Thousands of indie songwriters are now speaking out against major music publishers like Sony/ATV, Warner/Chappell, and Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) over a questionable ‘black box’ collection scheme.
As the U.S. Copyright Office mulls over competing bids to run the Mechanical Licensing Collective, indie songwriters and publishers are becoming increasingly vocal. Yesterday, the Copyright Office’s deadline for receiving comments on the selection of an MLC proposal lapsed, with hundreds of comments peppering the agency’s site.
Among the detailed commenters was the Nashville-based Songwriters Guild of America (SGA). The Guild is headed by songwriter and musician Rick Carnes and represents thousands of writers.
In a detailed filing submitted to the Copyright Office and Register of Copyrights, the SGA raised flags over plans by the major music publishers to claim hundreds of millions — if not billions — of dollars in unmatched and unclaimed royalties that likely belong to smaller songwriters.
The issue has been a serious sticking point since major publishers Warner/Chappell, Sony/ATV, and Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG), among others, moved to control the Music Modernization Act’s Mechanical Licensing Collective, or MLC. Those publishers are represented by the National Music Publishers’ Association, or NMPA, which has remained silent on growing concerns about black box claiming processes.
The SGA emphatically underscored a serious conflict-of-interest problem. “As to the first criterion set forth in the prior section above, transparency and accountability, Congress had reasons for serious concern that certain inherent conflicts created by the MMA would require particularly intensive scrutiny of the Mechanical Collective at both the threshold of its designation, and over the later performance of its duties,” the SGA declared in its filing this week (full submission here).
“The most obvious of these conflicts concerns the role of the Mechanical Collective in seeking to identify the rightful owners of hundreds of millions of dollars in unmatched royalties that will shortly be turned over to the Collective for identification and distribution.”
Carnes is a board member of the AMLC, which opposes the NMPA-backed MLC submission. The group was largely formed to address perceived issues of unfair collusion among major music publishers.
Also chiming in: MusicAnswers, a group that has drawn more than 3,000 signatories for its ‘Declaration of Principles‘ surrounding fair music compensation and accounting transparency.
According to the group’s filing, major publishers are likely to claim more than a billion in unclaimed royalties, even though they have direct royalty-paying arrangements with major streaming companies like Spotify.
“A Board consisting largely of major music publishers, most of who have (or will have) direct licensing arrangements with digital music services, and whose royalties are therefore unlikely to flow through the MLC, strikes us as an inappropriate choice,” the group commented (full comment filing here).
“Moreover, because those same large publishers will receive the lion’s share of any distribution of unclaimed funds and would
have control over the distribution of those funds, it is a blatant conflict of interest for individuals representing those large publishers to occupy a significant number of the seats on the Board of Directors.”
Just yesterday, the highly-influential Recording Academy declined to endorse the NMPA-backed ‘consensus’ MLC, noting that the group needed time to vet through the competing proposals before making a decision.