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ASCAP, BMI and SESAC open MusiCares relief fund for songwriters

Donations to the MusiCares COVID-19 relief fund have now exceeded $10million.

MBN Staff

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MusiCares / The Recording Academy
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Story Highlights

  • Donations to the MusiCares COVID-19 relief fund have now exceeded $10million.
  • The Recording Academy says more is needed to meet the growing demand.

Performing Rights Organizations have joined in with the widespread donations to MusiCares, in aid of music professionals affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. ASCAP, BMI and SESAC have, together, opened a special MusiCares fund to specifically cater to songwriters and composers. Whilst the MusiCares fund (which has now exceeded $10million) was already open for music creatives in need of financial assistance, this newly-created songwriters fund will be available only to members and affiliates of the three performing rights organizations.

Though donations to the overall MusiCares fund has gone beyond expectations, so has the demand. Thus, according to a statement released today by The Recording Academy, more finances are needed to meet the needs of industry workers – as the coronavirus impact continues to take effect.

“It‘s inspiring to see every sector of the music industry band together during a time of need”, said Harvey Mason Jr. – Chairman of The Recording Academy.

Mason later added: “With the help of these latest contributions and the generous donations over the past few weeks, we‘ve been able to garner more than $10 million to provide aid for music people across all genres, crafts and disciplines affected by the coronavirus pandemic. That said, the need is still so great and these times remain critical for music people”.

the need is still so great and these times remain critical for music people

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Echoing Harvey’s comments, Steve Boom – Chair of MusiCares – thanked ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and others who have extended an arm to grow the fund. But also emphasized that more is needed.

Boom shared:“We’re thrilled to see the continued support from organizations to help all the people who were depending on their next gig to make ends meet. There is still much more work to be done, and we hope that those who have supported us will continue to inspire others to do what’s needed for the music industry during this unprecedented time”.

BMI’s President, Mike O’Neil, said the company was ‘grateful’ to be able to join in with ASCAP and SESAC in being a help to the community of music creators during this time.

O’Neil closed by saying: “The creative community is resilient and will continue to inspire the industry as we get through this together”. 

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Elizabeth Matthews (Chief Executive of ASCAP) and John Josephson (SESAC Chairman/CEO) also acknowledged and thank each of the other two PROs – with the latter noting that “It is essential that we do all we can to make sure that our creators have the resources they need to navigate this crisis and continue practicing their craft”.

In addition to opening the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund, The Recording Academy has made an appeal to Congress for further assistance for affected workers in the music industry. Local Chapters of the organization are also raising funds to help those within their respective regions.

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Sony Music Group Issues Stern Warning to AI Companies Over Unauthorized Use of Content

Major label sends legal notices to hundreds of AI developers and streaming services, asserting IP rights and demanding compliance.

MBN Staff

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  • In the notices, Sony demands a detailed accounting of any content used by AI firms.

Sony Music Group (SMG) has taken a decisive stand against the unauthorized use of its intellectual property by artificial intelligence companies. The major record label has issued formal legal notices to approximately 700 AI developers and music streaming services, unequivocally prohibiting them from using Sony-owned music, lyrics, or other content to train AI models without express permission.

According to the LA Times, the letter directly accuses some AI companies of potentially infringing on SMG’s intellectual property rights: “Due to the nature of your operations and published information about your AI systems, we have reason to believe that you and/or your affiliates may already have made unauthorized uses (including TDM [text and data mining]) of SMG Content in relation to the training, development or commercialization of AI systems.”

The letter suggests that Sony has grounds to believe that certain AI startups may have already been using its content to train their models without obtaining the necessary licenses or permissions – a practice the label is now explicitly challenging.

SMG Requires Detailed Accounting, Asserts Broad IP Rights

In the notices sent to AI companies, Sony is demanding a comprehensive accounting of any SMG content used in the development or training of their AI systems, insisting on a detailed breakdown of how its intellectual property was “accessed and/or reproduced and/or extracted” by the AI firms or any third-party contractors working on their behalf.

Furthermore, SMG is asserting its intellectual property rights across a broad range of content types. The company has prominently posted a “Declaration of AI Training Opt-Out” on its corporate website, unambiguously stating that it “expressly prohibits and opts out of any text or data mining, web scraping or similar reproductions” of its content – including music recordings, compositions, lyrics, artwork, and metadata – for the purpose of training or developing AI systems.

Sources familiar with the matter also disclosed to MBN that Sony is concurrently pressuring music streaming platforms to revise their terms of service, adding explicit prohibitions against the mining of Sony content for AI training purposes.

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Sony Music Group CEO Rob Stringer

Sony Points to EU AI Act, Expresses Concern Over Potential Exploitation of Artists

Sony’s aggressive action comes in the context of the recently-passed EU AI Act, which mandates that AI developers publicly disclose the content used to train their models. However, the label’s motivations appear to extend beyond mere regulatory compliance. SMG’s public statements suggest a deep concern about the potential for AI technologies to exploit and devalue the work of the artists it represents.

“Evolutions in technology have frequently shifted the course of creative industries,” SMG declared in a statement posted on its website. “However, that innovation must ensure that songwriters’ and recording artists’ rights, including copyrights, are respected.

The label’s position is unambiguous: while it recognizes the transformative potential of AI, it will not tolerate the erosion of its artists’ rights and livelihoods in the process. Sony maintains that the unauthorized use of SMG content “deprives SMG Companies and SMG Talent of control over and appropriate compensation for the uses of SMG Content, conflicts with the normal exploitation of those works, unreasonably prejudices our legitimate interests, and infringes our intellectual property and other rights.”

In essence, Sony is putting AI companies on notice that the use of its content to power AI systems will require formal licensing agreements that ensure artists and rights holders are properly compensated. Failure to comply will likely invite legal challenges from the label’s IP attorneys.

The Intensifying Conflict Between the Music Industry and AI Sector

Sony’s stance represents a significant escalation in the simmering tensions between the music industry and AI companies over the use of copyrighted content to train generative AI models. As these AI systems grow more advanced and gain widespread adoption, music industry stakeholders continue to confront complex questions around artistic consent, fair compensation, and the very nature of creative integrity in an era of artificial intelligence.

The industry’s concerns are not merely hypothetical. Some artists and labels have already pursued legal action against AI firms alleged to have trained their models on copyrighted works without permission. Just last month, Warner Music Group CEO Robert Kyncl appeared before the U.S. Congress to advocate for legislation that would safeguard against unauthorized deepfakes and the misappropriation of artists’ likenesses.

Moreover, a coalition of over 200 prominent recording artists, including A-list acts like Billie Eilish, Sam Smith, and Nicki Minaj, recently published an open letter calling on AI companies to make a public commitment not to use their works in ways that would “undermine or replace” human artistry.

As the AI revolution continues to unfold, the music industry appears increasingly resolute in its determination to defend the rights and economic interests of creators. With influential players like Sony now directly confronting the AI sector, the battle lines are becoming more starkly defined. However, in a rapidly-evolving landscape where the boundaries between human ingenuity and machine learning are increasingly blurred, finding an equitable balance that respects the rights of creators while welcoming technological innovation may prove to be a formidable challenge.

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Spotify Taken to Court by MLC Over ‘Bundled’ Subscription Royalties

Lawsuit claims Spotify’s move to reclassify Premium plans could cost songwriters millions in mechanical royalties each year.

MBN Staff

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Story Highlights

  • The MLC says Spotify’s ‘bundled’ subscription plans could cost songwriters $150m annually in royalties.

     

The Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) has filed a lawsuit against Spotify, alleging that the streaming giant has been significantly underpaying royalties owed under the compulsory mechanical blanket license it holds to use musical works in the United States. The legal action, filed Thursday (May 16) in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, claims that Spotify’s recent reclassification of its Premium subscription offerings is to blame.

In March of this year, Spotify began treating its Premium Individual, Duo, and Family plans as “Bundled Subscription Offerings” after adding a limited audiobook benefit to these tiers. Under the terms of the ‘Phonorecords IV’ agreement that sets U.S. mechanical rates for 2023-2027, bundles are subject to a different, lower royalty rate than standalone music subscriptions.”

The impact of this shift carries major implications. According to estimates cited by Billboard, the reclassification could result in a $150 million annual reduction in mechanical royalties paid out to songwriters and publishers. The MLC’s complaint pulls no punches, saying that “the financial consequences… are enormous for songwriters and music publishers.”

Industry Reactions: NMPA Applaud Lawsuit; Spotify Ready to Fight

In a statement, MLC CEO Kris Ahrend said: “The MLC was designated by the Register of Copyrights to administer the blanket license and is the only entity with the statutory mandate to collect and distribute blanket license royalties and take legal action to enforce royalty payment obligations. The MLC takes seriously its legal responsibility to take action on behalf of our Members when we believe usage reporting and royalty payments are materially incorrect.”

Unsurprisingly, the move has earned applause from publishing industry leaders. NMPA President & CEO David Israelite stated: “We applaud the MLC for standing up for songwriters and not letting Spotify get away with its latest trick to underpay creators. The MLC is tasked with challenging services that falsely report royalties, and we commend their swift action.”

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Spotify CEO Daniel Ek

High Stakes Legal Battle Could Have Far-Reaching Implications

Spotify, of course, seems ready to fight the accusations. In a statement, the streaming giant said: “The lawsuit concerns terms that publishers and streaming services agreed to and celebrated years ago under the Phono IV agreement. Bundles were a critical component of that settlement, and multiple DSPs include bundles as part of their mix of subscription offerings. Spotify paid a record amount to publishers and societies in 2023 and is on track to pay out an even larger amount in 2024. We look forward to a swift resolution of this matter.”

The legal battle comes amid heightened tensions between Spotify and music publishers. Just one day prior to the MLC lawsuit, the NMPA sent Spotify a cease-and-desist over the use of lyrics in new video features — which publishers claim are unlicensed.

NSAI Executive Director Bart Herbison didn’t mince words in his assessment of Spotify’s strategy, stating: “This scheme could set songwriters back to a situation worse than before the Copyright Royalty Board trial that resulted in a record percentage increase from streaming companies.”

Herbison also pointed out the stark contrast between Spotify’s alleged royalty-slashing maneuver and founder Daniel Ek’s reported $180 million stock cash-out in recent months.

If Billboard’s estimates are accurate, there’s no doubt that a $150 million annual hit would be a major blow to songwriters and publishers, many of whom fought hard for the royalty rate increases secured in the Phono IV agreement. 

No doubt as this high-stakes legal battle unfolds, the industry will be watching extremely closely, as the outcome could have far-reaching implications for the way streaming services use product bundles to determine royalty payouts.

Whatever the outcome, one thing is certain: the fight for fair creator compensation in the streaming era is definitely far from over.

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