Yesterday, on-demand music streaming service Spotifydid something pretty big by explaining in detail how it calculates and pays out royalties to rightsholders. With so many music industry pundits and practitioners in a tizzy about the economics of streaming, this move can be generally seen as positive. But as always, the devil is in the details.
It is certainly significant that Spotify took this step—probably long overdue—and we hope that it serves to increase the standard of transparency across the digital music sector. When a market leader like Spotify makes this kind of move, it can be a spur to other players to follow suit. However, it doesn’t really change much in terms of artist leverage on streaming on-demand services, nor does it impact most musicians and songwriters’ bottom lines. We spend a great deal of time considering this stuff—in fact, our own Kristin Thomson recently wrote a post for Music Think Tank about ways to make streaming music more viable for artists. (And if you need a primer on how the money flows on a variety of music platforms, check out these handy charts.)
Is one horn hit sufficiently original and non-trivial to be protected by copyright? No it’s not, says The U.S. District Court of the Central District of California.
In a summary judgment decision filed on Monday, Nov. 18, Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell held that the horn sample allegedly used in Madonna’s double-platinum 1990 hit “Vogue” was not subject to copyright protection because it “lacks originality” and, even if it were copyrightable, the alleged copying is “de minimis.”
For those of you may not be fluent in Latin/legalese, “de minimis” means, literally, “about minimal things.” In sampling cases, it refers to the level below which courts deem the amount a musician takes from a copyrighted work too small to consider copyright infringement. A de minimis standard can be measured quantitatively or qualitatively, and the California court seems to use both in its reasoning. Judge O’Connell notes that the horn hit in Madonna’s song is short in length— just single chord that is repeated percussively. She also notes that the hit is not a component of the “hook” in the plaintiff’s song, “Love Break,” from which the sample was supposedly cribbed. In total, “no reasonable audience” would find the sampled portions significant “nor would they recognize the appropriation.”
Here at FMC, we regularly engage in a kind of protracted dialog with government through public comments and other filings that can extend over years (actually, thirteen and counting!). While we don’t claim to have all the answers, we do believe that our history of direct engagement with musicians, composers, independent labels, publishers, PROs, unions and others is useful for policymakers to consider as they grapple with the many questions facing creators in the digital age.
On Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2013, FMCfiled comments with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) regarding their recent “green paper”—itself a product of the Internet Policy Task Force comprised of USPTO, the Department of Commerce and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Way back in 2010, we filed comments in the original proceeding that resulted in this year’s report, Copyright Policy, Creativity, and Innovation in the Digital Economy [PDF].
Let’s say you’re practicing for karaoke night and you want to learn the lyrics to Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” The internet provides you with many easy options to choose from. What might surprise you is that only some of these options are licensed and legal. In fact, the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA)—the trade group representing music publishers—asserts that over 50 percent of all lyric page views worldwide are on unlicensed pages.
That’s why the NMPA is targeting fifty prominent lyric sites that it contends have failed to obtain licenses for lyrics being reproduced and transmitted. NMPA has sent takedown requests to each site, with the promise of copyright infringement lawsuits if they fail to comply.
Let’s say you’re approached by David Copperfield (it’s OK, don’t run!), and he asks you to be an audience plant for his next big televised spectacle. You’ll be privy to some behind-the-scenes secrets, and outing his magic as merely illusion could be a disaster for his career—other magicians will cop his tricks, his performances will lose their coveted mystique, etc. That’s no good. So to make sure you keep your lips zipped, he presents to you (pulled out of a hat, probably) a non-disclosure agreement. This is a contract that says your discussions regarding this particular event are strictly confidential, and if you go blabbing he can sue you for breach of contract.
Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in this context seem pretty straightforward, but what about all the NDAs that pervade the music industry? Why all the smoke and mirrors obfuscating the terms of agreement between streaming services and major record labels, or deals between aggregators/distributors and YouTube?
The 2013 Future of Music Summit has come to a close. If you weren’t able to attend or watch our webcast, don’t worry; we’ll have video of all mainstage programming at the event available soon. read more
The internet-fueled debate about the pros and cons of Spotify went another round last week, with contributions by David Byrne, Dave Allen, Jay Frank, Bob Lefsetz and Fast Company. I read them all, as I’ve done with the previous public debates about whether Spotify is a good or bad thing for musicians. As an indie record label owner and a long-time advocate for musicians, I care deeply about these debates and, more importantly, about ensuring musicians and songwriters are fairly compensated for their work.
Today, I posted a long-ish thought piece about this on Music Think Tank. Instead of focusing on the arguments about the fraction-of-a-penny rate per play, the article suggests some other changes to these music services that might make a substantive difference for musicians, songwriters and fans.
It’s easy to take the Internet for granted—we use it every day in practically every aspect of our lives. From our personal calendars to our creative projects to our everyday communications, the Internet is how we conduct our business and engage with the world. For artists, the Internet is the crucial means to connect with potential audiences, as well as a powerful platform for creative expression.