|MONDAY 21 AUGUST 2023||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: Various groups representing songwriters in the US have written to the boss of American collecting society BMI asking a number of questions about the organisation's decision last year to become a for-profit enterprise, as well as recent reports that it is again considering selling itself, possibly to a private equity outfit... [READ MORE]|
Songwriter groups demand information about a newly for-profit BMI's plans and possible sale
In the letter, published by Billboard, the songwriter groups state: "As you know, there is no BMI without songwriters. Songwriters have a vested interest in changes at BMI and in any proposed transaction which is wholly dependent on songs they have written. BMI does not own copyrights or other assets; it is a licensing entity for copyrights owned by songwriters and, by extension, publishers. Songwriters have a right to understand these decisions and how it impacts us".
BMI CEO Mike O'Neill was quick to respond, although with rationale and reassurances rather than answers to the questions posed by the songwriter organisations. The shift to being a for-profit society was benefiting songwriters, he insisted, and if any new owner comes on board down the line, "we would ensure that any partner embraces our mission of prioritising the interests of songwriters, including their financial success".
Most of the music industry's collecting societies around the world are not-for-profit organisations owned by their members, which are usually some combination of artists, songwriters, record labels and/or music publishers. BMI, somewhat unusually, is actually owned by a group of broadcasters, it having been established by the US radio sector in the 1930s as a rival to the existing US society ASCAP. However, like ASCAP, it was still a not-for-profit operation.
Until last year. The society's top team had been reviewing BMI's operations for some time, initially as part of an investigation into whether or not there were any investors out there which might be interested in buying the organisation from its current owners. Despite ultimately deciding not to seek a buyer, BMI nevertheless announced it was shifting to a for-profit approach, seemingly to allow it to seek new investment in order to expand and enhance its operations.
Then last month Reuters reported that BMI was again working with Goldman Sachs to sound out potential acquirers, the investment bank having also performed that role last year. It was speculated that BMI's board possibly hoped that, now it was a for-profit enterprise, there might be more interest in the private equity domain. Although sources speaking to Reuters stressed no decision had yet been made about any sale.
Last week's letter was signed by the Black Music Action Coalition, the Music Artists Coalition, Songwriters Of North America, the Artist Rights Alliance and American performers union SAG-AFTRA.
The letter sought clarification on BMI's current profitability and the extent to which the introduction of a profit margin would impact on the fees and commissions the society charges on the royalties it collects for its member writers and publishers. It also wanted to know who would benefit from the profits of any sale of BMI and what impact a new owner might have on the running of the society moving forward.
In his reply, O'Neill reasserted what was said last year, that "our move to for-profit was so we could invest in our company to ensure our continued success and growth for the future, while also increasing our distributions. As you know, the music industry has undergone dramatic change and continues to evolve rapidly. We need to continue to invest in our business and explore new avenues for revenue generation so we can continue to expand our distribution sources".
Setting out how he believes BMI's writer members are already benefiting from the recent changes - both in terms of operational improvements and royalty distributions made to writers and publishers - O'Neill stated: "We share a common goal with you in that we believe music creators should be appropriately compensated for the critical contributions they make to this industry. We've proven this time and time again".
As for any future new owner, O'Neill added: "In your letter, you raise a series of questions should a sale of BMI occur. In such a situation, we would ensure that any partner embraces our mission of prioritising the interests of songwriters, including their financial success. This is especially important as we navigate this rapidly changing industry together".
It remains to be seen to what extent O'Neill can allay the concerns of his members, and also how hard the various writer organisations will push for detailed answers to their specific questions.
There has been lots of talk in recent years - including by labels, publishers and collecting societies - about the need for more transparency within the music industry. Although most artists, writers and managers don't feel there has been any real shift, meaning they are often still in the dark about how their rights are being managed and exploited by their business partners.
But music-makers are being more persistent than in the past in demanding information, which means that BMI - whatever its organisational status may be - will probably need to be a little more forthcoming in answering questions about its plans and strategy.
Appeals court revives child abuse lawsuits against Michael Jackson companies
To date, that litigation has been stalled by legal technicalities. However, as the lawsuits now proceed, a legal rep for the estate insisted on Friday that "we remain fully confident that Michael is innocent of these allegations, which are contrary to all credible evidence and independent corroboration".
James Safechuck and Wade Robson both accuse Jackson of abusing them as children. Following the musician's death in 2009, they both sued the Jackson-linked companies MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures in relation to those abuse allegations. They were also the subject of the 'Leaving Neverland' documentary in 2019.
The lawsuits were initially dismissed because of the statute of limitations under Californian law. At the time, victims of child abuse needed to file any lawsuits in relation to that abuse by the age of 26. Both claimants had passed that age by the time they went legal.
However, a change was then made to Californian law in 2019, so that victims can now make a legal claim against alleged child abusers up to the age of 40. And the following year Safechuck and Robson's lawsuits were revived.
That then led to another technicality being explored in court: could the two Michael Jackson companies be held liable for the alleged misconduct of their former owner? The estate argued they could not, and the Californian judge overseeing the cases basically agreed.
Dismissing both lawsuits once again, the judge said that it could not be proven that the two companies or their employees had any legal duty to control or stop Jackson. Nor did the employees have the practical power to do so, given the musician was the sole shareholder and director of both companies.
Safechuck and Robson then appealed that ruling. And last month the Californian Court Of Appeal issued a tentative decision to revive the two lawsuits ahead of a hearing in which lawyers for both sides again set out their respective positions.
That tentative decision was confirmed last week. The appeals court said in its judgement: "A corporation that facilitates the sexual abuse of children by one of its employees is not excused from an affirmative duty to protect those children merely because it is solely owned by the perpetrator of the abuse".
Moreover, it ruled, "defendants' employees, officers and directors had some control over and responsibility for plaintiffs' welfare, and defendants were on notice of the danger. They were best situated to prevent the alleged injuries".
Responding to the ruling, the estate's legal rep Jonathan Steinsapir said: "Two distinguished trial judges repeatedly dismissed these cases on numerous occasions over the last decade because the law required it".
"We remain fully confident that Michael is innocent of these allegations", he added, "which are contrary to all credible evidence and independent corroboration. We trust that the truth will ultimately prevail with Michael's vindication yet again. Michael Jackson himself said, 'Lies run sprints, but the truth runs marathons'".
Lawyer for Lizzo accusers responds to Big Grrrls statement of support
Attorney Ron Zambrano said that, while it is understandable that Lizzo's current employees would want to "gush" about the star, he has been approached by several more ex-employees who have made new allegations of abuse and harassment.
Arianna Davis, Crystal Williams and Noelle Rodriguez - all former members of Lizzo's dance team - have accused their former employer of inappropriate and unfair conduct.
In a lawsuit filed with the courts in California, Lizzo is accused of - among other things - making false allegations of unprofessional behaviour against her dancers and then forcing them to go through a "brutal" twelve hour re-auditioning process, as well as weight-shaming members of her crew in contrast to public statements about body positivity.
Lizzo herself hit back at those allegations in a social media post. And then, last week, current members of her Big Grrrls dance team posted a statement of support on Instagram.
It didn't directly address any of the allegations made by Davis, Williams or Rodriguez, but instead thanked Lizzo for "shattering limitations and kicking in the door way for the Big Grrrl and Big Boiii dancers to do what we love! You have created a platform where we have been able to parallel our passion with a purpose!"
Seeming to counter claims in the lawsuit that there was a toxic environment behind the scenes on Lizzo's tour, the statement continued: "This tour experience has been beyond just #Special! The commitment to character and culture taking precedence over every movement and moment has been one of the greatest lessons and blessings that we could possibly ask for".
Responding to that statement, Zambrano said on Friday: "It's understandable that Lizzo's current employees would gush about her. They want to keep their jobs and maintain access to her global celebrity. But the comments change nothing about the allegations in the lawsuit".
"More potential plaintiffs sharing similar stories of abuse and harassment are coming forward on a regular basis", he then confirmed. "We've heard from at least ten former Lizzo employees since we filed the lawsuit and are reviewing their claims. Some of them will most certainly be actionable".
"Lizzo's job now is to try to do everything she can to limit the damage to her brand and save her career", he concluded. "Our job is to vigorously litigate this case on behalf of the plaintiffs based on the facts and we're confident the truth will prevail over the spin".
YolanDa Brown to put spotlight on music education in new radio show
According to Radio Today, on the programme - called 'Music Lessons' - "YolanDa will tell some of the positive stories about music education in this country and explore the emotional and social impact of delivering free-at-the-point-of-access music education to all state school children, as well as the wider economic effect of music education on the music industry in the UK".
Says Brown: "Music is not just melody or rhythm; it's the very heartbeat that sustains us. We are blessed to have fantastic schools, organisations, charities, music hubs and passionate individuals who tirelessly work to bring music into the lives of children".
"Through this series", she adds, "we will celebrate their accomplishments, share heartwarming tales, and also address the gaps where more work needs to be done, ensuring that the symphony of music education continues to resonate for generations to come".
'Music Lessons With YolanDa Brown' will air on Scala Radio each Sunday in September at 6pm.
UK government backs new BRIT School in the north of England
The plan to open a new school in Bradford based on a similar model to the existing BRIT School that operates in Croydon is backed by the BPI - which supports the existing school via its BRIT Trust - as well as the three major record companies and the Day One Trust.
The latter organisation runs two other specialist creative schools in London, East London Arts & Music and the London Screen Academy.
They all confirmed earlier this year that they had put a bid forward to the Department For Education as a part of a highly competitive free school funding process.
The various partners in the scheme say that Bradford is "considered an ideal location for this new school" because "it has a budding creative economy and has been awarded City Of Culture 2025".
"The school", they add, "will help to deliver on the legacy commitment of the City Of Culture status and contribute to Bradford's ten year cultural strategy, which places the creative industries at the heart of their economy".
Welcoming the government's decision to back the new school, BPI boss Jo Twist says: "We are delighted with this decision and it is a positive signal that government recognises the critical importance of creative and specialist creative arts education".
"The UK is a world-leader in music and across the creative industries and if we want this to continue, we must invest in talent and the highly transferable skills needed for a competitive economy", she goes on.
"This school will not only focus on producing our next generation of performers, but, crucially, train young people with the important technical qualities needed for our industries to thrive and provide them with opportunities that they otherwise might not be able to access".
Confirming the decision from the government's side, Secretary Of State For Education, Gillian Keegan, adds: "Whether on stage, on screen, or behind the scenes, the north is full of creative talent. This announcement will mean more young people will be able to reach their potential, and follow in their footsteps, at the new BRIT School in the north".
The new BRIT School is also supported by the mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, who says: "This is a fantastic win for the north and supports our ambition to ensure opportunities for all, no matter where you're from or where you live".
"The build up to Bradford UK City Of Culture 2025 has already started to inspire the next generation of artists", she goes on. "And now, with West Yorkshire becoming the home of BRIT School North, more young people can follow in the footsteps of our world-class homegrown artists, from the likes of Mel B and Corinne Bailey Rae to the Kaiser Chiefs".
Spice Girls will celebrate 30th anniversary next year, but not at Glastonbury
Some people - definitely some - had speculated that the Spice Girls might play Glastonbury next year, partly because Mel C, after doing a solo spot at the festival this year, said: "All of the Spice Girls would like to play Glasto, that is the truth".
But, when asked in a new interview with the Sunday Times about a possible Glastonbury performance to mark the group's 30th anniversary, Geri Horner insisted that that is not currently being discussed.
However, she said, "at some point there will be something" to mark the anniversary. So, what could that be? Well, The Sun reckons it could involve a new tour - this time with past hold-out Beckham possibly on board - plus a new documentary.
Says one of those pesky sources: "The girls have discussed a documentary which would show never-before-seen, behind-the-scenes footage plus present-day interviews. All five are on board to mark 30 years in some way, shape or form. It's very exciting".