The internet is the channel used to keep an open flow of communication between artists and their audiences worldwide. For musicians, access to a level playing field online is crucial for both free expression and making a living. They can’t afford to get stuck in the slow lane because they don’t have the right deals with corporate partner. That’s why so many musicians fought hard for strong Net Neutrality protections, joining with civil rights groups, consumer advocates and media activists, and it’s the reason they pledged to defend the FCC against attacks on these protections.
But some in Congress take a different view. On Friday morning, the House will vote on another misguided attempt to roll back the net neutrality rules adopted by the FCC in February of 2015.
Last week, SoundCloud launched their new paid subscription service—yes, another on-demand streaming site. SoundCloud Go, as they’ve named it, promises many things such as a larger catalogue and maintaining the user-friendly interface they’re popular for, but when it comes to the details of artist compensation, it leaves much to the imagination. In other words they’ve decided not to disclose much information or have not yet figured everything out yet. read more
Canadian musicians have long expressed their frustration with the process of obtaining visas to cross the border and legally tour in the United States. But that may soon change, thanks to the introduction of new bipartisan legislation intended to streamline the process.
The proposed “Bringing Entertainment Artists to the States” (BEATS) Act, introduced by representatives Dave Trott (R-MI), Chris Collins (D-NY) and Peter Welch (D-VT) would speed up the process of obtaining a P-2 visa for Canadian musicians. Right now ,a touring musician typically must acquire a petition from a United States organization to obtain a visa. The petioner is usually a venue, presenting organization, booking agent, management company, etc, and the petition includes a list of dates and venues of performances. These petitions are processed in advance by mail, and can involve unexpected delays.
But under the BEATS act, musicians would be able to file an application for admission into the United States with an immigration officer at any Class A port of entry located on the border of the United States and Canada, or at any pre-clearance station at a canadian airport, right on their way into the US. They’d just need to have the paperwork with the signature of the petitioner and the appropriate supporting documentation ready.
Since then there have been several lawsuits—first with a case against Spotify from David Lowery of the bands Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, followed by Flo & Eddie of vintage pop act The Turtles, who earlier sued digital radio services for not paying royalties on pre-’72 sound recordings. Then came a suit against Spotify by singer-songwriter Melissa Ferrick. And just this week saw an infringement claim from Yesh Music LLC and John Emanuele, who allege nonpayment from several music services, including Tidal, Beats Music (now Apple Music), Google Play, Slacker, Deezer, Microsoft and Rdio (the latter’s assets now owned by Pandora, pending successful Rdio bankruptcy).
What the heck is going on here?
To answer that question, we’ll need to back up a bit. First, you should probably check out our original post. If you don’t have time for that, here are a few basic points to understand:
1. There are two copyrights in a piece of music: the sound recording (imagine performances captured on tape or hard drive) and the musical work (imagine notes on paper and lyrics). A music service like Spotify must license both “sides” of the musical copyright in order to run their business.
2. Under U.S. law, anyone can obtain a license to make a reproduction or distribution of an underlying composition without having to directly negotiate permission with the copyright owner(s), provided they follow the guidelines laid out in Section 115 of the Copyright Act. To be eligible for a compulsory license, a user has to send a Notice of Intent (NOI) to at least one of the publishers of a musical work no later than 30 days before making the reproduction/distribution (for streaming, the understanding is that the reproduction and distribution happens at the time of transmission). The compulsory license—which you may hear people refer to as just “the compulsory”—also lays out specifics for reporting and royalty distribution. The user has to send monthly accounting statements and pay on a 30-day schedule. If a user cannot locate one of the publishers to serve, they can file notice with the US Copyright Office, which, for a small fee, will publish the until a publisher comes forward. Failure of a licensee to comply with any of these provisions renders them ineligible for the license and potentially liable for infringement.
It has come to light that not all of the mechanical royalties owed for songs played on digital music services like Spotify have been paid out to rights holders, a fact uncontested by several of the services. In Spotify’s case, the amount owed is allegedly anywhere from 16 to 25 million dollars. Lowery had been pointing to discrepancies in licensing and royalty distribution well before it came to the attention of NMPA, the trade industry group that representing music publishers. Rather than waiting around for the matter to be settled by the large corporate players, on December 28, 2015, Lowery filed a lawsuit against Spotify seeking class status so that other songwriters could be awarded damages should the case for infringement prevail. Since then, we’ve seen a flurry of litigation, though it remains to be seen where these cases end up.
It’s often said that is a universal language that can bridge cultural, political, and geographic divides. Indeed, cross-pollination from all corners of the globe has inspired incredible collaborations and innovative sounds. But for foreign artists, international travel isn’t always easy when they want to share their gifts with U.S. audiences. read more
If you’re in the music business or hanging around the music business, you’ve probably heard about blockchain—an emerging technology that has taken on near-mythical proportions in the minds of many.
What is blockchain? Well, at its most basic, it’s a decentralized, open database that records transactions in a ledger comprising “blocks” of information. Most people associate blockchain with BitCoin, a cryptocurrency that has inspired plenty of breathless reporting. But blockchain doesn’t have to be married to invisible Internet money. It can ride on top of the aforementioned ledger like a smart database that works in any digital environment.
If that sounds like a whole lotta ‘bot talk, we understand. But it’s probably a good idea to get better acquainted with blockchain, because we think it’s going to power a great many services and processes that are currently slow, inefficient and prone to fraudulence.
Slow, inefficient and prone to fraudulence? Sounds familiar. But instead of complaining, let’s crank up the speakers and fix some stuff. There are currently a lot of smart folks trying to figure out ways that blockchain can resolve the music industry’s longstanding issues with transparency and accountability. Just weeks ago, Imogen Heap partnered with developers Ujo and Etherium to release what appears to be the very first song on the blockchain. That was kind of like the moon landing for music tech-nerds. And there are many more experiments forthcoming.
SXSW is here again, and as usual, Future of Music Coalition staff and board are well represented at America’s biggest music conference. Amidst the BBQ, margaritas, and awesome music, we encourage you to make time to check out these can’t-miss panels and sessions featuring your favorite FMC superheroes.
For the estimated 2.4 million people incarcerated in the United States, without access to many of the pleasures that we all take for granted, the ability to listen to music is deeply valuable. As our friends at Jail Guitar Doors have demonstrated, music can play an important role in rehabilitation and healing. After all, music is a universal language, a cross-cultural unifier that builds bonds of empathy and understanding.
But some former federal prisoners are now arguing that their access to music has been wrongly compromised after leaving the prison walls behind. In a recent complaint, five former inmates allege that SanDisk Corp. and Advanced Technologies Group LLC (ATG) are taking advantage of an exclusive contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to financially exploit this vulnerable population at a time when their focus should be on successful reintegration into society. In the class action suit, filed in a United States District Court in Michigan, the former inmates assert claims for Sherman Antitrust Act violations, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, unjust enrichment, conversion, unconscionability and violations of state consumer protection laws.
Another year, another massive merger. Recall back in April 2015, when cable/internet behemoth Comcast—also owners of the major content studio NBC-Universal—walked away from its planned acquisition of Time Warner Cable, after folks like Future of Music Coalition pointed out how devastating this deal would be to content creators and Internet users. Well, now another slightly-less-massive cable co., Charter Communications, is attempting to gobble up TWC. If allowed to go through, this deal would create a true Mega Cable conglomerate with the same incentive as Comcast to call the shots on content and innovation while depriving creators and fans of choice in the legitimate digital marketplace.
Think of your favorite song. Now think of how often you keep change in your pockets. Besides buying a record at retail, on-demand listening used to mean plunking cash money into a special machine called a jukebox. This bulky device, still found at dive bars and themed restaurants, would play your selection based on a combination of letters and numbers. These days, you can dial up music on-demand and on the go from the likes of Spotify, Rhapsody, Google Play, Apple Music and Tidal. These services offer huge catalogs of music, some of them for free, depending on whether a service has an ad-supported tier. This all sounds amazing, but it’s completely reshaped the way artists get paid.
Fully licensed, on-demand streaming (also known as “interactive”) has been around since 2006, when Rhapsody came online. As is often the case with experimental formats, at that point, no one was completely sure how adoption and economics would play out. Some predicted a new golden age for recorded music revenue; this may end up being the case for copyright owners with sizable catalogs (like major labels and some independents), but things look a lot different at the individual creator level. It’s not that the services are not paying out—according to Spotify, they deliver approximately 70 percent of their total earnings to copyright owners, which mirrors the percentages of most download stores—it’s more about deal structures, how pricing works, how it impacts other revenue streams, and how royalties are distributed.