Streaming Remuneration:  An answer to global cultural dominance by European/US Streaming Services

Streamers Lack of Local Cultural Contribution

Look at Spotify’s “Global Top 50” playlist on any day and the world’s biggest music service will show all or nearly all English language songs. With few exceptions these songs are performed by Anglo-American artists released by major record companies.  

These “enterprise” playlists largely take the place of broadcast radio for many users where Spotify operates and Spotify competes with local radio for advertising revenue on the free version of Spotify.

Spotify’s now former general counsel told the recent inquiry into the music streaming economy conducted by the UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, “Our job is sucking users away from radio[2] and Spotify uses its market power to do just that.  

However, Spotify has not been subject to any local content protections that would be in place for local radio broadcasters.  Enterprise playlists that exclude local music contributes to the destruction of music economies, including performers.  Local performers struggle even more to compete with Anglo-American repertoire, even in their own countries.  

Due to this phenomenon, local artists are forced to compete for “shelf space” with everyone in their local language and then the Anglo-American artists and their record companies.  This also means that local artists compete for a diminishing share of the payable royalties.  The “big pool” revenue share method of royalty compensation is designed to overcompensate the English-language big names and reduce payments to artists performing in other languages in their own country.

Local Content Rules 

Many countries implement local content broadcast rules that require broadcasters to play a certain number of recordings performed by local artists or indigenous people, songs written by local songwriters in local languages, or recordings that are released by locally-owned record companies.

Because streaming playlists, especially Spotify enterprise playlists or algorithmically selected recordings, are an equivalent to broadcast radio, there is a question as to whether national governments should regulate streaming services operating in their countries to require local content rules.  Implementing such rules could benefit local performers and songwriters in an otherwise unsustainable enviornment.

The Fallacy of Infinite Shelf Space

Because Spotify adds recordings at a rate of 60,000 tracks daily (now reports of 100,000 tracks daily) and never deletes recordings, there is a marked competitive difference between a record store and Spotify.  In the record store model, artists had to compete with recordings that were in current release; in the Spotify model, artists have to compete will all recordings ever released.  

Adding the dominant influence of Anglo-American recordings on Spotify, the “infinite shelf space” simply compounds the competitive problems for non-English recordings.

Streaming Remuneration Helps Solve the Sustainability Crisis

The streaming remuneration model requires streaming services—not record companies—to pay additional compensation to nonfeatured and featured performers.  Streaming remuneration would be created under national law and is compensatory in nature, not monies in exchange for a license.  Existing licenses (statutory or contractual) would not be affected and remuneration payments could not be offset by streamers against label payments or by labels against artist payments.

Each country would determine the amount to be paid to performers by streaming services and the payment periods.  Payments would be made to local CMOs or the equivalent depending on the infrastructure in the particular country.

European Corporate Dominance 

It must also be said that the two founders of Spotify hold a 10:1 voting control over the company through special stock issued only to them.  This means that these two Caucasian Europeans control 100% of the dominant music streaming company in the world.  For comparison, Google and Facebook have a similar model, while Apple has a 1 share 1 vote structure as does Amazon (although Jeff Bezos owns a controlling interest in Amazon).  

The net effect is that the entire global streaming music industry is controlled by six Caucasian males of European descent.  This demography also argues for local content rules to protect local performers from these influences that have produced an English-only Global Top 50 playlist.

Local governments could consider whether companies with the 10:1 voting stock (so-called “dual class” or “supervoting” shares) should be allowed to operate locally.

Countries Can Respond to Streaming’s Homogenized Algorithmic Playlist Culture

Many national cultural protection laws have a history of sustaining local culture and musicians in the face of the Anglo-American Top 40 juggernaut. There is no reason to think that these agencies are not up for the task of protecting their citizens in the face of algorithms and neuromarketing.

Does the Metaverse Have Rights? Permissionless Innovation Bias and Artificial Intelligence

As Susan Crawford told us in 2010:

I was brought up and trained in the Internet Age by people who really believed that nation states were on the verge of crumbling…and we could geek around it.  We could avoid it.  These people [and their nation states] were irrelevant.

Ms. Crawford had a key tech role in the Obama Administration and is now a law professor. She crystalized the wistful disappointment of technocrats when the Internet is confronted with generational expectations of non-technocrats (i.e., you and me). The disappointment that ownership means something, privacy means something and that permission defines a self-identity boundary that is not something to “geek around” in a quest for “permissionless innovation.”

Seeking permission recognizes humanity. Failing to do so takes these rights away from the humans and gives them to the people who own the machines–at least until the arrival of general artificial intelligence which may find us working for the machines.

These core concepts of civil society are not “irrelevant”. They define humanity. What assurance do we have that empowered AI machines won’t capture these rights?

All these concepts are at issue in the “metaverse” plan announced by Mark Zuckerberg, who has a supermajority of Facebook voting shares and has decided to devote an initial investment of $10 billion (that we know of) to expanding the metaverse. Given the addictive properties of social media and the scoring potential of social credit it is increasingly important that we acknowledge that the AI behind the metaverse (and soon almost everything else) is itself a hyper efficient implementation of the biases of those who program that AI.

AI bias and the ethics of AI are all the rage. Harvard Business Review tells us that “AI can help identify and reduce the impact of human biases, but it can also make the problem worse by baking in and deploying biases at scale in sensitive application areas.” Cathy O’Neill’s 2016 book Weapons of Math Destruction is a deep dive into how databases discriminate and exhibit the biases of those who create them.

We can all agree that insurance redlining, gender stereotyping and comparable social biases need to be dealt with. But concerns about bias don’t end there. An even deeper dive needs to be done into the more abstract biases required to geek around the nation state and fundamental human rights corrupted by the “permissionless innovation” bias that is built into major platforms like Facebook and from which its employees and kingpin enjoy unparalleled riches.

That bias will be incorporated into the Zuckerberg version of the metaverse and the AI that will power it.

Here’s an example. We know that Facebook’s architecture never contemplated a music or movie licensing process. Zuckerberg built it that way on purpose–the architecture reflected his bias against respecting copyright, user data and really any private property rights not his own. Not only does Zuckerberg take copyright and data for his own purposes, he has convinced billions of people to create free content for him and then to pay him to advertise that content to Facebook users and elsewhere. He takes great care to be sure that there is extraordinarily complex programming to maximize his profit from selling other people’s property, but he refuses to do the same when it comes to paying the people who create the content, and by extension the data he then repackages and sells.

He does this for a reason–he was allowed to get away with it. The music and movie industries failed to stop him and let him get away with it year after year until he finally agreed to make a token payment to a handful of large companies. That cash arrives with no really accurate reporting because reporting would require reversing the bias against licensing and reporting that was built into the Facebook systems to begin with.

A bias that is almost certainly going to be extended into the Facebook metaverse.

The metaverse is likely going to be a place where everything is for sale and product placements abound. The level of data collection on individuals will likely increase exponentially. Consider this Techcrunch description of “Project Cambria” the Metaverse replacement for the standard VR headset:

Cambria will include capabilities that currently aren’t possible on other VR headsets. New sensors in the device will allow your virtual avatar to maintain eye contact and reflect your facial expressions. The company says that’s something that will allow people you’re interacting with virtually to get a better sense of how you’re feeling. Another focus of the headset will be mixed-reality experiences. With the help of new sensors and reconstruction algorithms, Facebook claims Cambria will have the capability to represent objects in the physical world with a sense of depth and perspective.

If past is prologue, the Metaverse will exhibit an even greater disregard for human rights and the laws that protect us than Facebook. That anti-human bias will be baked into the architecture and the AI that supports it. The machines don’t look kindly on those pesky humans and all their petty little rights that stand in the way of the AI getting what it wants.

If you don’t think that’s true, try reading the terms of service for these platforms. Or considering why the technocrats are so interested in safe harbors where their machines can run free of liability for collateral damage. The terms of service should make clear that AI has greater rights than you. We are way beyond pronouns now.

If the only concern of AI ethics is protection against stereotypes or insurance redlining (a version of the social credit score), we will be missing huge fundamental parts of the bias problem. Should we be content if AI is allowing its owner (for so long as it has an owner) to otherwise rob you blind by taking your property or selling your data while using the right pronoun as it geeks around the nation state?