To co-opt the old adage about buses… you wait ages for a rancorous music publishing / tech dispute to be put to rest with an agreement that isn’t a licensing deal in itself, but paves the way for such deals… then two come along at once!
Yes, less than a week after the US National Music Publishers Association buried the hatchet with Twitch, it has now reached an agreement with Roblox – the gaming company it was suing for $200m alleging “unabashed exploitation of music without proper licences”.
As with the Twitch news, this is not a platform-wide licensing deal covering the NMPA’s members, but rather a bridging agreement that will give Roblox the time and space to reach its own deals with those publishers.
“It settles claims filed by NMPA members, offers an industry-wide opt-in open to all eligible NMPA publishers and opens a negotiation period for members to engage individually in new go-forward licensing deals with the Roblox global platform,” as the joint announcement put it this afternoon.
Roblox does already have some deals with major music publishers, but today’s news should lead to more such agreements.
“We are delighted to have come to terms with select NMPA members, building on our existing relationships with major publishers,” is how its global head of music Jon Vlassopulos described that.
“We are pleased that the publishing industry sees the potential of Roblox to be a significant creative and commercial opportunity for its members.”
No surprises to see NMPA boss David Israelite backing that view in his own statement.
“We are extremely pleased to have found a way forward with Roblox as it continues to offer a unique platform for musicians and songwriters in the metaverse,” he said.
“Roblox understands that music has the potential to play a more integral role on its platform. I appreciate Roblox’s willingness to work with us in pursuit of advancing the interests of publishers and songwriters and look forward to seeing how they expand virtual experiences through music.”
There are two main ways music is used on Roblox. First, the virtual concerts (and as of this week, listening parties) for which the company works directly with rightsholders and artists, including securing the necessary rights from the former.
Second, the developers building games and experiences on Roblox can upload audio (including music) as part of that development process.
This is what sparked the NMPA’s lawsuit in June: it said that it had found songs recorded by the likes of Ariana Grande, Imagine Dragons, deadmau5, Ed Sheeran and the Rolling Stones being used on Roblox without permission.
Reaching an agreement with the NMPA to dismiss that lawsuit is an important step for Roblox, as it continues to develop its music strategy. That includes more concerts and listening parties – including selling healthy amounts of virtual merchandise – and figuring out how to let its community of developers use music legitimately.
But also even more ambitious stuff, as hinted at by Vlassopulos when Music Ally interviewed him earlier this year.
“We see a path to not having YouTube or a DSP in the background, but having a more integrated kind of metaverse music experience come together, which is again leaning into the social aspect,” he said then.
“Maybe you get some virtual concert ticket access, you get some VIP artist world access, you get some merch, you get some listening, you get playlists. I think it’s a really exciting time to connect fans back in a more visceral way with the artist they love.”
He also talked about ambitions for “opening up individuals to be almost their own virtual DJs, so… once we get full music on the platform: come to my area, hang out at my house, check out my tunes, and I become my own little VJ on the platform, as opposed to some of the DSPs where it’s more locked down and the platforms are controlling it.”
All of this would be significantly tougher to do while scrapping it out in court with music publishers, so today’s news removes an important barrier to those ambitions for a company that in August 2021 had 48.2 million daily active users spending 4bn hours playing on its platform.
Want a primer on Roblox and music? Watch our recent ‘Need to Know’ video!