Songwriters Guild of America Joins ARA in Calling Out Backroom Deals Between Streaming Services and Major Publishers

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Washington, D.C.’s James Madison Memorial Building, which houses the U.S. Copyright Office. Photo Credit: UpstateNYer

Yesterday, Digital Music News was first to report that the Artist Rights Alliance (ARA) had called out “secretive agreements” between streaming services and major publishers. Now, in comments forwarded to the U.S. Copyright Office, the Songwriters Guild of America (SGA) has voiced similar concerns and issued new calls for transparency.

Brentwood, Tennessee’s Songwriters Guild of America shared an exclusive copy of its comments – which the Society of Composers & Lyricists (SCL) co-authored and Music Creators North America (MCNA) endorsed – with DMN. The involved organizations initially submitted their message to the Copyright Office, in response to its Unpaid Royalties Study and corresponding “Notice of Inquiry” requesting expert feedback.

After reiterating their involvement in the Music Modernization Act’s “legislative process,” the Songwriters Guild of America and the Society of Composers & Lyricists take aim at the aforementioned behind-closed-doors deals between major publishers and streaming services. Essentially, these arrangements center on the services’ paying royalties not per stream, but based upon recipient publishers’ market share.

Characterizing negotiated agreements as “an issue of existential concern to music creators” in terms of the Mechanical Licensing Collective’s ability to distribute unmatched royalties, the comments request that the Copyright Office answer and act upon several questions “as expeditiously as possible.”

The far-reaching inquiries themselves relate to what the publisher-streaming service agreements “actually state,” as well as the precise efforts undertaken “to identify the true owners of the musical compositions.” Plus, the queries ask that major music publishers pinpoint the unmatched royalties they’ve proceeded to share with creators, besides describing how the MMA’s provisions “apply to these royalties and Negotiated Agreements.”

Then, applauding the MLC’s decision to not automatically exempt negotiated-agreement royalties from counting as “accrued,” the Songwriters Guild of America voices “great disappointment” that the Unclaimed Royalties Oversight Committee’s recent remarks “did not contain one word or mention” of publisher-streaming service understandings. Should the UROC fail to comment on the matter, “the independent music creator community would have little choice but to regard such actions (or lack thereof) as enormous red flags,” per the comments.

The letter clarifies that its concerns are not intended as criticism. Rather, it is designed to assure that the UROC possesses the authority to execute the functions outlined in the MMA. The latter portion of the SCL and SGA’s comments relates to a desire for transparency in the MLC’s database, specifically with respect to whether songwriter information is being compiled within the Harry Fox Agency’s system (and, in something of a loophole, could therefore be exempt from congressional requirements).

More as this develops.

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