There’s a lot of talks in the unsigned world, and indeed in the world in general about two proposed pieces of law that could be changing some rules in the music industry.
Now I’m not a lawyer so I have a hard time, like the majority of us, to understand all the fine prints and hundred pages of articles these proposed law changes are supposed to accomplish, but I’m trying hard to follow these things, because I believe that they are crucial to the future of recorded music in this world which has short changed creators in favor of Silicon Valley mega corporations.
First the Music Modernization Act, or MMA for short, which is a US Bill that comprises several pieces of legislation, mainly the MMA, the AMP act and the CLASSIC act. It has first been unanimously voted by the House of Representatives, and is now under scrutiny by the US Senate (which just released several amendments).
The MMA has been widely acclaimed as a necessary and important step in the right direction to clarify and standardize copyrights licensing of music and the various entities that are involved in managing publishers and mechanical rights. Problem is that this bill, from what I could read, is far from perfect and leaves some big gaps that streaming platforms in particular are going to exploit to further down their influence and wealth at the expense of creators, which is why I believe it’s a first step (although a possibly evil one in some details), and hopefully not the end of it… There is for example a problem with the minority of artists representation, when labels and streaming platforms have double the ranks when taking decisions. Then there is this proposal of a black box, that is going to hold unclaimed copyrights revenue, which will later be distributed based on market share to labels. Problem is that this creates a situation where the holders of this big pot will have no incentive to find the right owners, one could even say they will have every incentive not to find them, thus spoiling further the unsigned artists who are misrepresented and lack the legal power to enforce their rights.
So, as of now, this MMA bill, is both a blessing and a curse for unsigned artists, because it will regulate some of the Wild West situation in the US when it comes to copyrights, but will also create a new situation (that labels and streaming platform will deem ideal, of course) where they might have even less chances to get compensated correctly. If you are outside of the US, you might think this doesn’t affect you, but if you are a modern musician, chances are that you release your music worldwide, so this will affect your royalties anyway.
Now comes the Article 13, which is a EU directive that could affect the way some platforms have been hiding behind a “safe harbor” outdated law to avoid licensing costs or pay a lot less than others. Google/Youtube in particular, which is by far the biggest music platform, has been using this for 20 years to create an empire based on copyrights infringements.
Turns out that not that long ago, an Austrian court found Youtube liable for doing the very thing that they deny doing and that would give them the right to hide behind this safe harbor: they filter, edit, link, transform content every second of every day. They even have in place a system called Content ID that allows them to identify anything you post and monetize it, by putting ads on your videos. They hide behind DMCA rules, which puts the responsibilities of right owners to issue a take down notice when finding an infringement, when they should be held liable for the content they filter, edit, link and transform. Send a take down notice to Youtube and the content will possibly disappear, but will reappear the next day and Youtube will do nothing about it, in fact it will monetize it and make money out of it…
Following this Austrian ruling (which Youtube will most likely appeal), the European Commission has pushed further their Article 13 proposal, which aims to abolish in the EU the safe harbor for platforms that are clearly making editorial decision and are not just “transparent” user platforms. Of course Google/Youtube right now is pushing everyone with its enormous lobbying power (whether openly or under many disguises) to call out their MEP to vote against this directive…
Behind this directive though, many artists defense organizations, and even high profile artists are standing to support what could be a game changer in ending the value gap that YouTube has been exploiting for 20 years now, and has ripped off so many rights holders, among them unsigned artists being the most fragile and endangered of all, as they are being swept out as collateral damage for the good of the Silicon Valley monopoly.
You will read from Google subsidies that Article 13 is a danger to freedom of expression (which is the old claim that pirates have always held dear), or that this will kill internet memes, and other nonsense like that, when the article is including all sorts of provisions to ensure this is not the case. I believe the Google lobbying machine has no shame spreading lies to keep milking their golden goose, and they do so under many disguises.
I advise all songwriters and creators to look closer at the real content of these 2 pieces of law with objectivity and try not be influenced by the lobbying campaigns the various stakeholders are pushing at us. It’s time to open our eyes and fight for our artistic rights!
* In this post, I’ve left the links out because there are too many to choose from, a simple search in your preferred search engine (try something else than Google for a change and you’ll see different results, funnily enough, especially when it comes to Article 13, which menaces to take down their beloved safe harbor).