interactive music service

The trade press in the last few days has been full of news about a letter of inquiry from two Congressmen to Spotify asking for details about Spotify’s promotional royalty rates where, in exchange for lowered royalties, songs to which these rates apply may be played more frequently, as Spotify factors in lower costs into its music selection algorithms.  The Congressional letter asks whether this promotional approach is already in operation, and if it will lead to a “race to the bottom” forcing lower royalties on artists, resulting in economic losses to these artists.  While the implication is that negotiation over royalty rates is a new phenomenon, in fact such negotiations are common in the digital music marketplace and, based on the way that Congress itself established the royalties for music services, they are inherent in that system.  In effect, this Congressional letter seems to be asking for Spotify to forego a private business transaction by which it lowers its costs of doing business through providing its business partners something that they want – more exposure for certain music.

Indeed, as we have written before, these negotiations over royalty rates are required to operate in the digital music marketplace.  Royalties paid to performers and record labels for the use of music by an interactive music service like Spotify are not set by governmental decision (there is no Copyright Royalty Board setting a default rate as there is for noninteractive music services – see our article here).  Instead, the rates are set by private business negotiations where there is a give-and-take between the parties over various considerations – including the promotional benefits when songs are featured on certain playlists provided by services like Spotify.  Certainly, there are counterweights to any downward pressure on all royalty rates, as listeners to an on-demand service like Spotify want to hear the hits.  So Spotify needs to pay for those hits to attract and retain its listeners.  In some cases, artists have determined that there is insufficient promotional value to the playing of their music on an interactive service and that no royalty would be enough to compensate them for perceived lost sales of their music when it is featured on an interactive service.  As we wrote here, these artists may deny an interactive service the use of all their music, or portions of their catalog.  In other cases, as in the instances that apparently gave rise to the Congressional letter, record companies or artists may feel that it is important that their music get exposure, so they will be willing to accept lower royalties in exchange for wider exposure to their music to consumers that such plays deliver.  In other cases, other promotional benefits may be given to the copyright holders for lower royalties (in fact, initially, the record companies received equity positions in Spotify, presumably to help convince them to make their music available at rates that Spotify thought it could afford).  Royalties in the interactive music marketplace are simply the result of a marketplace negotiation, as Congress intended when they adopted Section 114 of the Copyright Act providing for digital performance rights for sound recordings.
Continue Reading Congress Asks Spotify for Information About Promotional Royalty Rates – Is This Much Ado About the Way the Interactive Music Marketplace is Designed to Work?

We are waiting on the Copyright Royalty Board to release its decision setting the royalties that webcasters (including broadcasters who simulcast their over-the-air programming on the Internet) will pay to SoundExhange for the public performance of sound recordings in the period 2021 through the end of 2025.  As we wrote here, that decision would normally have been released in December but, as the trial to establish those rates was delayed by the pandemic and held virtually over the summer, the decision on rates could come as late as this April, though once effective it will be retroactive to all streaming that has occurred since January 1 of this year.  While we await the announcement of the new rates, as I’ve recently received several questions about the rules that apply to streaming under the statutory license, I thought that I would take a quick look at the “performance complement” and other rules that apply to companies that rely on this license.

Note that the rules set out below are slightly different for certain broadcasters, as the NAB in 2016 entered into agreements with Sony and Warner Music Groups to waive certain of the statutory requirements for broadcasters who stream their over-the-air signals on the Internet.  These agreements allow broadcasters to stream their normal over-the-air programming featuring music from these labels without having to observe all of the obligations set out below.  We summarized those waivers here, and hope that they will be further extended to cover the new royalty term.  Also, some big webcasters have negotiated relief from these requirements (see our article here).  But for those not subject to a waiver, let’s look at some of the rules that webcasters relying on the statutory license are to observe.
Continue Reading Looking at the Performance Complement and Other Rules that Apply to Webcasting Companies Relying on the Sound Recording Statutory License