Facebook To Fork Over Royalties, Auddly Signs Up ASCAP and Others, And BMI Collects $1B in PRO Royalties

Sep 08, 2017

Benom Plumb, Assistant Professor of Music Industry Studies at the University of Colorado Denver, reviews the biggest stories of the week affecting music royalties. He is a music industry professional, not an attorney.

Facebook Offers Hundreds of Millions of Dollars for Music Rights (Bloomberg)
Benom’s Take: Facebook is putting its money where its mouth is. By offering major record labels and music publishers millions of dollars in upfront licensing payments, the social media giant is stepping up to challenge YouTube in the realm of user generated video content. The move is a positive step for rights holders to get paid something when their music is used in videos posted on Facebook. Something is better than nothing, I guess. However, I think the Bloomberg article nailed the overarching issue here with this quote:

“Getting into business with Facebook presents something of a Faustian bargain. Rights holders need a deal. Given the current legal framework for copyright online, users are going to upload video with infringing material no matter what. The onus is on rights holders to police those videos. A deal ensures they get something, rather than waste resources tracking down all the illegal videos...Yet by further empowering Facebook to host video and music, rights holders risk creating another YouTube…”

I am a fierce defender of copyright, but I also like to think I have a balanced approach to this particular issue. I’ve honestly never understood why rights holders get in a big fuss over private individuals posting home videos of their children dancing to a popular song for friends and family to view on Facebook. If the settings are set to “Private” and they are not monetizing it, I think it’s overkill to go after these videos as “infringing” material. Having said that, I also don’t ever want to leave money on the table. So if Facebook’s system can accurately identify videos and pay the rights holders something for it, without ripping down cute baby/puppy videos, and without rights holders suing teenagers or grandmothers, then I’ll take it.

Auddly Signs Up ASCAP, PRS & STIM In Bid to Solve the Music Industry’s Data Problem -- And Get Songwriters Paid (Billboard)
Benom’s Take: In the professional songwriting and music publishing world, when songwriters collaborate to write a song, they usually complete a form called a “split sheet.” This document will list all relevant data for copyright and royalty claims: songwriter names, PRO affiliations, royalty/copyright share splits, addresses, song codes, recording codes, etc. This is especially true when songwriters are signed to a bona fide music publishing company. The music publisher will require the songwriter to submit the completed and signed “split sheet” once the song is finished. Then, the publisher will use the data on this form to enter into their database and register royalty claims around the world. Once all the information is in the database and registered, the publisher will file the split sheet away as supporting documentation to back up their copyright and royalty claims.  

The Auddly system essentially creates an online “split sheet” database that is user-friendly and is tied into other performing rights databases, such as ASCAP, PRS and STIM. The system also matches the ID numbers of songs, recordings, performers and songwriters. An old fashioned split sheet would have these fields to complete, but most creative professionals have no idea what an IPI or ISWC is, much less what that number is for one of their collaborators. I don’t think this system will solve all of our publishing data woes, but it appears to be a very positive step for streamlining and matching publishing data, as well as helping to reduce errors. Now the question is, are professionals willing to fork up $85/month for the service?

Universal Music’s Parent Company Vivendi, Refuses to Pay French Music Royalties (Music Business Worldwide)
Benom’s Take: Talk about a conflict interest. Universal is owned by French media giant, Vivendi, which also owns France’s largest commercial broadcaster--Canal Plus. As reported, Canal Plus is refusing to pay the French collection society, SACEM (essentially, the ASCAP of France), any more royalties for songwriters and publishers. SACEM has reported to its members that the last payment received and distributed from Canal Plus was Q3 2016. Vivendi owns two major companies that are diametrically opposed to one another. How awkward and what a total disservice to Universal’s roster of songwriters.

I don’t see the basis for Canal Plus’s refusal to pay from the report. Canal Plus definitely has licensing obligations with SACEM, so how and why they are able to refuse royalty payments is beyond me. All I can say is that, this story is just one more example of how songwriters and publishers are under assault by billion dollar corporations trying to cut costs and licensing burdens. I have years of experience working SACEM and they are strong defenders of the rights of their members. I would expect SACEM to easily win if/when the case goes to court.

(Late Addition) Milestone for BMI: More Than $1 Billion in Music Royalties (NYT)
Editor's Take:
Woot!