Tag Archives: Spotifiy

Why a $1.6B billion law suit for non-payment of royalties is not likely to affect Spotify’s March IPO

Spotify recently filed confidential plans for an initial public offering to take place on March 31 on the New York Stock Exchange were thrown a curve when it was sued by Wixen Music Publishing for damages of at least $1.6 billion and injunctive relief. 

Wixen accused the Swedish company of streaming thousands of its their artists songs without compensation. Wixen’s 2,000 members include Tom Petty, Neil Young, the Doors and the Beachboys, which Variety says represent between 1% and 5% of music streamed.

Spotify has an estimated valuation of about $19 billion and $3 billion in annual revenues. As of fall 2017, the leading streaming platform had accumulated 140 million regular users, including 60 million paid subscribers. Initially, its shares will trade privately, allowing some early investors to cash out.

It would be the first major company to carry out a direct listing, an unconventional way to pursue an IPO. Spotify plans to simply list its shares on the NYSE and let them trade, and, for now at least, will not raise additional capital.

Silver Lining?

Horacio Gutierrez, Spotify’s General Counsel, was recruited from Microsoft in 2016 where he learned the licensing business under the stewardship of Marshall Phelps, an IP licensing pioneer. Before establishing MS’s leading patent licensing program, Phelps helped generate more than $1billion in annual royalties for IBM.

My money is on Gutierrez to settle this suit in a timely manner and for Spotify to move on, uniquely positioned for success.

“Forcing Spotify to step up and enter into an agreement with a major publisher that is fairer to its artists may expose the streaming site to similar deals, but it will also solidify its reputation as the content leader amid streaming services,” an industry observer told IP CloseUp. “It will likely set a precedent for others industry deals of this nature and make it more difficult for Pandora, YouTube, and others to continue paying token royalties.”

Wixen’s lawsuit, reports Rolling Stone, follows several other lawsuits that have focused on Spotify’s alleged failure to pay [appropriate] royalties on a song’s musical composition. Recorded songs have two separate copyrights: The sound recording, which is typically owned by the record label, and the musical composition (also known as the “mechanical license”), which is owned by the songwriter and publisher.

In 2017, Spotify settled a class action brought by Cracker front-man and artists rights activist, David Lowery and another artist, for $43 million.

Proposed Changes

In the meantime, the Music Modernization Act, a bill introduced in the United States House of Representatives on December 21, would impact copyright holders suing over mechanical reproduction after Jan. 1, 2018, which helps explain the New Year’s Eve lawsuit filing.

“We are very disappointed that these services will retroactively get a free pass for actions that were previously illegal unless we actually file suit before Jan. 1, 2018,” said Wixen president Randall Wixen in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “Neither we nor our clients are interested in becoming litigants, but we have been faced with a choice of forfeiting rights and damages, or taking action at this time.”

Image source: slashergear.com; wikipedia.org

Angry musicians are pushing back on royalties – Will inventors follow?

Song writers may have something to teach inventors when it comes to getting a fair share for their intellectual property rights, or not.  

Confusion faced by writers and performers in the recording industry over “legal” downloading of copyrighted work by aggregators like Spotify, Pandora and YouTube have forced a range of musicians to question the logic of an overly complex and chronically opaque royalty payment system.

With most music streaming services using copyrighted content for free, or almost free, confusion has given way to anger and frustration.

Who Said Fair? 

The primary issue right now for many copyright holders is not a matter of the legitimacy of their rights, but how much is fair payment for frequent use? In at least one important way, song writers are way ahead of inventors, who hold more encompassing, but frequently uncertain, patent rights. For them, the first hurdle is whether their invention is innovative in the eyes of the changing law — a challenge, even under the best of circumstances. Then, it needs to be determined if the invention is indeed being used (infringed) and by whom, and how much they should be compensated. (Did you think innovation could be so much fun?)

There are reasons why patent licensing has become synonymous with costly litigation. With high-tech inventions today, virtually no one takes a license unless they are forced to. Why should they? Exactly who are the bad actors is not always clear.

Inventors and patent holders can learn from the tension between recording artists and their intermediaries (publishers and record labels), and distributors (e.g. Spotify). To be fair, most of these streaming services are not very profitable. Still, they are building bold business model and creating value on the backs of musicians and publishers. Both song writers and inventors (or those assigned to hold their patents) do not have much negotiating leverage when it comes to 02byrne-master675collecting a fair share of royalties. For patent holders attempting to out-license for revenue, it is frequently sue or get nothing at all – and that’s no bargaining position.

Historically, there has been little transparency regarding the deals made to use copyrighted songs, and today it is no different. There are few standards and the information provided about deals is asymmetric. Basically, the pricing is what ever the distribution channel (and the labels) can get away with, and they both no longer see a much of need for publishers, who they would prefer to cut out. Headliners have more leverage and can benefit from free exposure (more concerts, merchandise licensing) in ways that less well-known artists cannot.

The Business, as Usual

A recent New York Times article, “Music Artists Take on the Business, Calling for Change,” acknowledged that more musicians are fed up about their participation in benefits of the new distribution technologies and have begun to demand a better accounting. It helped when Taylor Swift refused to take no royalties during a three-month trial period on Apple Radio’s. (Would Apple allow customers to use a new iPhone for free until they deemed it worth purchasing? Oh, you say, doesn’t Apple have an R&D investment and the copyright holders are just pulling tunes out of the air?)

Ms. Swift was probably thinking more about her own interests, but they affected the entire industry, and Apple got the message.

“‘The support that we’re seeing, in terms of the range and number of artists, whether it’s from somebody who’s a working-class musician to somebody who’s very successful, it’s unprecedented,’ said Ted Kalo, the executive director of MusicFirst, a lobbying coalition that includes record labels and musicians’ groups and that helped organize the social media campaign.

“The economics behind downloads is relatively simple: Typically about 70 percent of a song’s retail price goes to a record company, which then pays its musicians according to its contracts. But with streaming, the system is complex and often opaque, as became apparent in May, when an outdated licensing contract between Sony and Spotify was leaked online, showing the elaborate formulas used in computing streaming rates.

“Public relations missteps in the early 2000s kept many musicians from speaking out about economic issues, artists and executives said. Those include the music industry’s lawsuits against thousands of fans for online file-sharing, and the pillorying that the band Metallica received after it sued Napster for copyright infringement. But the shift toward streaming in recent years has prompted many musicians to investigate the changes in the business…”

A Bottle of Wine

“New businesses are being built on this cheap almost free use of copyrights,” said Steve Loeb, a producer of more a dozen albums for Riot, a heavy metal band. “It’s sad but has always been this way. Now we’re all Black blues artists, if you catch the drift. They used to pay those guys with a bottle of wine – now they pay all of us that way.”

“Most artists don’t have the intellect to understand what is going on affects their future and music quality,” continues Loeb, who closed his successful Greene St. Recording in 2001. “Inventors don’t appear to be much smarter when it comes to how their work is used. Royalty payments are a complex process that’s become even more complicated with new technology, and few are willing spend the time to understand it.”

Pandora’s market value is about $3 billion; Spotify’s is over $8 billion. Bank of America analyst Justin Post believes that YouTube’s value on its own is about $70 billion. 

Black Box 

In a Times op-ed, “Open the Music Industry’s Black Box,” David Bryne, a musician and author, said

“Everyone should be celebrating — but many of us who create, perform and record music are not. Tales of popular artists (as popular as
02artists-web4-articleLargePharrell Williams) who received paltry royalty checks for songs that streamed thousands or even millions of times (like “Happy”) on Pandora or Spotify are common. Obviously, the situation for less-well-known artists is much more dire. For them, making a living in this new musical landscape seems impossible… Perhaps the biggest problem artists face today is that lack of transparency.

“Some of these ideas regarding openness are radical — ‘disruptive’ is the word Silicon Valley might use — but that’s what’s needed. It’s not just about the labels either. By opening the Black Box, the whole music industry, all of it, can flourish. There is a rising tide of dissatisfaction, but we can work together to make fundamental changes that will be good for all.”

More Transparency

Patent holders are frustrated with the uncertainly of issued patents, whose validity must be proven repeatedly before review boards, in the courts and in appeals.

Will they respond as an increasing number of musical artists have and demand more certainty and transparency?

It’s important to remember that what makes patent licensing easier for some, makes it more expensive for others. That’s why those well-situated on the corner of technology and brand are compelled to determine what is truly innovative and its value before others do.

Patent holders: Both of the provocative articles above are worth reading.

Image source: nyt.com

 


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