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CRB Appeal: Inside The Battle For Fair Streaming Rates
Last week, I got to spend a few days in Austin for SXSW. Being a Texan myself, I always relish the opportunity to eat some authentic Tex-Mex or grab a Whataburger, drink a Shiner Bock, and listen to good Texas music. But at SXSW, I most enjoy meeting with Recording Academy members who have gathered for the annual festival from all over the country. This year, under the great music at every venue, I could hear a refrain of discord as every conversation with music makers brought forward one issue: What’s going on with Spotify?
Perhaps you’ve heard. Last year, songwriters won a historic victory from the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB), the three-judge panel that sets the royalty rates for mechanical licensing. Specifically, after a lengthy and hard-fought battle before the CRB led by the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA), the CRB increased the rates that streaming services pay to publishers from 10.5% of revenue to 15.1% of revenue gradually through 2022. Then this month, Spotify, Amazon, Google, and Pandora all filed notices of appeal of that CRB decision. These would be the first appeals ever of a CRB determination for music publishing rates under Section 115 of the Copyright Act. It’s important to note that as of right now, the four companies have filed a notice of appeal, but they have not yet filed the actual appeal itself.
Since then, we’ve seen blogs and counter-blogs, statements and counter-statements, all attempting to blame or explain. In a letter to his clients, Sony/ATV Music Publishing chairman and CEO Marty Bandier wrote, “I am incredibly disappointed that Spotify and the other companies have chosen to attack songwriters by appealing the long-overdue rate increases.” Carianne Marshall, Chief Operating Officer of Warner/Chappell, was slightly more measured in her statement: “We value our relationships with the companies who help us deliver music to fans, but we have to draw a line on this issue. Their attempt to roll back rates fairly determined through the CRB process is unacceptable.” Spotify, Google, and Pandora issued a joint statement stating that “the CRB's decision harms both music licensees and copyright owners” (claiming that paying more royalties to copyright owners will harm them is a novel argument to say the least). There’s even been a war of words online between Spotify and Apple Music, which didn’t file a notice of appeal.
Now, much of the rancor that’s spreading online is a PR battle between titans of industry. But make no mistake, there is a real impact on the songwriters. With the new rate structure created by the CRB, and the new licensing process created by the Music Modernization Act (MMA), songwriters have the potential to see real change for the better in their bottom line. The appeals by Spotify, Amazon, Google, and Pandora could unravel that progress before it even has the chance to take effect.
After last year’s historic enactment of the Music Modernization Act, music makers know that their voice matters. The MMA didn’t happen because of lobbyists and special interests. It happened because of songwriters, performers, and studio professionals who spoke up for something that would make a difference in their lives. It happened because creators as diverse as legend Booker T. Jones, producer Mike Clink, and children’s music singer/songwriter Justin Roberts testified at congressional hearings. It happened because artists and songwriters like Mastodon, Erika Ender, Bun B, Liz Rose, Anthony Hamilton, and Robert Earl Keen came to Washington, D.C. for GRAMMYs on the Hill to speak directly with lawmakers. It happened because songwriter/producer Ross Golan bought a billboard in Oregon to pressure a recalcitrant Senator while SONA’s Michelle Lewis led a #musicarmy to gain support. It happened because artists like Maren Morris, Ryan Tedder, and Jason Isbell stormed social media.
Now that music makers have found their voice, they are eager to use it for affect positive change for all creators. So I wasn’t surprised that everywhere I went in Austin last week, people wanted to get involved, to DO something. The good news is that they can. Join the social movement online. Or use this tool to send a letter directly to the Board of Directors of each of the streaming services that have indicated they intend to appeal the CRB rate increase. You can tell them that taking such action would destroy the spirit of compromise and cooperation that music makers and music platforms forged when they worked together to pass the MMA last year. Take a moment and click on this link and make your voice heard. Then share the link with your friends and colleagues so they can do the same. When we work together, we’ve proven that we can make change happen.