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.
You may have heard about controversies over unpaid mechanical royalties on the interactive streaming service Spotify. For us, the bottom line is that songwriters must be properly paid when their music is played on any service. In this post, we’ll examine the reasons this isn’t happening across the board.
First, it might be helpful to understand a bit more about what a mechanical royalty is, how it is licensed and whom it pays. read more
On May 29, 2015, Judge Lous Stanton of the Southern District Court of New York reached a decision in a dispute over rates paid by the webcaster Pandora to the performance rights organization (PRO) BMI. This court oversees rate-setting for songwriters and publishers when their works are “performed” on any form of radio (as well as live venues, bars and restaurants).
Judge Stanton’s ruling sets BMI’s new fee at 2.5 percent of revenue from Pandora, up from the previous 1.75—an increase of 43 percent. However, a separate judge from the same district court reached an entirely different decision about rates for Pandora and ASCAP (the other main PRO). In that ruling, from May 6, Judge Denise Coteheld rates at 1.85 percent.
On its surface, it looks like the judges presiding over each case simply have divergent views regarding what the rates should be. And this may be true, but there are additional factors to consider.
Rumors are flying around about the US Department of Justice (DOJ) potentially changing the rules that govern how performing rights organizations (PROs) ASCAP and BMI negotiate, collect and distribute publisher and songwriter royalties. read more
If you’re seeking lyrics to your favorite songs online, you now have two fewer sites to choose from. That’s because back on May 21, the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) filed lawsuits against two unlicensed lyrics sites, SeekLyrics.com and LyricsTime.com, as the latest step in an ongoing effort to ensure that publishers and songwriters get compensated when lyrics are reproduced and transmitted online. Since then, these offending sites have disappeared from the internet. But don’t worry; you probably won’t notice they’re gone, and you can instead choose from one of the plethora of licensed and legal alternatives.
You may have heard that the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating potential anticompetitive behavior by major music publishers and Performing Rights Organizations (PROs), which collect and distribute royalties to songwriters and publishers for the performance of musical compositions. These “blanket licenses” are made possible by DOJconsent decrees and cover all forms of broadcast as well as concert venues or other establishments that publicly perform music (think bars or restaurants).
Make no mistake, PROs are crucially important to songwriters. They provide leverage to artists who wouldn’t otherwise have it in rate negotiations with music services; they pay their songwriter members directly under fair splits (50-50 between artist and publisher); and they allow music to be efficiently licensed to AM/FM, Internet and satellite radio, which means listeners have more opportunities to hear music, and songwriters have more opportunities to get paid.
by Kevin Erickson, Communications Associate & Jordan Reth, Policy Fellow
You may remember back in March 2013, when Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante—our nation’s highest ranking copyright official—told the House Judiciary Subcomittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, “Music licensing is so complicated and broken that if we get that right, we can get the whole [copyright] statute right.”
Well, after more than a year of hearings examining the nation’s copyright laws from many different angles, that same subcommittee finally tackled music licensing directly on June 10. It was a wide-ranging discussion, touching on multiple pieces of legislation currently under consideration, offering a preview of legislation around the corner, and laying out a range of views of how music licensing ought to be structured.
Back in November, the National Music Publishers Association, the trade group representing major publishers targeted 50 prominent song lyric websites they contended were reproducing and transmitting song lyrics without permission. At the top of their list of offending sites: Rap Genius.
Now Billboard reports that Rap Genius has finally made peace with the NMPA and a licensing deal has been struck.
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.