|MONDAY 9 JANUARY 2023||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: TikTok rival Triller has started the new year with another music industry lawsuit to contend with, this time from Universal Music. The major label claims that the video-sharing app has failed to make the payments due under its licensing deal with the major for nine months now. If that sounds familiar, that's because Sony Music similarly accused Triller of failing to make payments in a lawsuit back in August last year... [READ MORE]|
Universal Music sues Triller over missing payments and data
In its new legal filing, submitted last week to the LA Superior Court, Universal also claims that Triller has failed to provide quarterly usage reports documenting how the major's music has been used in videos uploaded to the social media platform. With the missing money and data, Universal has now terminated its licensing deal with the Triller business.
The fact that Triller has failed to make the payments it promised to pay Universal is all the more annoying, the music firm says in its lawsuit, because "during the same time period that Triller was defaulting on its payment and reporting obligations, it was reported that Triller was spending substantial amounts of money acquiring companies, including Julius and Fangage, and throwing lavish events catering to members of the media and entertainment industry".
Triller previously fell out with Universal in early 2021, with the major withdrawing its catalogue from the video-sharing app for a time. However, a new licensing deal was then agreed in May that year.
But tensions between Triller and a number of its music industry partners began to increase again last year. In addition to the legal battle with Sony, it emerged last month that the social media firm had allowed its deal with indie label repping Merlin to lapse.
Ever since the original Universal spat in 2021, Triller has tended to be quite blasé about any run-ins with the music industry, playing down the significance of its licensing deals and, since Sony went legal, the litigation.
Last month, after it emerged that Triller was removing a sizeable chunk of the music previously available within its app, the company also played down the importance of music to its business in general. It argued then that people posting videos on its platform would rather create their own soundtracks or utilise audio uploaded by other Triller creators.
Therefore, unsurprisingly, Triller is playing down the significance of its new legal battle with the biggest music rights company in the world.
A spokesperson told Variety that the new lawsuit was "minor" and pretty standard for digital firms working with the music industry. They also claimed that the dispute was with the publishing side of Universal specifically, and that the lawsuit "has no impact whatsoever on Triller or its business".
"This is a dispute about publishing for a very small percentage of the catalogue, and is the ordinary course of business for the music industry and over a small amount of money", the spokesperson continued. "This will be decided upon in a proper venue in a few years, and we clearly believe we are in the right and that a court will find in our favour".
"It's a plain vanilla case that virtually every social network has faced in one form or another", they added. "It's not the first and won't be the last but similar to the past disputes of these nature they tend to settle quietly and end up being a lot to do about nothing".
350+ American songwriters and managers support Copyright Office proposal regarding MLC's policies for US streaming royalties
That proposal relates to the good old termination right under US copyright law and the workings of the compulsory licence that covers the mechanical copying of songs in the US, and - specifically - a technicality regarding how those two things interact.
The termination right allows songwriters who assign their copyrights to another party, such as a music publisher, to terminate that assignment and reclaim their rights after 35 years.
Meanwhile, the compulsory licence means that anyone can make mechanical copies of any songs within America at rates set by the US Copyright Royalty Board. Since the 2018 Music Modernization Act, the Mechanical Licensing Collective - or MLC - has managed and administrated that compulsory licence in the streaming domain, basically providing streaming services with a blanket licence covering all songs at the CRB-set rates.
The technicality of interest is a 'derivative works exception' to the termination right. This says that a so called derivative work created when a publisher owns a song copyright is not subject to any subsequent termination by a writer.
So, in practical terms, if a song is sampled in another track or synchronised into a film, and the publisher receives an ongoing royalty from that sample or sync, that arrangement would not be affected by the termination.
Since it got itself up and running, the MLC has seemingly applied that exception to the mechanical rights compulsory licence in a very specific way. It means that streaming royalties are paid to whoever was in control of a song copyright when any recording of that song was first uploaded to a streaming service, rather than whoever is in control of the copyright at the point the track is streamed.
According to Billboard, that means that - even after a writer has terminated an old copyright assignment and reclaimed the rights in their songs - any mechanical royalties due from the streaming of existing recordings of those songs will continue to go to the old music publisher. Which doesn't seem especially fair. And the Copyright Office agrees.
Back in October it proposed a new rule that would force the MLC to pay mechanical royalties to whoever is in control of a copyright at the point a song is streamed. Or in the words of the Office itself, this new rule "intends to clarify that the appropriate payee under the mechanical blanket licence to whom the MLC must distribute royalties in connection with a statutory termination is the copyright owner at the time the work is used".
A consultation on that proposal closed last week. As that happened, an open letter organised by the US Music Artists Coalition and signed by more than 350 artists and songwriters - and managers and lawyers who work with artists and songwriters - backed the Copyright Office's proposal and urged the government agency to get that new rule in place as soon as possible.
The letter - signed by Tom Morello, Meghan Trainor, Sting, Sheryl Crow and John Mayer, among many others - read: "We stand together in support of US Copyright Office's rule and believe that anything contrary would undermine the clear Congressional intent to allow songwriters, after an extended period of time, to reap the benefit of the songs they create".
"It is simple, a songwriter who validly terminates a prior grant is the correct recipient of royalties collected by the Mechanical Licensing Collective. A publisher whose grant was terminated - and has received the benefit of the songwriter's work for decades - is not the proper or intended recipient of these royalties. Any view opposing the USCO's rule is a vote against songwriters".
The music publishers in the US insist that they don't object to the goal of the Copyright Office's new rule, but have argued that that goal would be better achieved by US Congress clarifying matters through an actual amendment to copyright law, rather than via a proclamation from the government agency.
The new rule, the National Music Publishers Association says, could result in litigation which a more formal amendment to copyright law could avoid. If nothing else, it adds, the new rule should not be applied retroactively on royalties already paid out by the MLC.
The NMPA said all of that in its formal response to the Copyright Office proposal. Though its CEO David Israelite stressed in a statement to Billboard last week that: "We strongly support songwriters receiving all mechanical royalties after a termination and have been working towards crafting legislation to ensure that outcome for years alongside the major songwriter groups".
The trade group's formal response to the proposal, he added, reflected "our support for the Copyright Office's proposed rule and offers ways to make that rule even more robust and less susceptible to legal challenges".
Black Sheep sue Universal over Spotify equity
The lawsuit - which seeks class action status - argues that that arrangement short-changed artists, because the major accepted a lower royalty rate in return for the stock.
The practice of the major record companies seeking equity as part of any initial licensing deals with digital music start-ups was controversial for various reasons after it became the norm in the mid-2000s.
The majors' logic in making those equity demands was that many early investors in digital start-ups don't intend to get a return on their investment from said start-ups becoming profitable businesses. Instead they get their return when any one start-up becomes sufficiently hyped and/or dominant in its chosen market to be subject to a mega-bucks acquisition or Initial Pubic Offering.
If the investors are going to cash in when that acquisition or IPO comes along, then any licensors providing the start-up with the music they need to launch should get a similar cash in, the majors reckoned. Not least because, with some digital start-ups, it's not assured that the company will actually become a profitable concern even after the big deal from which the investors profit.
Criticism in the music community of the majors getting equity in the streaming start-ups was less about the concept or logic behind that approach, and more about who exactly benefited from it.
For example, if only the majors got equity, then the indies - whose catalogues contribute to the value of any digital music start-up - would be helping boost the value of their competitors' streaming stock without similarly benefiting for that arrangement. Which is why indie label repping licensing agency Merlin has sought to similarly secure equity when negotiating initial deals with digital start-ups.
The other big question, of course, is how artists benefit from the equity arrangement. Especially if, as Black Sheep allege in their lawsuit, the core revenue share arrangement between the streaming service and the label - some of which is paid through to artists - is lower because of the equity element of the initial deal.
Though, it should be noted, the record companies would generally argue that the equity element of the deal doesn't really impact on the revenue share element.
The majors initially implied that, because the profits of any equity sale were not directly linked to any specific recordings, they were not obliged to share those profits with artists. However, as the prospect of Spotify listing itself on a stock exchange and the majors selling their equity seemed ever more likely in the mid-2010s, all three majors ultimately pledged to share the profits of any sale of their Spotify stock with their artists.
That shifted the debate somewhat. Although there was still some criticism in the artist community regarding how, exactly, those monies would be shared, and the general lack of transparency over what equity the majors have secured over the years, what the general policy is on sharing the profits of any equity sales, and what the process is for allocating and reporting a cut of that money to artists.
Unlike Sony, Warner and Merlin, Universal hasn't actually sold any of its Spotify equity to date, meaning that the specifics of how it shares the profits with artists have not yet been scrutinised. Though its unlikely that artists will see 50% of those profits, as Black Sheep claim they should in the lawsuit.
"Universal is withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties from artists through a previously undisclosed arrangement whereby Universal licensed artists' recordings to the Spotify music streaming service in exchange for Spotify stock and lower royalty payments", that lawsuit states.
"Under this arrangement", it goes on, "instead of paying artists their full royalty payments, Universal made smaller payments and held onto the Spotify stock that contractually belongs to Universal's artists".
"In the mid-2000s, Universal struck an undisclosed, sweetheart deal with Spotify whereby Universal agreed to accept substantially lower royalty payments on artists' behalf in exchange for equity stake in Spotify - then a fledgling streaming service", the legal filing continues.
It then muses that record deals commonly provide artists with 50% of 'licensing income' generated by their recordings. "Rather than distribute to artists their 50% of Spotify stock or pay artists their true and accurate royalty payments", the lawsuit goes on, "for years Universal shortchanged artists and deprived plaintiffs and class members of the full royalty payments they were owed under Universal's contract".
Justifying why the lawsuit should be granted class action status, the filing states: "Only through a class action can Universal's artists remedy defendant's ongoing wrongdoing".
It goes on: "Because the damages suffered by each Universal artist are small compared to the much higher cost a single Universal artist would incur in trying to challenge Universal's unlawful practices, it is not financially feasible for an individual artist to bring his or her own lawsuit. Further, many Universal artists do not realise they are victims of Universal's unlawful conduct".
We await to see if and how this dispute now proceeds - and to what extent it provides any new details or revelations about the equity elements of the music industry's big streaming deals.
RIAA says court should not pause its legal costs claim in ongoing Yout dispute
Yout sued the RIAA after the trade group tried to get the stream ripping website removed from Google search on copyright grounds. Via the lawsuit, Yout hoped that a American court would confirm that its service is compliant with the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
But, alas, said court did the opposite, confirming that the Yout service circumvents technical protection measures put in place by YouTube that are designed to stop people grabbing permanent downloads of temporary streams delivered via the Google video site. And such circumvention is prohibited by the DCMA.
Yout is currently appealing that judgement. But, in the meantime, the RIAA would like the stream-ripping site to contribute $250,000 towards the legal costs it has incurred fighting this legal battle to date.
Last month Yout requested that the RIAA's motion for legal costs be stayed on the basis that it being forced to hand over $250,000 at this point would negatively impact on its ability to pursue an appeal.
It also argued that it's in the public interest for that appeal to be heard, because the precedent set by the lower court in this legal battle is potentially far reaching.
However, in a legal filing submitted just before Christmas, the RIAA says there is "no reasonable basis" for staying its motion regarding legal costs.
"The case law clearly provides that judicial economy favours deciding fee motions while they are fresh in the court's mind", the RIAA's filing adds. "Yout has failed to justify deviation from this routine practice".
Not only that, it goes on, but Yout also failed to "support its motion with a cogent explanation or a shred of evidence regarding how resolution of RIAA's motion would cause Yout irreparable harm".
As for the public interest argument, well, in fact, the RIAA reckons, it's in the public interest for its motion on legal costs to proceed. Because, it states, "the public interest is furthered by protecting the rights of music creators and discouraging meritless lawsuits like this one".
With all that in mind, the "RIAA respectfully requests that the court deny Yout's motion to stay and grant RIAA's … motion for attorneys' fees".
Downtown acquires Curve
As a result of the deal, Downtown said, Curve "will continue to provide royalty services to its extensive client base while integrating with the suite of distribution and monetisation capabilities that operate across Downtown Music, the company division focused on the professional music industry".
Plus, Downtown added, "Curve, its clients and partners will benefit from expanded resources, infrastructure, and global scale to more quickly bring to market its best-in-class royalty processing platform".
Confirming the purchase from the Curve side, Allen said: "Over the course of our discussions, it became apparent that we had a shared vision - Downtown provides real value for their customers and focuses on providing best-in-class products and services. That's exactly what we've tried to achieve with Curve".
"So, when the opportunity came to work together, we knew this was a perfect fit for our team and client base", he continued. "We know the future of Curve is in safe hands with Downtown, and we're super excited to see what we can build together".
Meanwhile, Downtown CEO Andrew Bergman added: "For some time, we have been admirers of the technology and service quality that Tom and Richard have been building at Curve. As we got to know them and their team, it became ever more obvious that their dedication and forward-thinking vision were a great fit for Downtown".
"Accuracy, precision, timeliness and innovation in royalty services are core to Downtown's mission of supporting creators and the businesses that serve them", he went on. "Welcoming the Curve team to Downtown is another important step in furtherance of our mission".
IMPALA announces next phase of its One Step Ahead initiative
One Step Ahead enables independent music companies and trade associations across Europe to anticipate and identify trends, challenges and opportunities in the digital music market. In its pilot phase, the initiative published six reports and delivered a series of regular webinars.
Topics covered by those reports included playlisting; music rights and digital revenue streams; marketing and consumption data; the diversifying digital market and digital debates; and new technologies, including opportunities and challenges around web3, the metaverse and NFTs.
In the new phase of One Step Ahead, IMPALA members will have access to even more support, as IMPALA and CMU deliver additional content and formats to complement the existing reports and webinars - including a monthly trends briefing bulletin and a new podcast exploring topics relevant to the IMPALA member community.
Confirming the next phase of One Step Ahead, IMPALA's Executive Chair Helen Smith says: "We're very pleased to be able to continue to deliver One Step Ahead for another year, thanks to the support of Merlin".
"A core objective of IMPALA members is to maximise revenue and opportunities for the artists they work with", she goes on, "and to do so they need the tools and knowledge to take advantage of new and untapped digital opportunities. One Step Ahead helps them stay informed, and helps them deliver value for their artists".
Meanwhile, CMU MD Chris Cooke adds: "The digital music market continues its rapid evolution and staying on top of current trends and best practices is hugely important. New services, new technologies and new business models create both challenges and opportunities for everyone working in the independent sector".
"It's great that we are able to work with IMPALA to deliver more knowledge and support to the independent music community", he continues, "ensuring labels and the artists they work with are fully equipped to meet the challenges and capitalise on the opportunities over the next twelve months".
London's Oval Space relaunches as Oval Studios following licensing issues
That licence was revoked following a shooting at the venue last August, which resulted in a second review of the Oval Space business by the Tower Hamlets licensing committee, an earlier review having followed a stabbing at the club in February 2020.
During last year's review, a representative of London's Metropolitan Police claimed that "violence appears to have escalated" at the venue and that "the premises are being poorly run". The police officer also expressed concerns that "control of the venue had effectively been taken over by gangs".
The venue's owners rejected many of those allegations. They conceded that there had been issues with a security firm which had previously been used, but noted that that firm had been replaced.
Meanwhile, various other improvements had been made to security at the venue following the 2020 review - which went into effect once the space re-opened after the COVID-caused shutdown and which had been acknowledged by police earlier in 2022.
Nevertheless, the venue's licence was revoked in October. At the time Oval Space's owners said in a statement: "We are incredibly disappointed by this week's decision by Tower Hamlets". Last August's shooting, they added, "is not a reflection of the many safe and inclusive events the venue hosts for Londoners each month and has done over many years. We completely dispute any claims that the venue is gang affiliated".
In its new guise as a space for filming, exhibitions and other events, Oval Studios is described in its new official blurb as "a multi-purpose, blank canvas venue with 400 square metres of flexible indoor and outdoor space - the perfect place to build, explore and share".
Round Hill Music has acquired the producer royalties and related rights of music producer Steve Lillywhite for an undisclosed sum. Lillywhite has produced artists including U2, The Rolling Stones, Morrissey and Talking Heads.
Bucks Music Group has signed Molly Payton to a publishing deal covering the UK, Ireland and Europe, with Mushroom Music Publishing repping her songs elsewhere in the world. "I'm so excited to be working with two companies as passionate and supportive as Mushroom and Bucks", says Payton. "Although I'm based in the UK now, New Zealand and Australia will always be home to me, and it's awesome knowing that I have support no matter where I am moving forward".
UK record label trade body BPI has announced that its Director Of Public Affairs, Sophie Jones, has been promoted to Chief Strategy Officer. She will also act as interim CEO as it finalises a replacement for Geoff Taylor, who recently left the organisation. "I'm delighted to take up this new, expanded role of Chief Strategy Officer, especially in such a pivotal year for the BPI as we celebrate our 50th anniversary and continue to promote and grow British music in the years ahead", she says. "And I will also be honoured to lead the BPI working alongside our senior executive team until a new Chief Executive is in place".
Sony Music's artist services business The Orchard in the US has promoted Mary Ashley Johnson to EVP Sales & Artist/Label Management for North America, and hired Katie Studley as VP Nashville. She joins from Jack White's Third Man Records. "We are proud to appoint these two well-deserving women to key executive roles in the company", says COO Colleen Theis. "Mary Ashley's leadership, business savvy and proven expertise has led The Orchard to unprecedented heights in 2022. We're excited to welcome Katie to The Orchard family. As an instrumental partner on the client side, she comes to us with a deep understanding of our business strategy".
The NEC Birmingham has joined the Association Of Independent Festivals and the Association Of Festival Organisers, following the venue's diversification into festivals last year - hosting the 2022 edition of Wireless Festival - using it 387 acres of outdoor space and and 59 acres of woodland. "We work closely with many trade bodies across the live music and events industry, contributing to policies, key initiatives and lobbying activity. It is important that we listen to the wants and needs of more event genres as we diversify our offer", says Richard Mann, New Business Director for the NEC.
Miley Cyrus has announced that she will release her eighth studio album, 'Endless Summer Vaction', on 10 Mar. It's first single, 'Flowers', is out on 13 Jan.
Steve Aoki has released new single 'New York', a collaboration with Regard and Mazie.
Sleep Token have kicked off the new year by releasing two new songs, 'Chokehold' and 'The Summoning'. The band are also set to play UK dates later this month, including a show at Brixton Academy in London on 22 Jan.
Mac DeMarco has announced that he will release new instrumental album 'Five Easy Hot Dogs' on 20 Jan. Recorded as he travelled around the US, each track is named after the city where it was made. "The plan was to start driving north, and not go home to Los Angeles until I was done with a record", he says. "Kind of like being on tour, except there weren't any shows, and I'd just be burning money".
The Lemon Twigs have released new single 'Corner Of My Eye', their first for their new label Captured Tracks. "We recorded this track winter of 2021 in our old rehearsal studio in Midtown, NYC", say the duo. "Apart from the vibraphone, the instrumental track was recorded live with Andres Valbuena on drums and Daryl Johns on upright bass. We laid down the vocals late that night once the traffic outside had died down. We've had the song for a while now, so we're excited to share it with fans who may have heard it live over the years!"
Katatonia have released new single 'Birds'. The track is taken from new album 'Sky Void Of Stars', which is out on 20 Jan.
Frankie Rose has announced that she will release new album 'Love As Projection' on 10 Mar. "This album is about having to focus our collective energies on the small things around that we can control to find joy", she says. "A distraction from the the larger systemic problems that feel so overwhelming and are so very out of our collective hands... for now". From it, this is 'Anything'.
Debby Friday is back with new single 'So Hard To Tell'. Newly signed to Sub Pop, she is set to release her debut album, 'Good Luck', on 24 Mar. She's also announced that she will play Corsica Studios in London on 3 May.
Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.
Annie Mac reunited with stolen USB stick
The disk - on which Mac had stored thousands of tracks - was taken during one of the DJ's Before Midnight club nights last month, prompting her to put out a public plea for its return, promising that there would be "no repercussions" for whoever had taken it.
In a new post last week, she revealed that the USB stick had now been returned, it having been sent to her management.
"This is my oldest USB stick", she wrote. "I use it for DJing. It carries thousands of songs, over ten years of music. It was stolen before Christmas, plucked from the CDJ players I was DJing from, after my Before Midnight gig in London, when I was standing just a few feet away, chatting to attendees".
"The music was backed up badly, over four laptops", she added. "It would have been impossible to replace as it was, music filed gig by gig, set by set. More than the inconvenience caused by the theft, the whole thing felt so discordant with the spirit of the evening, which had felt so joyous up to that point".
"We received an email just before Christmas", she went on. That email, she added, admitted the USB stick theft had been "stupid - a drunken mistake".
Now the drive is "in my manager's office waiting for me to pick up. I'm so glad, and relieved that it wasn't some calculated malevolent act. It was a drunken mistake and by god haven't we all done those in our time. To whoever you are, thank you so much for sending it back. And to those yelling at the screen right now, yes I will back it up properly!"
The handwritten note accompanying the returned USB stick reads: "Really sorry for distress caused. We haven't accessed it. It was a moment of drunken madness. So sorry".
So, I guess, the moral of this story is always back up your files properly. And don't steal. Possibly not in that order.