Fun fact: if you don’t properly register for Congress’ proposed universal song database, you’ll lose the rights to your entire life’s work.
Looks like Congress’ proposed ‘Transparency in Music Licensing and Ownership Act’ forgot to include the ‘Transparency’ part. In fact, there’s an insane poison pill that essentially strips copyright owners of their licenses if they don’t participate.
It’s all in the fine print. But any copyright owner that fails to register with this database automatically forfeits their entire legal right to defend their copyright. Which means, their entire copyright becomes effectively useless.
You might as well dump it into the public domain — while everyone else makes money off of it.
So what’s the ‘Transparency in Music Licensing Act’?
Unfortunately, few artists and songwriters have heard of this proposed law. Which means, they’re highly unlikely to register if it gets passed. But the ‘Transparency in Music Licensing Act’ is Congress’ attempt to ‘fix the music industry’ by creating a universal, one-stop licensing database that everyone can use.
Currently, the bill is known as HR 3350, sponsored by Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Suzan DelBene (D-WA).
Also backing the bill is the MIC Coalition, which is basically at war with other organizations like the Content Creators Coalition (C3). Separately, Sensenbrenner has attacked both ASCAP and BMI, both of whom are backing their own universal rights database project.
None of which sounds like a promising start to a large-scale, massive effort that requires participation from all industry stakeholders. And definitely not what we should be paying taxes for.
So here’s what the Content Creators Coalition (C3) just highlighted in a letter to Sensenbrenner and other bill backers.
“HR 3350 does not further efforts to reach consensus – instead, it represents a one-sided approach that would fail to simplify music licensing,” the group stated.
“We are deeply concerned about the bill’s onerous registration system and financial penalty (forfeiture of statutory damages and attorneys’ fees) for songwriters or publishers who fail to register their works in a new database, created and run by the government.”
Technically, you still get to keep your copyrights if you don’t register. But you can’t protect them.
And just like a patent, if you can’t protect it, you basically don’t own it.
So, just register. Right?
As mentioned previously, it’s highly likely that only a fraction of copyright owners will even know that ‘Transparency’ exists. But C3 took a closer look at the registration requirements, and found them absolutely inscrutable.
“The record keeping mandates in the bill are voluminous and incredibly vague,” C3 stated. “Terms like ‘catalog number’ are undefined and could mean a number of things. Other requirements are intricate, time consuming and in many cases, appear impossible to satisfy.
“How is an artist supposed to register every album on which one of her songs has been recorded, including recordings by other artists they may not even know about? If these requirements are time consuming and uncertain for successful and well-known songwriters and publishers, they will be impossible for independent songwriters.”
So, millions of songs go off the grid. All of which means that large, sophisticated services like Spotify and Apple will have little problem with this database. But rights owners will.
But C3 pointed out another likely possibility. Not only will bigger players benefit from royalty-free music, unscrupulous actors will use this flawed system to take advantage of unsophisticated rights owners.
That sounds highly likely. In fact, an investigation by DMN several years ago found this exact problem occurring within SoundExchange’s database. Which means someone else’s royalty checks were being sent to a sketchy PO Box somewhere, with potentially millions being stolen.
Meanwhile, SoundExchange can’t even get superstar artists to register.
That’s because most people are completely unaware that SoundExchange:
(b) has a database of songs played
(c) is capturing royalties from online radio and is holding millions in an ‘unmatched account’.
But wait: do you even know what SoundExchange is?
So a US Government agency with little familiarization with US Copyright Law and the music industry will fare better? The US Copyright Office doesn’t even have a leader!
Meanwhile, SoundExchange’s chronic failure to identify and pay rights owners has drawn accusations of fraud. But whether this is sheer incompetence or outright duplicity, the private marketplace is working around deadweight bureaucracies like SoundExchange.
Case in point: Pandora, which recently started structuring direct licensing deals with labels. Which also might explain why SoundExchange’s artist royalties started plunging without any warning.
C’mon music industry. I know we can do better than this.
There are so many smart, innovative, game-changing companies that are figuring this stuff out. Just off the top of my head, I can think of half-a-dozen companies killing it in rights identification, metadata, royalty distribution, and copyright management. Kobalt, Rebeat MES, STEM, Source3/Facebook, Audiam/SOCAN, Exactuals, Vydia, and the just-financed HAAWK. Just for starters.
And I wonder why ASCAP and BMI are getting attacked for making the most progress on this issue in years.
The technology has never been better to solve this problem. And the US Government has never been worse.
And this legislation proves it.
You can read C3’s complete letter here.