At issue: the company’s decision to not renew the old Myspace’s deal with indie rights agency Merlin, telling labels that if their music was on its site, it must have been uploaded by users, so will require DMCA takedown notices to remove it.
“There is an impression, a complacence and I would suggest an arrogance which is offensive, that you do deals with the majors, and the independent sector should be somehow grateful for the promotional value that these services will apparently bring to your artists and to you,” said Alison Wenham, president of trade body WIN, and chairman and CEO of AIM. “If you follow that to its logical conclusion, all your activities would be promotional benefit.”
Hence new Myspace, which launched last week without licences in place with Merlin, the global rights licensing agency for independent labels. When asked, Myspace told journalists that it had decided not to renew its deal with Merlin, and that labels would have to send takedowns for any music left on the service, and allegedly uploaded by fans.
“It’s absolutely repugnant to the spirit of cooperation and the balancing of interests commercially that this should have been Myspace’s response,” said Wenham.
“I am sick and tired of seeing services that come to market, do deals with majors because they have to, then come to independent labels and expect that we will expect secondary treatment, or promotional benefit… This has to come to an end, and it has to come to an end here and now… There’s an argument to suggest we should be paid first, and paid more.”
More? Wenham suggested that indie labels are taking disproportionately more risks on bringing new artists to market than major labels.
“I do believe that new Myspace is owned 40% by the majors, and also Justin Timberlake has a small percentage. So is this the kind of treatment one would expect from companies who would go after Grooveshark in a heartbeat, but would not go after a company in which they own a 40% stake?”
Wenham talked about the way major labels have stepped up their piracy takedown notices “exponentially” to Google in recent months, and pointed out that this is. “What we are seeing is that pirates, and those who would make a living out of music without paying for it are moving to what they would see as easy pickings,” she said.
“We didn’t want to be here at Midem and in this business to be paper merchants, to be takedown notice experts… I see a rather pernicious sideways slide towards independent content, because they are beginning to do a better job of issuing takedown notices for major-label repertoire.”
Daniel Glass of Glassnote Records was also at the event, and was asked about his label’s act Mumford & Sons’ status as one of the most-played tracks on new Myspace. It seems they’re unlicensed on the site too.
“I think it’s a sense of arrogance in this company… We’re just in shock over this,” he said. “Mumford & Sons is on the top of my mind to… unfortunately the paperwork of the takedown, we’re going to have to start all that stuff… I will go to management and the artist, and we’ll be discussing this by tomorrow… This is a bad one. This is a real bad one.”
Wenham talked approvingly of Spotify as a service that does have all the repertoire – indies and majors – and which licensed independents through Merlin from day one.
“Our market share on Spotify is over 15% and rising, so it works extremely well,” said Wenham. “When you’re honourable, when you do business honourably, you become successful… You can’t abuse copyrights using weak arguments like safe harbour and DMCA.”
Glass praised Deezer too. “It is really doing it the right way, and slowly. It is setting a really nice tone,” he said. He also praised US satellite radio provider Sirius XM as a great partner for indies.
Beggars Group founder Martin Mills was at the press conference, although he had to duck out early “to meet Google” – an apology delivered with a chuckle, following his Midem speech yesterday. He did provide a statement in the joint AIM, A2IM, AIR and WIN press release that was given to journalists at the conference though:
“We would expect a service that is selling itself on the discovery and promotion of new musical talent would understand the value of the music that independent labels release, and we would also expect that a service that is jointly owned by the major labels would respect our rights rather than hide behind the DMCA in exactly the same manner as pirates and companies like Grooveshark,” said Mills’ statement.
“It appears that neither of these assumptions are true, and that the new owners of Myspace just see independent music as a free ride.”
The press conference wasn’t just to put the boot in to Myspace. It marked the announcement of a Global Council for WIN, bringing together independent representatives from the US, Europe and Australasia, with Asia and Latin America to be added soon.
This is the first time we have brought together the leading independent labels in the world,” said Alison Wenham. “Without the independent sector being strong and heathy, the music industry and fans would be much worse off… These people are out there in a very difficult political and economic climate, but nonetheless succeeding extremely well to bring great artists and new music to the world.”
She said the issues are in part political – “large companies are very keen to dilute copyright because it’s a rather irritating roadblock in the way of their economic interests. I’m talking about companies who would choose to ignore the need to license independent content.”
WIN also launched a global manifesto for independent music today at Midem, which we’ll be covering separately. It covers issues including artist rights, transparency and consolidation of the industry.
“Last year, [UMG boss] Lucian Grainge promised a manifesto for the music industry. So far he hasn’t delivered it,” added Wenham. “Maybe he felt the need has passed since he acquired EMI. But nonetheless we have gone ahead and created an independent global manifesto… The community is so strong because the issues are the same the world over.”
Wenham also questioned whether the Universal/EMI deal is the last major acquisition. “I think that’s debatable, I think in the next 3-5 years we could see another round of acquisitions and disposals,” she said.