compulsory license as provided by copyright laws. Regardless of how they secure their mechanical license, the major services pay mechanical royalties to Harry Fox Agency (HFA) and Music Reports Inc. (MRI), who then pay the publishers of the composition. One of the reasons music creators and rightsholders do not receive the mechanical royalties that their compositions earn is because they have not registered their songs with HFA or MRI, who help digital music services secure the mechanical licenses. For unsigned indie artists, this can be much more difficult if you do not have a publisher because HFA only represents eligible publishers who’ve affiliated with them. MRI is a rights administrator and will issue notices to copyright owners if their digital music service clients intend to utilize the copyright owner’s composition in a manner that requires a mechanical license. Spotify pays HFA mechanical royalties for the compositions used in their platform. Amazon Music pays MRI mechanical royalties for the compositions used in their platform. (Note that in the United States, iTunes passes the mechanical royalty to the distributor, who then pays the label. If you’re an unsigned artist, then you receive the income since you are your own label. Outside of the United States, iTunes and on-demand services such as Spotify pay mechanical royalties to a mechanical licensing society in the territory represented by the society. In order to capture these foreign mechanical royalties, a publisher or administrator must affiliate with and register the compositions with the foreign mechanical collection society.)
Royalty Stream 3: Permanent Download Royalties for Masters
A permanent download is generally a sales transaction through a digital retail store (e.g. iTunes). This income is passed along to the distributor, who then pays the label (less any applicable commissions). If you’re unsigned artist, then you receive the income since you are your own label.
Royalty Stream 4: Interactive/On-demand Streaming Royalties for Masters
Just like a permanent download, interactive/on-demand streams (e.g. Spotify) of sound recordings generates master use royalties that is passed along to the distributor, who then pays the label (less any applicable commissions). If you’re unsigned artist, then you receive the royalties since you are your own label.
Royalty Stream 5: Non-Interactive Streaming Royalties for Masters
Unlike a permanent download or interactive/on-demand streams of sound recordings, non-interactive streams are not paid to your distributor. Webcasters and digital services that broadcast recordings over the Internet (e.g. Pandora, iHeart Radio), cable (e.g. Music Choice), and satellite (e.g. SiriusXM) in radio-style programming where the end users/listeners have limited to no control over the selection of music (non-interactive) pay a royalty for the digital performance of sound recordings to SoundExchange. SoundExchange then pays out 45% of the royalties to the featured performers on the recording, 50% to the copyright owner of the master recording, and 5% to a fund for background vocalists and session musicians maintained by AFM & SAG-AFTRA Intellectual Property Rights Distribution Fund. One of the reasons music creators and rightholders do not receive the non-interactive royalties that their masters earn is because they have not joined SoundExchange or have not registered their tracks with their SoundExchange.
When you release music digitally, you should be aware of the various royalty streams that your music earns, where those royalties are collected, and how to claim your earnings. Your distributor is one source of income for two of the royalty streams mentioned. To unlock the rest of your royalties, you’d need a capable publisher and a record company or you’d need to stay on top of the administration yourself.
A great way to keep track of all of these royalties is a service we recommend called TuneRegistry.
TuneRegistry is an all-in-one music rights and metadata management platform for the independent music community. Easily organize and store your song details, recording metadata, credits and ownership splits, and release information in your TuneRegistry account. It’s your robust music catalog manager that’s accessible online, so you don’t have to worry about tracking down emails, storing through documents in various desktop and cloud folders, losing collaborator contact information, or any of the other messy issues that most indie artists face.
TuneRegistry is your one-stop source for keeping your music catalog in check.
The advantage of TuneRegistry over other catalog management systems is that we’ve integrated the registrations process directly to ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, Music Reports, SoundExchange, and many more. Save time, reduce errors, and unlock royalties with our integrated registrations module. We make it super easy to get your music registrations to the organizations and data services who need it.
Preface: Every day I receive emails, phone calls, text messages and social media pings from indie artists, bands, music producers and artist managers seeking advice on their music career or insight into the music industry in general. In addition, after speaking on panels, teaching workshops or guest lecturing at music production schools I participate in Q&A sessions that yield all kinds of questions. Often, the advice sought is due to some very specific recent incident in their music career pursuits. I’ve created this series to offer a glimpse into the indie music community–the good, the bad and the ugly. These are their stories; the #IndieMusicStories. [All names are fictional. I’ve changed the names of the real person to protect his/her identity.]
- June 2020
- May 2020
- April 2020
- March 2020
- February 2020
- December 2019
- November 2019
- October 2019
- September 2019
- August 2019
- July 2019
- June 2019
- May 2019
- April 2019
- March 2019
- January 2019
- December 2018
- November 2018
- October 2018
- September 2018
- August 2018
- July 2018
- June 2018
- May 2018
- April 2018
- March 2018
- February 2018
- January 2018
- December 2017
- November 2017
- October 2017
- September 2017
- August 2017
- July 2017
- June 2017
- May 2017
- April 2017
- March 2017
- February 2017
- January 2017
- November 2016
- October 2016
- September 2016
- August 2016
- July 2016
- June 2016
- May 2016
- April 2016
- March 2016
- February 2016
- December 2015
- November 2015
- October 2015
- September 2015
- August 2015
- July 2015
- June 2015
- May 2015
- April 2015
- March 2015
- February 2015
- January 2015
- November 2014
- October 2014
- September 2014
- August 2014
- July 2014
- June 2014
- May 2014
- April 2014
- March 2014
- February 2014
- January 2014
- December 2013
- November 2013
- October 2013
- September 2013
- August 2013
- July 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- September 2012
- August 2012