Business News CMU Digest

CMU Digest 13.03.22: Ed Sheeran, Ukraine response, Katy Perry, RIAA, TikTok

By | Published on Sunday 13 March 2022

Ed Sheeran

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

Ed Sheeran was in court testifying in the ‘Shape Of You’ song-theft legal battle. Sheeran and his songwriting collaborators are accused of ripping off the earlier track ‘Oh Why’ by Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue when they wrote their 2017 hit. Sheeran and his co-writers Johnny McDaid and Steven McCutcheon all gave similar testimonies, insisting that they had never heard ‘Oh Why’ before writing ‘Shape Of You’, and that the musical elements that the two songs share are commonplace in pop music. They also argued that the fact Sheeran’s team has, in the past, done deals with the writers of songs that have heavily influenced his music – including with the writers of TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’ in relation to ‘Shape Of You’ – doesn’t mean he is particularly prone to lift ideas from other songs during his songwriting process. Sheeran and McDaid also said that they settled another song-theft lawsuit in relation to their song ‘Photograph’ not because they thought they had infringed earlier song ‘Amazing’, as was claimed, but because they were advised to settle given uncertainties regarding how plagiarism claims would fair in the US courts in the wake of the 2015 ‘Blurred Lines’ ruling. [READ MORE]

More music companies confirmed they were cutting ties with Russia following its invasion of Ukraine. Over the week all three major labels – Universal Music, Sony Music and Warner Music – said they were suspending their operations in Russia, which has been a key growth market for the record industry in recent years. Moves also began to exclude the Russian collecting societies from the global collective licensing system, with UK society PRS suspending its reciprocal relationship with its Russian counterpart RAO. Spotify confirmed it was no longer selling advertising or subscriptions in Russia, although its free service is still available in the country, mainly so that Russians can access foreign coverage of the war in Ukraine. [READ MORE]

The US Ninth Circuit appeals court sided with Katy Perry in the ‘Dark Horse’ song-theft case. Christian rapper Marcus Gray claims that Perry’s hit rips off his 2008 track ‘Joyful Noise’, and at first instance a jury agreed with him, ordering Perry and her songwriting collaborators to pay Gray $2.8 million in damages. But the judge overseeing the proceedings then overturned the jury’s ruling on the basis the musical elements shared by ‘Dark Horse’ and ‘Joyful Noise’ were too short and commonplace to be protected by copyright. Gray appealed. But the Ninth Circuit said the lower court judge had the power to rule on whether or not the repeating ostinato shared by the two songs was protected by copyright in isolation, and that she was right to conclude that it was not. The ruling further confirms that the US appeals court remains cautious about over-extending copyright protection in a way that could hinder the songwriting process. [READ MORE]

The Recording Industry Association Of America confirmed that the US recorded music market grew by 23% in 2021. That’s based on retail revenues, which grew to $15 billion. On a wholesale basis, revenues were up 22% to $9.8 billion. The streaming boom powered the growth, with premium streaming accounting for nearly two-thirds of total revenue. Streaming at large generated 83% of the money. But both vinyl and CD sales were up too, though CDs only because 2020 sales were hit particularly hard by the COVID shutdown, with the $584 million generated in 2021 still down on the $615 million made in 2019. The total revenues of $15 billion exceed what the US record industry made at the peak of the CD boom in 1999, though not when adjusted for inflation. With that adjustment, the US recorded music market is still down 37% on that late 1990s peak. [READ MORE]

TikTok launched a new portal for music-makers including free music distribution, to both TikTok and other streaming services. TikTok SoundOn allows DIY artists to directly upload their music into the video-sharing platform’s music clips library and to earn royalties if their tracks are used in videos. It also offers a range of other tools and support, including music distribution. Artists can use SoundOn to get their tracks into Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, Deezer, Joox and Instagram, plus Resso, which is run by TikTok owner Bytedance. There is no upfront cost to using SoundOn’s distribution services, though it will charge a 10% commission on royalties from non-Bytedance owned platforms after a year. [READ MORE]

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