Image by Michael Longmire/Unsplash

Last November, a filing from the newly-created Digital Licensee Coordinator (DLC) in the US – the body that interfaces with the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) on behalf of streaming services – revealed that there were “several hundred million dollars” of black-box streaming royalties ready to be transferred to the MLC for paying out to songwriters and publishers. That’s royalties that had not been paid before because they had not been matched with recordings.

Now we’ve got an even more specific figure: $424,384,787. That’s the amount of ‘historical unmatched royalties’ that 20 DSPs have now transferred to the MLC, as part of an agreement that will see them protected from liability for past infringements of copyright on this front.

The MLC has broken down the total by DSP too: Apple Music sent the most money ($163.3m) followed by Spotify ($152.2m), Amazon ($42.7m) and Google ($32.9m).

That’s a lot of money, but now the hard (and, indeed, somewhat controversial) work begins for “reviewing and analysing the data in order to find and pay the proper copyright owners”. That data being “more than 1,800 data files, which contain in excess of 1.3 terabytes and nine billion lines of data”.

Publishing body the NMPA hailed the news as “a massive win for music creators and the streaming services themselves” but the Artist Rights Alliance offered a warning.

“In the months ahead we look forward to engaging further with the [Copyright] Office about efforts by publishers who have already been paid for historical usages via settlement agreements to seek double payment out of these new funds,” it claimed. “As we have told the Office in our prior filings, the major publishers that already settled with digital services and received payment from them should not be allowed to claim a further share of the monies transferred to The MLC today.”

The Trichordist, meanwhile, had some bracing words for the DSPs. “Apple tries to position itself as a friend to artists and songwriters and is the worst offender. Spotify has literally no excuse as they have been sued multiple times and as we now see for good reason. Amazon and Google are two of the biggest technology companies in commercial history, but they can’t find songwriters,” it said, later adding “if our lobbyists are going to celebrate anything, they need to celebrate when every penny is accounted for and paid to the right person”.

The MLC has an unenviable task in sorting through the masses of data to match works to streams, and dealing with the sensitive ‘double payment’ issue fairly and transparently. Make no mistake, getting $424.4m out of the black boxes is a very important moment. But there is plenty more work (and, clearly, quite a few arguments) to come around its distribution.

Image by Michael Longmire/Unsplash

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