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The son of Harold Arlen – the man who wrote ‘Over The Rainbow’, ‘I’ve Got The World On A String’ and ‘Get Happy’, among many other famous works – has sued Apple, Amazon, Google, Pandora and a stack of labels over allegations that they have all been involved in the rampant copyright infringement of his father’s songs.

The lawsuit was filed earlier this month and first reported on by Forbes, but we now know more about the litigation. At its heart it’s about digital music platforms distributing songs without having sorted out a mechanical rights licence, which might sound familiar, but this case is different to those that have gone before.

Nearly all the streaming services have been sued at some point in recent years in the US for failing to pay all of the mechanical royalties that are due on the songs they are streaming. In most cases, this failure to pay was mainly the result of the woefully inadequate licensing system operated by the American music publishing sector.

Technically a compulsory licence covers the mechanical rights in songs Stateside, so that the streaming services don’t need bespoke licences from each writer or publisher. However, they do need to send notices and payments to each rights owners of each song streamed for the compulsory licence to apply.

Because the streaming services don’t generally know what specific songs are contained in the recordings labels pump into their platforms – let alone who owns the rights in those songs – in some cases notices and payments were not sent. This meant the compulsory licence did not apply. Which meant the digital music firms were liable for copyright infringement. And so a flood of multi-million dollar lawsuits followed.

However, last year’s Music Modernization Act seeks to solve that particular problem. It basically stops the streaming services from being liable for infringement when the formalities of the compulsory licence are not fulfilled, in return for said services committing to fund the creation of a brand new collecting society. That which will then administrate mechanical royalties moving forward and, in theory at least, make sure writers and publishers get paid.

So what’s going on with this Arlen case? Well, in a long lawsuit that goes to great lengths to remind us just how great the composer was, lawyers for the music maker’s son and his company SA Music argue that in a plethora of cases where the tech giants have been distributing Arlen’s work, the compulsory licence doesn’t even apply.

Why? Because the sound recordings that contain the songs are not legit, in that the label or distributor that provided the tracks to the services does not own or control the original master recording. And if the sound recording is not legit, the compulsory licence doesn’t apply for the song contained within that illegitimate recording.

Arlen Junior’s lawsuit claims that while most of the famous recordings of his father’s songs are now in the control of major labels, there are numerous examples of independents also distributing those same tracks to the digital services.

Said indies could, of course, be doing this legitimately by having first acquired a licence to exploit the recordings from the relevant major, but the lawsuit claims that in most cases there are no records of any such licences being secured.

The lawsuit then states: “Upon information and beliefs, the pirate label defendants are simply duplicating pre-existing recordings made by others without permission, and joining with the distributor and online defendants to make digital phonorecord deliveries of the pirate copies of the recordings of the subject compositions in their stores and services”.

Although the tech firms are not directly involved in this initial (alleged) infringement, the lawsuit argues that they should still be held liable for it all. They profit from the unlicensed distribution of Arlen’s songs, says the legal filing. Also, they could and should control the reproduction and distribution of pirated music on their platforms.

Of course, if there are as many unlicensed versions of the most famous recordings of Arlen’s songs available on the digital platforms as this lawsuit suggests, you have to wonder why the labels that own those sound recordings haven’t also gone legal.

Though the case does raise questions about possible weaknesses in the digital supply chain in terms of filtering out unlicensed recordings. Which is something that has come up at various points in recent years, most often when random people have uploaded leaked versions of new music. In addition to that, Arlen’s legal filing also takes us back to the classic debate over the lack of a central music rights database through which digital services can confirm ownership, and the problems that can cause.

Arlen’s lawyers themselves say of their legal action: “This case is about massive music piracy operations in the digital music stores and streaming services of some of the largest tech companies in the world. Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Pandora and their distributors have joined with notorious music pirates to sell and stream thousands of pirated recordings embodying copyrighted works owned by SA Music and the Harold Arlen Trust”.

It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.

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Downtown Music’s song rights management platform Songtrust has announced Lara Baker as its new Director Of Business Development for the UK and Ireland. Songtrust helps songwriters and publishers administrate their rights around the world and is slowly increasing its on-the-ground presence in markets beyond the US.

“The UK is a critical music market for the songwriting community and the ever growing independent music sector deserves access to global music publishing now more than ever”, says Songtrust’s Global Head Of Business Development Molly Neuman.

“It is increasingly urgent that Songtrust as a company is actively engaging with the music community of songwriters, producers, managers, labels and those who work with them” she goes on. “I’ve had the pleasure to work with [Lara] in many capacities over the years, and there is no one more aligned with our company’s mission than [her]. I’m THRILLED to have her join our team”.

Baker adds: “Empowering independent creators has been the common thread through all my work in music, and so I’m THRILLED to be joining a company like Songtrust that shares this core purpose. Songtrust is simplifying music publishing administration for the independent creative community, and I can’t wait to get started on helping creators in the UK and Ireland gain access to their global publishing royalties”.

Formerly Marketing & Events Director at the Association Of Independent Music, since leaving the UK indie label trade body in 2018, baker has provided consultancy for a number of music business events.

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Record industry trade body BPI has announced that nineteen more independent acts will receive funding through its Music Export Growth Scheme, which seeks to support artists who have had success at home and who are looking for help to grow their businesses in new markets.

For the first time a classical music project is among those receiving funding, the BPI having been encouraging those in the classical genre to apply. The London Symphony Orchestra will receive backing to take their tour to South America. Other’s getting funding this time include Northern Ireland’s Soak, folk performer Luke Sital-Singh, Bristol-based trio Elder Island, R&B singer-songwriter Rosie Lowe and electronic music duo Honne.

The latest round of funding totals £257,000, which means MEGS has now dished out nearly £3.5 million to independent artists, labels and management firms since it launched five years ago.

The scheme is funded by the Department For International Trade, which is run by that Liam Fox. Commenting on the scheme, he said yesterday: “Successful British music acts are the unsung heroes of our economy. The UK is a world leader in music exports, which soared by 7% to £2.6 billion in 2017. As part of our exports strategy, we are proud to help UK artists to break into new global markets and, thanks to the Music Export Growth Scheme, hundreds of British acts have received funding that will help this growth to continue”.

On the BPI side, its CEO Geoff Taylor added: “Britain has a proud record of global success as a music nation but, in the intensely competitive era of global digital platforms, we need to invest more than ever to break UK artists overseas. A relatively small contribution from the Music Export Growth Scheme to an act’s tour or digital marketing can make all the difference in supporting its international success. In the process we all stand to gain – an enlightened approach that is all the more necessary as the UK looks to develop its international trade strategy”.

Applications are open for the next round of MEGS funding, with the deadline getting close now, it being 27 May. Details here.

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The next edition of the acclaimed ‘Making Money From Music Copyright’ seminar series will take place in September over three Monday evenings at the London HQ of Lewis Silkin, and tickets are on sale now at early bird rates. The three sessions cover the following:

HOW MUSIC RIGHTS WORK (16 Sep)
An introduction to copyright law and how it applies to the music business, including ownership, terms and how copyrights make money.

HOW MUSIC LICENSING WORKS (23 Sep)
An introduction to how music licensing works and an overview of the collective licensing system and the UK collecting societies.

THE MUSIC RIGHTS SECTOR (30 Sep)
An overview of the various elements of the music rights sector and how they are performing in 2019, including trends in the digital music market.

Tickets are now on sale at early bird rates. Places on each course are currently just £50 (plus VAT), while a pass for all three sessions is just £125 (plus VAT).

Click here for more information and to book.

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Alabama 3 frontman Jake Black has died after falling ill following a performance at the Highpoint Festival in Lancashire last week.

“Early this afternoon, on a beautiful summer’s day, our friend, comrade and spiritual teacher, Jake Black, aka The Very Reverend D Wayne Love, passed over to the higher ground”, said the band in a statement yesterday. “After a magnificent performance at the Highpoint Festival in Lancashire, D Wayne in his supreme wisdom, decided it was the appropriate moment for his ascension into the next level”.

“The transition was painless and peaceful”, they added. “He was surrounded by brothers Larry Love, LB Dope, The Spirit, Jonny Jamm and Sister Therese Mullan. We are heartbroken”.

According to Sky News, Black fell ill after the band’s Highpoint performance last Friday and died in hospital yesterday.

Combining country, blues and acid house influences, Black founded Alabama 3 with Rob Spragg in Brixton in 1995. Initially known as The First Presleyterian Church Of Elvis The Divine (UK), they subsequently adopted the name Alabama 3 and released their debut album, ‘Exile On Coldharbour Lane’, through One Little Indian in 1997.

A remixed version of a track from that record, ‘Woke Up This Morning’, was used as the opening titles music for all six series of ‘The Sopranos’, and remains the band’s best known song. They have released thirteen albums in total, the most recent, ‘Blues’, in 2016.

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Ezra Furman has announced the follow-up to his 2018 album ‘Transangelic Exodus’. Titled ‘Twelve Nudes’, his latest studio LP is set for release on Bella Union later this summer.

“This is our punk record”, says Furman. “We made it in Oakland, quickly. We drank and smoked. Then we made the loud parts louder. I hurt my voice screaming. This was back in 2018, when things were bad in the world. The songs are naked with nothing to hide”.

“[‘Transangelic Exodus’ was] an angry and fearful and pent-up reaction to events too”, he adds. “But it was a carefully written and recorded version; we took a lot of time with edits and overdubs. I knew I wanted to make this album quickly and not spend time thinking how to play the songs. ‘Twelve Nudes’ is a ‘body’ more than a ‘mind’ record – more animal than intellectual. And by affirming negativity, it gives you energy, to reject stuff. There’s more space for positivity”.

The first single from the album is ‘Calm Down’, of which he says: “Desperate times make for desperate songs. I wrote this in the summer of 2018, a terrible time. It’s the sound of me struggling to admit that I’m not okay with the current state of human civilisation, in which bad men crush us into submission. Once you admit how bad it feels to live in a broken society, you can start to resist it, and imagine a better one”.

The album will be released on 30 Aug. Furman has two headline shows in Norwich and Sheffield next week, nestled in between performances at the Hay On Wye and All Points East festivals.

Watch the video for ‘Calm Down’ here:

Ezra Furman - Calm Down AKA I Should Not Be Alone - YouTube

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Ghetts has announced UK tour dates for December this year as he continues to push last year’s ‘Ghetto Gospel: The New Testament’ album. It also follows an Ivor Novello nomination and recent collaborations with Shy FX and Africa Express.

Here are the dates:

8 Dec: Glasgow, SWG3
11 Dec: Brighton, Concorde 2
12 Dec: Bristol, SWX
13 Dec: Birmingham, Institute 2
15 Dec: Nottingham, Rescue Rooms
16 Dec: Norwich, Waterfront
17 Dec: Leeds, Wardrobe
19 Dec: Manchester, Academy 2
20 Dec: Newcastle, Academy 2
21 Dec: London, The Forum

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Other notable announcements and developments today…

• Logic has signed a new worldwide administration deal with Universal Music Publishing. “I’m truly excited to begin my new creative partnership with UMPG”, he says. So that’s nice.

• Absolute Rights Management has signed Jack Savoretti and will now handle all his neighbouring rights needs. Other recent signings, we are reliably informed, include HeavyTrackerz, Brian Rawling, The Puppini Sisters’ Marcella Puppini, Fairground Attraction’s Mark Nevin, Sheridan Tongue, Warren Bennett and Calibre. These deals are “really pleasing”, says Head Of Global Copyright & Collections Gina Deacon.

• Tom Gray, Crispin Hunt and Philip Pope have all been newly appointed as writer directors on the board of UK collecting society PRS. They are joined by new Publisher Director Antony Bebawi of Sony/ATV. “Their insights and experience in the music business will be invaluable to our mission”, reckons PRS chair Nigel Elderton.

• Flying Lotus has released another new track, ‘Black Balloons Reprise’, featuring Denzel Curry. His new album, ‘Flamagra’, is out this week.

• Russian Circles have announced that they will release their seventh album, ‘Blood Year’, on 2 Aug. From it, this is first single ‘Arluck‘.

• Pelican have released new track ‘Cold Hope’. Their first album for six years, ‘Nighttime Stories’, is out on 7 Jun.

• Mount Forel have released new single ‘Greenland’. “It’s about how things are already (arguably) beyond the point which our governments are aiming for”, says frontman Ross Thompson of the climate change inspiration for the song. “It’s also about having a plan in place so that when the moment comes where those at the top actually start to give a fuck, you can say ‘here you go, this is what we should have been doing ten years ago’. Hopefully by that point it won’t be too late”.

• Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily – updated every Friday.

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Playboi Carti’s track ‘Kid Cudi’ has gone to number one on Spotify’s US Viral 50 chart. So that’s nice, isn’t it? Although the rapper might be wondering how, given that it’s not out yet. Not least because ‘Kid Cudi’ isn’t really a track in its own right. It’s actually Carti’s verse on an unreleased Young Nudy and Pi’erre Bourne record titled ‘Pissy Pamper’.

Despite all that, a pitch-altered version of the Carti track managed to find its way onto Spotify, albeit titled ‘Kid Carti’ and being credited to Lil Kambo. It gained more than two million streams before being taken down.

The track that’s not really a track has become popular ever since Carti previewed it in an Instagram post in March. That post resulted in various unofficial rips being uploaded to YouTube and other versions then began to circulate online. It has also been transformed into numerous memes, and got a further boost when Carti performed the verse at the Rolling Loud festival earlier this month, which is seemingly the catalyst for driving the unofficial version of it up Spotify’s viral chart.

Speaking to Genius, the person behind that Lil Kambo account – which still carries two leaked Lil Uzi Vert songs, despite ‘Kid Carti’ being deleted – revealed themselves to be a teenager in high school.

“I first made my Spotify account to post songs that aren’t already on Spotify”, they explained. “Before the song came out there was a snippet on YouTube and it sounded like it would be a hit if it was released. A couple weeks later the song got leaked and I posted it to my channel not thinking about how big it would get. I posted it on the Playboi Carti Reddit to help the fans find the song”.

The uploader said that they had not yet earned any royalties from the upload, but that “it is very exciting to see something I did for fun get so popular”. So that’s all nice. Except that it’s obviously completely illegal and any royalties paid out would have been gained illegitimately. Just doing it for fun apparently not being an adequate legal defence.

It’s not the first time tracks have unofficially appeared on Spotify, of course. There has been a spate of them recently in fact – including full albums of music by Ariana Grande, Beyonce and SZA under pseudonyms – all of which were quickly removed.

Plus that new lawsuit filed against four tech firms by the estate of Harold Arlen also questions whether digital distributors are doing enough to stop people pushing other people’s recordings into the streaming services.

Though beyond the legalities, the success of ‘Kid Cudi’ also shows that there is plenty of demand for ‘Pissy Pamper’ that is not being satisfied at the moment – possibly due to another kind of copyright legality delaying its release, ie sample clearance issues.

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Sony Music has announced two significant upcoming changes to its royalty portal, which is pretty big news. Even though – as is often the way with things like this – to anyone outside the music industry the new functionality soon to be on offer would seem like something you’d expect ever royalty reporting system to offer pretty much as standard.

The innovations, dubbed ‘Real Time Royalties’ and ‘Cash Out’ by the major, will allow artists signed to Sony labels to access royalty information about their music much faster and access monies they are owed quicker and more frequently.

A memo sent by Sony to artist representatives explains that “once launched, Real Time Royalties, available anytime, anywhere through the Sony Music Artist Portal, will provide you immediate updates about your global royalty earnings and account balances as soon as we receive financial reporting from hundreds of digital distribution services on a monthly basis”.

It goes on: “This major speed improvement eliminates the need to wait for periodic reporting cycles to see your royalty earnings and account balances. You’ll also be able to use the Sony Music Artist Portal’s industry‐leading analytics capabilities to interpret your Real Time Royalties data in robust and powerful ways, giving you faster insights into your earnings trends so you can make highly‐informed decisions”.

On the payments innovation, the memo adds: “Cash Out will give you even greater control over your money by providing you with the ability to request a withdrawal of all or part of your payable balance every month using the Sony Music Artist Portal”.

The MMF ‘Transparency Guide’, produced by CMU Insights and published in 2017, outlined the 20 pieces of data and information that artists and their teams needed from their label and distribution partners. When you apply that ‘Transparency Index’ to different labels and distributors – ie you look at which partners are providing which information and how often – there is huge variation across the industry.

Generally, the digital distributors score highest (although no one gets 20/20), partly because they built their systems from scratch to process, crunch and report the plethora of usage and royalty data that comes in – daily in terms of usage data, often monthly for royalties – from all the streaming services currently operating around the world.

That includes the DIY distributors which work directly with new self-releasing artists. So that you have the slightly bizarre situation where the first experience any new artist has of a distribution partner – in terms of reporting and speed of payments – is probably the best experience they will ever have. As their career progresses and they start doing bigger deals with bigger labels, the quality of reporting will only go down.

Most traditional labels know this, of course, and as artist and managers have demanded more transparency in the digital space, some labels have invested in building better reporting platforms. Initially more focus was put on improving the delivery of usage data. Even though the lack of industry standards means that – for many managers who have acts signed to many different labels and distributors – it’s often easier to get usage information directly from Spotify and Apple’s artist portals, which managers have learned to navigate.

However, royalty reporting is only usually available via the label or distributor, so arguably it’s more important that improvements are made in this domain. And there are often many more improvements to make, given that most labels traditionally reported on royalties on a quarterly or twice-yearly basis.

Again digital distributors have often been better at reporting financial information, but innovations such as these announced by Sony yesterday are definitely a good thing, and will put further pressure on everyone else to improve both reporting and speed of payments.

So, things are definitely improving. In recordings. Issues around quality of reporting and speed of payments are even higher on the songs side of the business, as outlined in the MMF ‘Song Royalties Guide’ launched at the CMU+TGE Digital Dollars Conference earlier this month. However, there are innovators in this space too who are slowly raising the bar, though even the innovators are often constrained by industry-wide limitations.

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