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US publishers slam streaming services over CRB rates appeal


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The National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) in the US has given Amazon and Spotify both barrels over their decision to appeal against the recent songwriter royalty rates set by the Copyright Royalty Board. Yet it seems other companies are also appealing.

Spotify, Google and Pandora have confirmed that they have asked the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to review the recent CRB decision on US mechanical statutory rates.

“The Copyright Royalty Board (CRB), in a split decision, recently issued the U.S. mechanical statutory rates in a manner that raises serious procedural and substantive concerns. If left to stand, the CRB’s decision harms both music licensees and copyright owners. Accordingly, we are asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to review the decision,” said a joint statement from the three companies.

Curiously, the NMPA’s response refers only to Spotify and Amazon. Issued together with the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), the statement suggests that what had been seen as a “huge victory” for songwriters is now “in jeopardy”.

“When the Music Modernization Act became law, there was hope it signalled a new day of improved relations between digital music services and songwriters. That hope was snuffed out today when Spotify and Amazon decided to sue songwriters in a shameful attempt to cut their payments by nearly one-third,” said NMPA boss David Israelite.

“The Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) spent two years reading thousands of pages of briefs and hearing from dozens of witnesses while both sides spent tens of millions of dollars on attorneys arguing over the worth of songs to the giant technology companies who run streaming services. The CRB’s final determination gave songwriters only their second meaningful rate increase in 110 years. Instead of accepting the CRB’s decision which still values songs less than their fair market value, Spotify and Amazon have declared war on the songwriting community by appealing that decision.”

There’s more.

“No amount of insincere and hollow public relations gestures such as throwing parties or buying billboards of congratulations or naming songwriters “geniuses” can hide the fact that these big tech bullies do not respect or value the songwriters who make their businesses possible,” continued Israelite.

“We thank Apple Music for accepting the CRB decision and continuing its practice of being a friend to songwriters. While Spotify and Amazon surely hope this will play out in a quiet appellate courtroom, every songwriter and every fan of music should stand up and take notice. We will fight with every available resource to protect the CRB’s decision.”

The dispute – and this promises to be perhaps the ugliest yet between streaming services and songwriters – comes shortly after Spotify faced legal action by Warner Music Group over its approach to publishing royalties in India.

“Spotify specifically continues to try and depress royalties to songwriters around the globe as illustrated by their recent moves in India. Trying to work together as partners toward a robust future in the digital music era is difficult when any streaming company fails to recognise the value of a songwriter’s contribution to their business,” said NSAI executive director Bart Herbison in his own statement.

NMPA is planning to file its own appeal. You’ll be hearing plenty more about this dispute in the coming days. Israelite had already warned in February that if streaming services appealed the CRB rates, they would “in effect declare war on songwriters”.

Stuart Dredge

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