Business News CMU Digest

CMU Digest 02.07.23: Astroworld, Music In The Air, Genius, festival drug testing, US compulsory licence

By | Published on Sunday 2 July 2023

Travis Scott

The key stories from the last week in the music business…

A grand jury declined to charge Travis Scott and others in relation to the Astroworld tragedy. Ten people died and hundreds more were injured when a crowd surge occurred during Scott’s headline set at the 2021 edition of the Houston-based festival he founded. In addition to the hundreds of lawsuits filed in relation to the incident, the Houston Police Department undertook an extensive criminal investigation, ultimately producing a report that ran to over 1000 pages. A grand jury spent several hours reviewing that report to ascertain whether there were grounds for criminal charges against Scott or several people involved in organising the festival. Jurors concluded no, in what is known as a “no bill” decision. Commenting on that, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg told reporters: “Our investigators and prosecutors gave everything they had to ensure that the grand jury could reach the truth of the matter. That is our job: to find justice, even when and in the midst of a terrible tragedy. And in this case, that justice was no bill”. [READ MORE]

Goldman Sachs published the latest edition of its Music In The Air report. Analysts reduced their previous prediction for music market growth this year from 8% to 7.1%, but remained optimistic about the potential for future growth in the wider market through to 2030. Moving forward streaming subscription prices are more likely to keep up with inflation, they said, plus there is a multi-billion dollar opportunity to better serve super-fans among the streaming service subscriber bases. The bankers also predicted another round of “major structural change” within the music industry. That partly relates to the streaming business and the increased consensus that the core business model employed by the premium streaming services needs to change. But it also relates to the impact generative AI will have on the music industry, which poses both challenges and opportunities. [READ MORE]

The US Supreme Court declined to consider the Genius v Google legal battle. Lyrics site Genius accused Google of lifting content off its website to put in the search engine’s info boxes. It claimed that the clever insertion of apostrophes or spaces into the lyrics it published proved Google was sourcing content from its website without permission. Google denied any wrongdoing. The problem for Genius, however, was that it doesn’t own the copyright in the lyrics on its site, so it couldn’t sue Google for copyright infringement. Instead it sued for breach of contract, on the basis Google had breached its website’s terms of service. But Google successfully argued that because this was really a copyright dispute, Genius couldn’t make a breach of contact claim, because “Section 301 of the US Copyright Act preempts common law claims that, inter alia, are ‘equivalent to any of the exclusive rights within the general scope of copyright’”. Genius asked the Supreme Court to intervene, arguing that the rulings against it in the lower courts set a dangerous precedent. But the top US court said no. [READ MORE]

MPs and musicians signed a letter calling on the UK government’s Home Office to change its current position on drug testing at music festivals. A number of festivals now test drugs on site – usually drugs confiscated by police or security – to assess whether there are any substances in circulation that could pose heightened risk to those consuming them. That information is then pushed out through social media, and provided to police and on-site medical personnel. Manchester’s Parklife festival has previously undertaken work of that kind in liaison with the city’s police force. However, this year it was told that a licence was also required directly from the Home Office. Given that getting that licence can take up to three months, the event wasn’t able to do any drug testing this year. With concerns that the Home Office’s current policy position will stop drug testing at other festivals this summer, the letter organised by Sam Tarry MP stated: “The decision to prevent this testing from going ahead is short-sighted and dangerous. We urge you to reconsider this decision and allow this vital testing to continue”. [READ MORE]

Songwriter George Johnson called on the American Copyright Office to review the compulsory licence that exists in the US covering the mechanical copying of songs. That compulsory licence means that the royalties received by songwriters and music publishers from physical discs, downloads and streaming are ultimately set by a panel of judges on the Copyright Royalty Board, rather than the songs sector negotiating bespoke licensing deals in the open market. In a recent letter to the Copyright Office, now published by Digital Music News, Johnson said of the century old compulsory licence, “there are many problems arising from it’s use, and misuse, not intended by Congress, the Constitution, [or] copyright law”. Johnson would like the compulsory licence to be reviewed, with a full repeal of said licence to be among the things that is considered. [READ MORE]

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