Songwriters and composers! April 22 2019 is the deadline!

Songwriters and composers, lend me your ears/eyes/brains for 20 minutes here, this is IMPORTANT and critically timely. And it affects writers globally, if your music is streamed in the US. Please take time to read this and research a bit.

In the US of A, the Music Modernization Act passed last October. There are several parts to it, but NUMBER ONE is setting up a non-profit agency to collect and distribute digital *mechanical* royalties. This will be called the Mechanical Licensing Collective, duh. Historically, mechanical royalties were paid to songwriters when a copy of their work was manufactured. The copy in the digital world is of course the data file itself being transferred to your streaming device, and as our musical contributions to the world of art have been re-evaluated as being worth near-nil due to the very fact of digital media format, we’re talking about some hundredths or thousandths of a penny. Regardless, none of them streaming services actually bothered with acquiring the actual mechanical licenses to allow them to stream some millions of songs, and that was what those class action suits were all about last year. 

What is happening now is that the Copyright Office is choosing an organization to be an entity called the MLC (Music Licensing Collective) and it will be set up to get the information on all streamed works from within the USA, collect the mechanical royalties, match them to a database of songwriters/rights holders, and then, yes, distribute the money. A key component of this is the development of that database, of course, and the accruing of *unmatched* royalties and the subsequent “black box” that holds them. 

SO. All proposals and comments on the Copyrights Registrar’s government site are now open, until April 22nd. There are two groups competing to be chosen by the Registrar to be the MLC. (And one proposal for who will be the DLC, the Digital License Coordinator, and that was made by people from DiMA.org, the digital streaming services organization, which includes representatives from Spotify, Pandora, Deezer, etc.) And then there are comments from people supporting one group or the other. You! You should support one group or the other. You should write a comment on the Copyright Registrar’s site:

https://www.copyright.gov/rulemaking/mma-designations/comment-submission/

Before you just go running your mouth off like I am now, let me fill you in on the two groups. One is the AMLC (American Music Licensing Collective): 

https://www.songrights.net

The other is just calling themselves the MLC as if they were already it:

https://www.nashvillesongwriters.com/songwriters-we-need-your-help-one-more-time-mlc

You can tell my bias already. Things to know: I am currently designated to be on a committee within the AMLC designed to resolves conflicts with the license matching and payout. My illustrious bandmate in Camper Van Beethoven (and sometimes Cracker, when I’m playing with them), Mr David Lowery—a known artist rights activist and troublemaker—is designated to be on a committee within the MLC that deals with the “black box”. 

I’m gonna lay out my thinking on why and where all of this is good or bad:

The MLC (or the group calling themselves the MLC, intending to be the MLC) is mostly made up of people from the major label publishers, Universal, Warners and Sony, and a lot of Nashville and Los Angeles industry heavyweights. They obviously know what they’re doing, right? Therefore when they expect startup costs of ~$50Million dollars and an ongoing cost of $26-48M per year, we should think they are on top of shit. However, if you look at their proposal (it’s in 4 parts, PDFs, downloadable from that comments section/ “view open docket” on the Copyright website) the tech architecture they’re talking about is wimpy. A straight pipe, oh money comes in and then it goes out. Right. 

Should it go without saying, that I don’t trust these guys, exactly? Here’s something to think about: that black box. If they have unmatched royalties sitting in that box for three years, guess what? They can distribute them as they please, which they intend to do “by market share”. That was how they interpreted the Music Modernization Act’s wording of percentages. The AMLC believes that the greatest percentage of unmatched money would be a large number of independent songwriters that would need to be paid. I think that’s pretty obvious. However, as I said, Mr Lowery will be on that MLC committee…

You can also download the AMLC’s proposal, which begins with an estimated startup cost of more like $7Million, and check out that tech archictecture. It gathers from multiple databases that are currently extant, utilizes machine learning algorithms to understand the flow of information for the system and guide license and writer matching. I’m way more convinced that the AMLC will get songwriters the money owed to them. 

Now check out the board and the people involved, the MLC (cheeky to name themselves that, I think.) 

https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2019/02/04/nmpa-mechanical-licensing-committee-mlc-mma/

It’s all big publishers.

And the AMLC: https://www.songrights.net/why-us

It’s small publishers and independent songwriters, for the most part. With a hunk of tech knowledge behind them. 

Again read the info yourselves, think about it. The big boys have a lot of know-how, of course, they can do it, but at a cost. I think that very cost will be passed on to the independent songwriters, but the current big payees will benefit. I trust that the AMLC will actually get people paid. 

These organizations are soliciting for support in this now, so I will end this by asking you—if there is no conflict of interest, but even if you may be published by one of the entities on the board of the MLC!—to write, film, post your verbal support for your choice of who should be the Music Licensing Collective, and I’m saying straight out, I think the AMLC is better. Not just because of my personal involvement: I am involved because I trust them more. 

You have until April 22 2019 to post a verbal comment on the Copyright site. 

Thank you, Jonathan Segel, songwriter and composer.

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Posted in Music
5 comments on “Songwriters and composers! April 22 2019 is the deadline!
  1. Michael says:

    Is this another layer of the ASCAP, BMI, etc?

    • No, it’s different. This is definitely a confusing area, but let me try to clear it up a bit. When a song recording is published, the writer (or owner of those rights is the writer sells them!) is owed a songwriter’s royalty if the song is used. i.e. if it is broadcast (hence BMI/ASCAP etc.) But there is a second equal royalty called the Mechanical Royalty that is due if this recorded song is *reproduced*, i.e. on a record, a cassette, CD or indeed the digital file that is either downloaded or streamed to a device.

      • Oops. wasn’t done. Anyway, in the “old” music business, people traded their songwriter’s royalties against advance money, and the record companies paid on per-record-sold. Mechanicals were due per record *pressed* regardless, so the writers collected these from the record company who manufactured the records, regardless of their sales. OR theoretically they got paid.

  2. So the digital world kept thinking that a digital file was “non existent” so there’s been a fight about paying mechanicals on these, and they never actually obtained a license for most of the songs that they streamed, hence lots of class-action lawsuits last year. To fix that, the MMA implemented that an NGO be built to make sure to gat the digital mechanicals and distribute them, that’s what this is.

  3. Oh one other thing to understand where this comes from is that the mechanical licensing split came early on with the advent of recordings, it was John Philip Sousa who stumped for it when all his marches and shit were being recorded before WWI.

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