|FRIDAY 14 JULY 2023||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: The way in which Live Nation's Ticketmaster forces customer grievances in the US into arbitration was back in the spotlight in an American court this week. While judges have generally agreed in the past that Ticketmaster's terms do mean that pissed off customers have to take their complaints to an arbitrator rather than a court of law, there has been criticism of late about the ticketing company's current choice of arbitrator which, complainants say, employees practices that are “non-traditional” and “Kafkaesque”... [READ MORE]|
Ticketmaster forcing customer disputes to "Kafkaesque" arbitrator back in the spotlight in US court
There have been a number of lawsuits filed against Ticketmaster in recent years in which the ticketing firm has responded by stating that the plaintiffs in those cases are obliged - according to the ticketing site's terms and conditions - to take their complaints to the company's chosen arbitrator, rather than proceeding with litigation in court.
And generally that argument has worked, even though we all agree that pretty much nobody buying tickets from Ticketmaster has ever read those terms and conditions.
However, Ticketmaster changed its arbitrator of choice from a company called JAMS to one called New Era. It argues that New Era is better set up to deal with complaints where there are lots of concurrent complainants, which is common in the ticketing market. But some of those complainants argue that New Era is biased in favour of the ticketing firm, adding that the processes employed by the company are "non-traditional" and "Kafkaesque".
The switch to New Era has become a key debate in a lawsuit filed against Ticketmaster accusing it of anti-competitive conduct as part of the wider Live Nation business. Those claims have been made by various parties before, of course. But when its Ticketmaster customers doing the claiming, the ticketing firm has sought to keep said claims out of the courts by forcing arbitration.
In addition to dissing the way New Era works, the plaintiffs in this lawsuit have also been critical of the way the switch from JAMS to New Era took place. And, according to Law360, the concerns about how the switchover was managed seem to be shared by the judge overseeing the case, George H Wu.
The plaintiffs argue that when Ticketmaster changed the name of their chosen arbitrator in the terms and conditions on its site, it "slid this change into terms that most consumers had previously agreed to, without flagging the dramatic shift being made".
Technically Ticketmaster's terms allow it to make changes in that way, but in court this week Wu expressed concern that such a change - which can impact significantly on how any arbitration process might work - can be made without customers being specifically notified.
"There are questions as to why there wasn't any notice of this provided", the judge remarked, according to Law360. Noting that providing such a notification would be relatively cheap and easy to do, he added: "It boggles the mind as to why that wasn't done here, just to give some sort of notice for people potentially going onto the site".
Ticketmaster continues to deny that there are any issues with New Era. Plus, even if there are, there is a system in place to move the dispute to an alternative arbitrator. So, it argues, even if Wu was to conclude that the shift to New Era without formal notification is a problem, that might allow the plaintiffs to insist on an alternative arbitrator, but it shouldn't result in the lawsuit proceeding in court.
We now await to see what decision Wu actually makes on all this.
Academics go legal over Texas TikTok ban
Much concern has been expressed in political circles about the Chinese government having access to TikTok user-data via its China-based owner Bytedance. While TikTok continues to deny that there are any data security issues on its platform, a number of governments have banned their employees from using the video-sharing app on official devices.
That includes the government of Texas. Last December Governor Greg Abbott instructed all state agencies to stop their employees from using TikTok on state-issued devices. The state's legislature then formalised that ban into law.
The CITR says that it exists to "advance, defend and sustain the right to study the impact of technology on society". Its members include "academics, journalists, civil society researchers and community scientists committed to advocating for and organising in defence of research that is ethical, transparent, and privacy preserving". And that membership includes academics at public universities in Texas.
The organisation's lawsuit notes that the Texas TikTok ban "extends to all faculty at public universities". And that, it claims, "is preventing or seriously impeding faculty from pursuing research that relates to TikTok - including research that would illuminate or counter the data-collection and disinformation-related practices that the ban is ostensibly meant to address".
Unsurprisingly, the CITR reckons that the TikTok ban breaches the US First Amendment. The lawsuit goes on: "While faculty are public employees, the government's authority to control their research and teaching is limited by the First Amendment - and the ban cannot survive First Amendment scrutiny".
The lawsuit then concedes that "Texas has a legitimate interest in protecting Texans' privacy", but - it argues - "the ban is not tailored to this interest. Many companies - including Meta (which owns Facebook), Alphabet (which owns Google and YouTube) and X Corp (which owns Twitter) - collect the kind of information that TikTok collects, but Texas's ban does not restrict access to these companies' platforms".
"Nor does the ban meaningfully constrain China's ability to collect sensitive data about Americans", it goes on, "because, as the Director Of National Intelligence highlighted in a recent report, an immense amount of this data is available for sale from data brokers".
Plus, because "Texas's ban restricts public university faculty from undertaking research that might illuminate privacy risks ... the ban is counterproductive, not simply ineffective. And it is fatal to the ban's constitutionality that Texas could address these risks without effectively barring public university professors from studying, and teaching with, one of the world's most popular and influential communications platforms".
With all that in mind, the CITR wants the courts to declare that the Texas TikTok ban is unconstitutional when applied to university employees, and therefore said employees should be excluded from it.
Elsewhere in the US, of course, Montana has passed a TikTok ban that will apply to everyone in the state, not just government employees. That is due to go into effect at the start of next year but has been similarly challenged in the courts on First Amendment grounds, by both TikTok itself and a group of TikTok creators.
Hipgnosis founder outlines progress in lifting songwriters "from the bottom of the economic equation"
Mercuriadis has played a key role, of course, in the surge of interest we've seen in recent years within investment circles in owning music rights. And the publicly listed Hipgnosis Songs Fund - as well as Hipgnosis Songs Capital, a separate private fund backed by private equity giant Blackstone - have been behind numerous headline-grabbing rights acquisition deals.
Given that the majority of the acquisitions by Hipgnosis have been song rights rather than recording rights, Mercuriadis has also been very vocal about the perceived undervaluation of songs, for example in the streaming domain, where the majority of revenue goes to the recordings.
Speaking on an investor call yesterday, Mercuriadis said: "As stated at the time of our IPO, we wanted to use our platform to advocate for songwriters to take them from the bottom of the economic equation to the top … I'm delighted that through our efforts the true value of songs and songwriters is increasingly being recognised around the world".
In the annual report, he specifically welcomes the recent increases in the streaming royalty rates for songs in the US, where a compulsory licence applies and the rates are ultimately set by the Copyright Royalty Board.
He also references the recent metadata code that has been agreed upon within UK music industry which seeks to address some of the data issues that negatively impact on the payment of song royalties. He states: "We welcome this first step. However, we believe that far greater reform is needed and we continue to engage with the relevant organisations to achieve this change".
In addition to the ongoing conversation about how streaming money is split between the recording rights and the song rights, there is the increasingly high profile debate about how streaming revenues are allocated to individual tracks by the streaming services.
"Due in part to our advocacy on behalf of songwriters and artists", Mercuriadis adds, "the major record labels are increasingly recognising the value of the content that they allow streaming platforms to use. Rightsholders and [streaming services] are questioning the current streaming business model, which pays the same per stream for high quality songs as is paid for unknown songs".
"Additionally", he goes on, "there is an increased focus on solving the problem of digital trappers, stream farms and bots, which are believed to be distorting the distribution of streaming revenues. Given the quality of the company's catalogue, we are confident that the company's shareholders will eventually further benefit from improvements in the economic equation for songwriters".
Addressing the topic of artificial intelligence - and whether it presents an opportunity or a threat for investors in the Hipgnosis Songs Fund - Mercuriadis says that AI technologies can "offer new opportunities which we are already looking to use in support of our iconic songs … AI enables us and other creators to quickly and cost effectively deliver new versions of these songs, create interpolations or otherwise introduce our music to new audiences".
As for the debates around AI and copyright, he continues: "Global copyright laws provide a significant degree of protection for our intellectual property … we will support measures which prevent AI from learning from in-copyright music and recordings to the detriment of artists and songwriters".
Mercuriadis also discusses in the annual report the Fund's current share price, which is currently 73.16p, from a high of 129.20p in November 2021.
There has been speculation in the financial press this week that the Fund might look to sell some of its catalogue later this year as part of a plan to boost the share price - though those rights could be bought by that separate Blackstone-backed private fund Hipgnosis Songs Capital.
On all that, Mercuriadis writes: "The current share price does not reflect the success of our investment strategy and I know all shareholders share my frustration and disappointment that this is the case".
"When we launched the company, we created a new asset class with songs. It is therefore perhaps not a surprise that, in a world of incredible turmoil following a global pandemic, the largest war in Europe in nearly 80 years and increasing inflation and interest rates, that some investors have turned to 'risk free' safe havens over exposure to new asset classes".
"However", he goes on, "despite these unique macroeconomic conditions, the strong growth in paid consumption for music continues. The music industry is rapidly growing and thriving while others contract and, as a result, song catalogues continue to be a highly attractive asset. We are aligned with shareholders in believing that the fundamental value and opportunity of the company fails to be reflected in the current share price".
"As a result, we have been working with the board, following consultation with many of the company's largest shareholders, on a number of options to enhance shareholder value". An update on that will be provided before the Fund's Annual General Meeting in September, he confirms.
Elsewhere in Hipgnosis news, Hipgnosis Song Management - a separate company which advises the funds and manages their rights - announced earlier this week that its Chief Music Officer, former major label exec Ted Cockle, is standing down.
Meanwhile, there were some new appointments too, including Danny Bennett as Executive Vice President, Sara Lord as EVP Content Creation and Patrick Joest as Head Of Synchronisation.
BBC Introducing launches talent development scheme for spoken word artists
A total of 35 artists will be selected to take part, attending online workshops run by spoken word organisations Young Identity and Apples & Snakes. They will then write a new piece of poetry using what they have learnt at these workshops.
From there, a panel will select the eight best pieces, with the winners invited to perform at a Words First showcase as part of the Contains Strong Language festival in September.
Organisers say they a "looking for passionate people across the UK who are influenced by everything from poetry and lyricism to rap and hip hop, and who are keen to develop their skills".
Anyone interested in taking part should upload a two minute reading of a piece of original poetry to the BBC Introducing uploader by 30 Jul. More details here.
Wargasm to release debut album this autumn
"For the last sixteen months we've spent every moment off the road in the studio creating the perfect debut album for Wargasm", say the duo.
"Heavy, melodic, disgusting, honest, sexy, everything this band has experimented with since our inception has been pinned down on the anvil and hammered into shape, thrown at the wall, beaten into a more fucked up shape and gone back onto the anvil".
"We hope you enjoy 'Do It So Good' as a taste of what's to come", they go on. "'Venom' is us. This is ours and before the year clocks out this will be yours. Watch closely - you have no idea what's gonna happen next".
'Venom' is set for release on 27 Oct. They will also play UK shows in November and December, finishing with a performance at the Shepherds Bush Empire in London on 16 Dec.
Tim Westwood has been interviewed under police caution for a third time in relation to alleged sexual offences, the BBC reports. The Metropolitan Police confirmed that officers interviewed a 65 year old man earlier this week. No arrest was made.
Reservoir has acquired recording and song rights in relation to Greg Kihn's Beserkley Records-released catalogue. "I'm very excited to be partnering with Reservoir on this acquisition", says the musician, adding that Reservoir's VP A&R & Marketing, David Hoffman, "and the team are 'Kihndrid' spirits and passionate supporters of me and my catalogue, and I know they will take the greatest care of my musical legacy".
Sony Music Middle East has named Rami Mohsen as its new Managing Director. "The region's music culture holds a special place in my heart, and we have exceptional musicians and performers whose artistry deserves to be recognised worldwide", he says. "My priority is to celebrate and preserve this unique musical heritage while ushering in a fresh wave of music and creativity".
Kobalt has hired Teresa Romo as Senior Director Of Creative, Latin America. She will primarily oversee the company's creative expansion in Mexico. "I am delighted to join Kobalt Music, build on the impressive Latin roster we represent, and expand our footprint in the West Coast and my home country of Mexico", she says. "Música Mexicana has reached unfathomable heights thanks to the rich multicultural creative community. I look forward to ushering in legacy writers and the new generation of creators to the Kobalt family".
EDUCATION & EVENTS
The Unconvention and Mama music conferences - in Manchester and Paris respectively - have partnered to hold complementary panels in October that will discuss the challenges artists and music professionals currently face as a result of Brexit, and how those issues might be addressed. Mama takes place on 11-13 Oct, with Unconvention following on 20-21 Oct. More info here.
Billie Eilish has released 'What Was I Made For?', her contribution to the soundtrack of the 'Barbie' movie.
Post Malone has released new single 'Overdrive', taken from his fifth album 'Austin', which is out on 28 Jul.
Quavo and Future have collaborated on new track 'Turn Yo Clic Up'.
Disclosure yesterday announced their latest album 'Alchemy'. When's it out though? Right now, that's when. "This record is a celebration of us feeling liberated right now", says the duo's Guy Lawrence. "We're no longer signed to a major record label. We're not going to tour this record. We can do whatever we like and be super creative".
Jess Glynn has released new single 'What Do You Do?' "This type of record is one of my favourites to make", she says. "Wearing my heart on my sleeve matched with a beat that makes you want to move".
Troye Sivan will release new album 'Something To Give Each Other' on 13 Oct. Its first single 'Rush' is out now. "'Rush' is the feeling of kissing a sweaty stranger on a dancefloor, a two hour date that turned into a weekend, a crush, a winter, a summer", he says. "Party after party, after party after after party. All of my experiences from a chapter where I feel confident, free and liberated. Independent, yet somehow the most connected to the music and community around me".
PinkPantress has teamed up with Destroy Lonely for new track 'Turn Off Your Phone'. "After years of having this song in the vault, I'm so happy I can release 'Turn Your Phone Off' with someone who has spearheaded his own sound and incorporates beautifully into mine, Destroy Lonely", says PinkPantress.
The first album from The Streets since 2011 is set to arrive in October. Titled 'The Darker The Shadow, The Brighter The Light', it will accompany Mike Skinner's first feature film, which shares the same title. Out now is new single 'Troubled Waters'.
Kathleen Hanna has announced that she will publish her memoir 'Rebel Girl: My Life As A Feminist Punk' in May next year. "It was a lot of work writing this book, I'm not going to say it was easy. I was a mess, but it was also really awesome", she says in a post on TikTok.
Hannah Diamond is back with new single 'Affirmations'.
Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.
Damon Albarn working on new opera, despite being "a complete idiot" when it comes to the genre
Von Goethe started writing the libretto for a sequel to Mozart's 1791 opera in the mid-1790s, which he then published in 1807. But it was never actually completed or set to music, a task Albarn has now taken on more than 200 years later.
"I'm doing an opera at the moment, using Goethe's fragment he wrote about 'The Magic Flute Part II', which is fascinating", he explained on a new episode of the Broken Record podcast. "You've heard of Mozart's 'Magic Flute'? Well, Goethe, who is a contemporary of Mozart, wrote 'Part II' of that - the sequel - but it never got put to music. It's this legendary lost thing".
This is not Albarn's first foray into the world of opera, of course. He previously wrote and performed 'Monkey: Journey To The West' in 2007 and 'Doctor Dee' in 2011, both premiered at the Manchester International Festival. However, the Blur and Gorillaz frontman adds, he's still not certain how qualified he is to work on such material.
"I don't really know what I'm doing", he admits. "I never know what I'm doing in that world, I'm a complete idiot. I don't know if it's any good. With songs, I'm more confident about that".
Currently preparing for the release of a new Blur album next week, Albarn also revealed that he is working on new Gorillaz material with creative partner Jamie Hewlett. But not as you know it.
"It's not going to be as dramatic as a quantum shift, it will be a paradigm shift, it will be very different", he says. "It will be an entirely different approach to everything - to the band, to everything … You need that for it to stay alive, really".
Blur's new album 'The Ballad Of Darren' is out on 21 Jul, with the band set to livestream a performance of it from London's Hammersmith Apollo on 25 Jul. Tickets for that are available now.