At Least Two Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) Contenders Have Emerged — Here’s the First One

Musician Stewart Copeland, a lead member of the recently-formed American Music Licensing Collective.
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Musician Stewart Copeland, a lead member of the recently-formed American Music Licensing Collective.
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Stewart Copeland, a founding member of the recently-formed American Music Licensing Collective.

The American Music Licensing Collective (AMLC) is just one group vying to fulfill the duties of the MMA’s Music Licensing Collective (MLC).

Last month, the Music Modernization Act (MMA) was signed into law by President Trump.  Now, the hard work of creating the Music Licensing Collective (MLC) begins.  And one of the hardest tasks towards achieving that aim will be picking the best licensing group to fulfill the MLC’s duties.

The MMA itself is heavily (though not exclusively) focused on streaming mechanical licensing, with details on both the license itself and mechanisms for how to pay them.  A critical component of the process will be the Mechanical Licensing Collective, or MLC, which will be formed according to the directives of the MMA.

So who gets to run the MLC show?

Like many within the industry, we’d assumed that the MLC would simply be operated by a collective of major music publishers, with appropriate songwriter and indie publisher representation to round things out.  According to sources, SoundExchange was widely expected to fill the role of administering MLC mechanical payments, while the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) and its members would largely oversee the MLC itself.

Already, the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) is inviting songwriters to apply for board seats, ostensibly for this NMPA-led group.

Just one problem: critics of the MMA have long argued that the MLC was being unfairly organized by the largest music publishers, with provisions that unfairly enrich themselves.

That seems to have motivated the founding of the American Music Licensing Collective (AMLC), a group that is officially coming together this week.  According to a leak received by DMN this morning, the AMLC is not only up-and-running, they have a fully-formed board of serious industry professionals (and a website).

In its mission statement, the AMLC is clearly attacking concerns about equitable payouts and transparency.

“We believe all song owners, from the kid in their bedroom, to the major music publishers, should be paid what they have earned,” the group declares in its manifesto.

“We are songwriters, artists, music publishers, musicians, composers and technologists.  We get song owners paid.”

So who’s behind the American Music Licensing Collective, exactly?

We’ll start with one of the founders: Stewart Copeland, best known as the drummer for The Police.  Also on the creative side is hit songwriter Rick Carnes, whose songs have propelled more than 40 platinum albums from the likes of Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, Alabama, Pam Tillis, and Dean Martin.

Other founding members include:

  • John Barker (founder, president & CEO of ClearBox Rights, LLC).
  • Brownlee Ferguson (founder, Bluewater Music).
  • George Howard (co-founder of both Music Audience Exchange and TuneCore and CIO of Riptide Publishing).
  • Lisa Klein Moberly (founder and president of Optic Noise).
  • Benji Rogers (singer-songwriter, founder of PledgeMusic and co-founder of dotBlockchain Media)
  • Jeff Price (founder of Audiam and co-founder of TuneCore)
  • Henry Gradstein (music industry attorney at Gradstein & Marzano, P.C.)
  • Larry Mestel (founder, Primary Wave)
  • Ricardo Ordoñez (founder and president of Union Music Group)

Listed as ‘observers’ are Grammy-nominated songwriter and producer Phil Galdston, and Grammy- and Emmy-nominated songwriter and producer David Wolfert.

“The board of directors of the AMLC have a profound and extensive knowledge of music publishing, mechanical license administration, big data, mapping and matching technology, payment processing, copyright ownership identification, conflict resolution, education, law, songwriting, architecture of technology systems and more,” the group notes.

“We have a history of working for the entire spectrum of music publishers and songwriters globally.”

That last part is worth noting: the MLC is an American entity, though it’s unclear if foreign artists will be properly represented and paid.  That cross-border issue is undoubtedly a prickly one, especially given that non-payments often result in ‘reciprocity’ from foreign PROs not receiving compensation from the U.S.

On that note, the group states: “We include representation of song owners from territories outside the United States whose songs are available on U.S. streaming services.”

We spoke with one of the AMLC’s founders, Benji Rogers, who pointed to technology as an important means to getting artists paid.

“This group contains some people who couldn’t be stronger on the tech side of the equation,” Rogers noted.  “It’s a group of us who have been concerned about the exactness of this ‘science’ — as it were — and we wanted to make sure that there was a group of people aligned with getting every last dollar to the right owners.”

Rogers, a singer-songwriter and founder of dotBlockchain Media, has been pursuing tech-focused solutions to royalty issues for years.  “This can’t be painted with a wide brush, it’s a data issue,” Rogers continued.

“This group has spent years trying to pay the right people at the right time.  We wanted to make sure that there was a shot at bringing the right technology to solve a very hard problem.”

On that ‘getting paid’ part: AMLC co-founder Jeff Price had a very direct message for DMN.

“We have the opportunity to get people paid,” Price flatly told us.  “I get people paid, that’s what I do and that’s what makes me tick.  I want to get everyone — from Sony to the kid in the bedroom — paid.”

Will the AMLC prompt changes to the MMA’s ‘black box’ collection and distribution rules?

The AMLC’s mission statement reflects a serious reaction to perceived cronyism among mega-publishers and SoundExchange.  According to one founder, an MLC under the mega-publishers would allow the ‘legal theft’ of unclaimed royalties, with a ‘mop up’ that takes place without giving smaller songwriters and publishers a chance.

According to the group, the MLC is already designed to start distributing unclaimed digital mechanical royalties to its biggest shareholders after just three years.  “After a minimum of three years, these ‘unclaimed accrued royalties’ can now be taken from the rightful songwriter/copyright owner and be given to others based on these other entities’ U.S. financial music publishing market share,” the AMLC’s remit states.

But unclaimed royalties that have been accruing prior to the MMA’s passage will be mopped up even faster.

“This concept of  unclaimed accrued royalties also applies to all the “old” unpaid royalties that have been sitting in the U.S. from the beginning of the streaming music industry until the passage of the MMA; a one-time amount reported to exceed $900,000,000.

“For these “old” royalties, the time frame to potentially take the rightful songwriter/copyright owner’s money and hand it to others is even shorter; one year.”

Whether the NMPA, major publishers and SoundExchange make modifications in light of this very visible protest is unclear.  Also unclear is when the MLC selection process gets finalized, though the U.S. Copyright Office’s Register of Copyrights will be playing a key role in both the implementation of both the MMA and the MLC.

More as this develops!


5 Responses

  1. dhenn

    What they don’t have on their board are self-published writers. Tunecore?! Thanks, but I’ll still with the MMA.

    • Paul Resnikoff

      Just a quick response: there are multiple songwriters already involved, and not sure this is the final board (remember they haven’t even made a formal announcement).

      Keep in mind also, this is part of the MMA process. The MLC is open to outside bidders, though the NMPA probably doesn’t want to encourage that 😉

      • PA6 5000

        Out of step and inept: At least two of them walked Congressional halls in opposition to MMA, yet failed to garner a single vote against it.

        So, no, not these people.

  2. Straight Talker

    not the right people. need people without conflicts and need companies who are not conflicted who are now doing the reporting for these same digital services.

  3. Keep the MLC open

    Let’s not loose sight over other potential streaming services that will compete with Spotify, Apple, and the other big streamers. The MLC must be open and accepting of any new services too. This is just as important as making sure the artists get paid.