Music Business

350+ artists demand streaming royalty rule change, Publishers disagree

A letter organized by the Music Artists Coalition was signed by more than 350 artists, songwriters, and managers supporting a US Copyright Office proposal that would change how the MLC distributes streaming royalties.

US copyright law allows songwriters to terminate a copyright assignment to a music publisher or others and reclaim it after 35 years. But current law also allows for a ‘derivative works exception,’ which effectively means that the original publisher receives the ongoing royalty from a sample or sync despite any termination.

“We stand together in support of US Copyright Office’s rule and believe that anything contrary would undermine the clear,” reads the open letter signed by Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine, Meghan Trainor, Sting, Sheryl Crow, John Mayer, Irving Azoff and many others. “Congressional intent to allow songwriters, after an extended period of time, to reap the benefit of the songs they create.”

“It is simple, a songwriter who validly terminates a prior grant is the correct recipient of royalties collected by the Mechanical Licensing Collective,” the letter continues. “A publisher whose grant was terminated – and has received the benefit of the songwriter’s work for decades – is not the proper or intended recipient of these royalties. Any view opposing the USCO’s rule is a vote against songwriters”.

The US Copyright Office agrees and proposed the rule change to correct the wrong.

Music Publishers Prefer Congressional Action

US music publishers led by the National Music Publishers Association claim they agree with the goal of the new Copyright Office rule, but argue that the US Congress should clarify the law with an amendment. That, they say, would avoid the litigation that usually follows any unilateral ruling by a government agency.

Despite all sides claiming to agree, shifting payments for terminated copyrights directly to artists seem a long way away since litigation would delay payments, and fast-tracking a Copyright amendment would seem unlikely given the current Congressional gridlock.

Bruce Houghton is the Founder and Editor of Hypebot and MusicThinkTank, a Senior Advisor at Bandsintown, President of the Skyline Artists Agency, and a professor for the Berklee College Of Music.

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