The Core Flaw of Blockchain

The truth about blockchain is that at its core, it requires its regime to be enforced on rights owners in order to scale–and that is its essential flaw.

Call me a blockchain skeptic.  I agree with many of the conclusions reached by Alan Graham in his MusicTechPolicy interview, but I also think that at its core, blockchain as currently contemplated fails as an industry-wide rights registry.  Since I understand that its essential purpose is to be a reliable rights registry, it seems obvious to me that blockchain has limited application at best.

I spent a good deal of time helping some very smart people build an independent rights registry around 2005 and have thought about these issues for a long time.  (All the major labels and many indies participated in that registry.)

Based on that experience, I believe that the core value proposition of a rights registry is that it be easy to use; that the information in it be objectively verified and only changed with a proper showing of authority; that it be capable of making or directing the making of royalty payments (which means holding necessary tax information); and that it can be easily and timely updated with information for new releases.  I believe all these elements are essential and that blockchain accomplishes none of them well and some of them not at all.

A quote from Benji Rogers in MusicAlly lays out the core problem very effectively.  (Benji Rogers is a promoter of the blockchain technology and his own company Dot Blockchain–I think I have all the capitalizations in the right place, but forgive me if it’s actually dOt bLK.ch..n or something like that.)  Here’s his quotation (which I doubt that he viewed as a criticism of his product):

“Blockchains force action… If I were to make a statement about a work that I own in a blockchain, and I were to send it to you…you have three choices: yes it’s correct and I agree, no it’s not correct, or ignore it, which means it’s correct.”

What blockchain may bring to the table is something you cannot ignore, because ignoring it is the same as accepting what’s there in the table is truth… A blockchain-based system at scale could force people to work with it, in a way that exposes them to decentralisation and transparency, arguably whether they like it or not.” (emphasis in original)

In other words, organizing the world’s information whether the world likes it or not.  Sound familiar?

It is one thing if blockchain is a voluntary regime that artists and users can decide to participate in–and submit themselves to forced “decentralization and transparency” as Mr. Rogers articulates so well.  But it is entirely another thing altogether if blockchain is enforced by law.

I would not rule out that it is ultimately the goal of the blockchain investors to force songwriters and artists to submit to the blockchain as a matter of law.  This is certainly a familiar refrain if you have followed the various meltdowns over the desire of online retailers and search companies to force songwriters and artists to submit to their exploitation.  We have heard these ideas frequently over the years whether it is even safer harbors, orphan works or massive numbers of unauditable address unknown NOIs under the US compulsory mechanical license.

If you doubt that could happen, realize that two unmovable government agencies are currently allowing millions of songs to be exploited with unverified and dubious authority–the U.S. Copyright Office with mass NOIs and the Department of Justice with 100% licensing.  What’s to stop them taking the next step?

One person’s forced “decentralization and transparency” is another’s eminent domain.  So when you hear about blockchain, imagine if the blockchain bubble had the awesome power of the sovereign forcing someone else’s interpretation of truth on creators.

Especially when the time it takes to correct someone else’s interpretation of the truth as Mr. Rogers suggests their job would become will be even more uncompensated time for another free ride that will probably end the same way that DMCA notices do for the vast majority of independent artists.

They just give up because resistance really is futile.

Five Things Congress Can Do to Stop Tens of Millions of “Address Unknown” NOIs

Copyright reform is on the front burner again after the passing of the  Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act by a vote of 378-48.   But there’s another problem the Congress needs to fix that won’t require legislation in the short run:  The mass filing of tens of millions of “address unknown” notices under the archaic compulsory license for songs.

I’m going to assume that readers know the general background on the millions of “address unknown” NOIs filed with the Copyright Office under a loophole in the Copyright Act (Sec. 115(c)(1)).   If that is Geek to you, see my recent paper on mass NOIs for more complete analysis (or previous posts on MTS for the armchair version of the story.   The first distinction to remember is that we are only concerned in this post with song copyrights and not the sound recording.  This story implicates songwriters and publishers, not artists and record companies, and it only applies to the government’s compulsory license for songs, a uniquely American invention.

In a nutshell, Amazon, Google, Pandora, Spotify and other tech companies are serving on the Copyright Office tens of millions of “address unknown” notices of intention to obtain a compulsory license to make and distribute recordings of certain types of songs.  Under what can only be called a “loophole” in this compulsory license, a service can serve these “address unknown” NOIs on the Copyright Office if the owner is not identifiable in the Copyright Office public records.  The Copyright Office stands in the shoes of the “address unknown” copyright owner to receive and preserve these notices.

On the one hand companies like Amazon, Google, Pandora and Spotify say that they can’t find these millions of song owners, while at the same time at least some of the same companies brag about how comprehensive and expensive their song databases are (like Google’s Content ID) or their agents puff up the agent’s own massively complete song databases as “the worlds largest independent database of music copyright and related business information.”  And yet, these same companies and their agents can’t seem to find songwriters whose names, repertoire and contact information are well known, or whom they already pay through their own systems or through their agent.

The Database Double Loophole Trick

Here’s the loophole.  First, the loophole requires a very narrow reading of Section 115(c)(1) of the Copyright Act, a 40 year old statute being applied to NOIs served at a scale the Congress never intended.  If the song owner isn’t found in the public records of the Copyright Office, even if the digital service or its agent has actual knowledge of the song copyright owner’s whereabouts, the digital service can say they are not required to look further.

Even if you buy into this willful blindness, these digital services may not be looking at the complete public records of the Copyright Office.  The only digitized records of the Copyright Office are from January 1, 1978 forward, and my bet is those easily searchable records are the only records the services consult.  That omits the songs of Duke Ellington, Otis Redding, The Beatles and five Eagles albums not to mention a very large chunk of American culture.

The Copyright Office records from before 1978 are available on paper, so the pre-78 songs are still in the public records (which is what the Congress contemplated in the Copyright Act).

The identifiers are just not “there” if you decide not to look for them.  However, it is not metaphysical, it is metadata that exists in physical form.  This is the “double loophole”.

The Double Triple:  New Releases

Another category of song copyrights that will never be in the public records of the Copyright Office in their initial release window are new releases with recently filed but not yet finalized copyright registrations.  The Copyright Office itself acknowledges that it can take upwards of a year to process new copyright registrations.  This allows “address unknown” filers to bootstrap a free ride on the back of Congress during that one-year period.

No Liability or Royalties Either:  Trebles All Round

Once a company serves the “address unknown” NOI on the Copyright Office, songwriters are arguably compelled by the government to permit the service to use their songs.  Filing the “address unknown” NOI arguably allows the service to avoid liability for infringement and also–adding insult to injury–to avoid paying royalties.  If the NOI is properly filed, of course.

In current practice, a mass “address unknown” NOI is usually a single notice of intention filed with a huge attachment of song titles with the required fields, such as this one Google filed for Sting’s “Fragile”, the anthem of the environmental movement (which was clearly filed incorrectly as the song was registered long ago):

sting-fragile-google-noi

The number of mass “address unknown” NOIs being posted by the Copyright Office on an almost daily basis suggests that tech companies now view mass “address unknown” NOIs as the primary way to put one over on songwriters and the Congress, too.  Companies like Amazon, Spotify, Google, Pandora and others are using this heretofore largely unused loophole on a scale that flies in the face of Chairman Goodlatte’s many hearings in the last session of Congress on updating the Copyright Act.

This “address unknown” practice also undermines the efforts of Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Conyers to modernize the Copyright Office.  Indeed, based on the very lopsided vote on HR 1695 the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Actit is clearly the desire of the overwhelming majority of Members of Congress, too.

March Spotify NOI Filings

What Can Be Done?

Congress can play a role in in providing immediate relief to songwriters by stopping the mass “address unknown” NOIs or at least requiring the Library of Congress and the Copyright Office to take steps to verify the NOIs are filed correctly.

At the moment, the government takes away property rights from the songwriters by means of the compulsory license without taking even rudimentary steps to assure the public that the “address unknown” NOI process is being implemented correctly and transparently.

Here are five steps the Congress can take to rectify this awful situation.

  1.  Stop Selling Incomplete Data:  Congress should instruct the Library of Congress to stop selling the post 1978 database until due diligence can be performed on the database to determine if it is even internally correct.  It appears that many if not all the mass “address unknown” NOI filers use the LOC database to create their NOIs.  It is also highly unlikely that this database will include new releases.  Congress can simply instruct the Librarian to stop selling the database.loc-prices-databases
  2.  Stop Accepting “Address Unknown” NOIs With Compressed File Attachments: Congress should instruct the Library of Congress and the Copyright Office to immediately cease accepting “address unknown” NOIs with compressed files as attachments for what appears to be a single NOI.  These compressed files are so large in most cases that songwriter can never uncompress them on a home computer to determine if their songs are subject to “address unknown” NOIs.  Google in particular is a major offender of filing huge compressed files.  Each compressed file contains tens of thousands of song titles.Google March NOIs
  3.  Require Accounting Compliance with Copyright Office Regulations:  Long standing regulations require that anyone relying on an NOI must file mostly and annual statements of account reflecting usage of the songs subject to the NOIs.  The tech companies serving mass NOIs are not rendering these statements and thus fail to comply with the transparency requirements of Copyright Act.  All of the “address unknown” NOIs served during 2016 are out of compliance with the regulations, and all “address unknown” NOIs served in the first quarter of 2017 are likewise out of compliance.  Congress should instruct the Copyright Office to require monthly and annual statements of account be filed with the Copyright Office for anyone who has relied on these NOIs as required by the regulations.  All statements of account should be certified in the normal course as required by the regulations, and made available to the public by posting to the Copyright Office website.
  4. Require the Library of Congress to Create a Searchable Database of NOIs:Congress should instruct the Library of Congress to create a single database maintained online that is maintained by an independent third party and is searchable by songwriters in a manner similar to a state unclaimed property office.  That database needs to be updated on a regular schedule.  Given the size of the compressed files served to date, it is essentially impossible for songwriters to determine if NOIs have been filed on their songs.  This is particularly true as the NOIs are served on an effectively random basis, so even if songwriters were able to search, they would essentially have to search all the time.
  1.  Pay Royalties Into A Permanent Trust Account:  Given that it is highly likely that the mass NOIs filed to date have a significant number of errors, it is also likely that songwriters will become entitled to payment of royalties retroactively if these errors are ever caught.  Therefore, the Congress should require that royalties should be paid to a trust account maintained at the Copyright Office and held in perpetuity like a state unclaimed property office.  Of course, it is equally likely that the song copyright owners will be entitled to terminate any purported license under 17 USC Sec. 115(c)(6).  These payments should be based on actual usage and not black box.  This is another reason why the statements for “address unknown” NOIs should be public.

What started in April 2016 as a trickle of NOIs from a handful of companies has now expanded exponentially.  Based on Rightscorp’s analysis in January 2017, some 30 million “address unknown” NOIs had been filed–and that did not include the dozens of “address unknown” NOIs filed by Spotify in March 2017 alone which themselves likely total over a million songs.

NOI Table
Top Three Services Filing NOIs

April, 2016-January 2017

Number of NOIs Per Service
Amazon Digital Services LLC 19,421,902
Google, Inc. 4,625,521
Pandora Media, Inc. 1,193,346

It is rapidly becoming standard practice for tech companies to try to pull the wool over the eyes of the Congress by leveraging an apparent loophole and they are doing it on a grand scale.

As we have seen with everything else they touch from the DMCA to royalty audits, the tech companies will continue this loophole-seeking behavior until they are forced to stop.  Since no one at the Library of Congress seems to have the appetite to right this wrong, the Congress itself must step in.

Ultimately Congress should fix the loophole through legislation, but in the meantime most of the harms can be corrected overnight by policy changes alone.

@katenash Shows that Permissionless Innovation is Just A Trumped Up “DMCA License”

Small business people dealing with big business people always have the same fear–what if they just stiff me.  You know going in that there are some big businesses that simply factor into their financials that the businesses will get away with stiffing a percentage of their contractors with claims of unsatisfactory work daring the small business to sue.  Claims that may be trumped up, so to speak.

Some–not all surely, but some–Silicon Valley companies have taken this “pay them when they sue” mentality to it’s logical conclusion under the guise of the faux “DMCA license” based on sheer bargaining power.  At least the real estate developer stiffing contractors on trumped up claims did actually hire the contractor with a promise to pay.

The Silicon Valley version of “pay them if they sue” is wrapped in the cant of Valley Boy catechism and the leap of faith to “the machines made me do it” or “disruption” resulting in the gospel of “permissionless innovation”.  That’s the trumped up theory that allows the “disruptor” to just take the contractor’s labor and materials without negotiating a contract or paying a dime and then saying “so sue me” and my $20 billion valuation.

UK artist Kate Nash recently called out Snapchat in a viral tweet for profiting themselves from a trumped up license

David Lowery called out Facebook for essentially doing the same thing starting the “#F*CKTHEZUCK” hashtag.

Remember–Snapchat and Facebook, two massive Silicon Valley darlings, have NO licenses and REFUSE to negotiate.  (Google does get licenses for some of its platforms like YouTube but is also busily serving millions of NOIs on the Copyright Office to use songs without paying royalties and also gaslighting the UK music industry with yet another meaningless “voluntary” code of conduct for the billions of takedown notices Google receives for search that Google refuses to fix.)

Kate Nash has put her finger on the key factor in the greatest income transfer of all time–it’s not that the music is free because it is without value, it is free because it is stolen using a trumped up legal theory based on loophole seeking behavior in a legacy statutory construct.  Nobody ever intended for the “safe harbors” to be used to trump up a nonexistent “license held in place by unequal bargaining power.

As Beggars Group Chairman Martin Mills said in his keynote at Canadian Music Week:

[An] imbalance I want to talk about is the safe harbour provisions, and similar terms in other countries. They were introduced, with some foresight, by the legislators in the USA framing the DMCA, to provide a notice and take down procedure for unlicensed content. But the legislation has been distorted into a protective wall behind which cyberlockers and torrent sites, and companies such as YouTube and Grooveshark, operate.

The original intent was to protect reasonable people acting reasonably from falling foul of the law, to enable the digital economy to grow without “ gotcha “ law suits against ISP’s who had no idea that their networks were being used for infringement. They were not intended to provide fortress walls behind which companies could build billion dollar businesses on content that had not been cleared. They were never intended to become a de facto “ licence “.

Kate Nash said it best:  “But where’s my paycheck?”

exposure-bucks

Mass NOI Update:  Christopher Sabec and Rightscorp Tackle the Songwriters’ Copyright Office Problem 

We’re going to assume that readers know the general background on the millions of “address unknown” NOIs filed with the Copyright Office under a loophole in the Copyright Act (Sec. 115(c)(1)).

The nutshell summary:  Starting April of last year,  Google, Amazon, Pandora and other on-demand digital services using compulsory licenses began filing very large numbers of “address unknown NOIs” for compulsory mechanical licenses with the Copyright Office.  These filings were implemented through a taxpayer funded customized electronic filing process that allows services to exploit songs for free–no royalty is payable.  The Copyright Office created this customized platform for these services about the time that the Copyright Office announced a reduced fee structure for this customized electronic filing process that increases the burden on songwriters.  (Even though Pandora has yet to launch its on-demand music service, Pandora appears to have served the Copyright Office with well over 1,000,000 address unknown NOIs.  Since it’s early days, we can probably expect that number to increase, perhaps dramatically.)

The Copyright Office then posts these “address unknown” filings one-by-one as part of the public record of the Copyright Office, apparently so that songwriters can find out if their songs are being used.

There are no reciprocal countermeasures provided by either the Library of Congress or the Copyright Office.  We’ve posted about this process before and Billboard reported on Music Reports, Inc.’s involvement in supporting the entire filing but has yet to report on the scope of the problem.

The two key differences between serving an “address unknown” NOI and serving a “regular” NOI is that the “address unknown” NOI is served on the Copyright Office instead of the copyright owner and the  digital music service never sends an accounting or a royalty payment.

At such time-if ever-that the song copyright owner identifies themselves in the Copyright Office, which the copyright owner is not obligated to do under US law or the Berne Convention, statutory royalties will be payable thereafter–not retroactively.  That mess is unlikely to ever get sorted.

I’d sum it up by saying that in my view anyone who participates in this mass NOI filing is manipulating a loophole in the law as a way of forcing copyright owners to let their songs be used for free.

Rightscorp has developed a proprietary database to assist songwriters with sorting out this mess and we interviewed Rightscorp CEO Christopher Sabec about the process for Music Tech Solutions.

Chris Castle:  Thanks for participating in our interview today on the “mass NOI” filing.  Why don’t you start by telling readers the 10,000 foot view of your resume and what Rightscorp does, especially in the landmark BMG v. Cox case, currently on appeal.

Christopher Sabec
: I am the co-founder and CEO of Rightscorp, Inc, which is a leading provider of data and analytic services to support artists, songwriters and owners of intellectual property. We assist rights holders by monitoring and monetizing their copyrights on peer-to-peer networks such as BitTorrent. We also provide data and support for DMCA litigation, most recently supporting BMG with gathering evidence, assisting with e-discovery and providing testimony in their groundbreaking litigation against Cox Communications. [BMG won a $25 million damages award against Cox that is currently on appeal.]  I am an attorney by training and in the past, I have served as CEO of the Jerry Garcia Estate LLC, discovered and managed the rock band Hanson, and represented Dave Matthews in the early years.

Castle: So you’re coming at this from the artist/songwriter/copyright owner side of the desk?

Sabec: Correct. We are dedicated to the vision that creative works should be protected economically on the Internet so that the next generation of great music, movies, and other content can be made and creators can prosper.

Castle:   You’ve had a chance to look at some of these mass NOI filings and that’s what we’re going to focus on today.  Let’s start by giving readers an idea of the scope of these filings.

How many songs have you identified so far that have been filed with “address unknown” NOIs?

Sabec:  As of January 18, we have identified more than 25.6 million address unknown NOIs that have been filed with the Copyright Office.

Castle:  That is a mind-numbing number.  How easy is it for any songwriter to search for themselves in these “address unknown” filings to see if the NOIs were even filed correctly since the Copyright Office does nothing?

Sabec: It would be a huge manual process. It would require downloading all the individual mass filings, sorting through them to look for particular copyrights, and creating reports that would makes sense of the volume of data. We don’t see this as an easily achieved manual process.

Castle:  So the Copyright Office has not set up a searchable database for these filings?

Sabec: No. The Copyright Office just publishes the filings as they are received, placing the burden of sorting the information on the songwriters and rights holders.

Castle:  That sounds like the songwriter is effectively not able to find themselves in the Copyright Office filings?

Sabec: It’s a true needle-in-a-haystack situation.

Castle:   When I looked through these filings, I found a number of songs that I recognized that were clearly identifiable and were registered for copyright long ago.  Did you find any songs like that when you sampled the NOI filings?

Sabec: Yes, we found songs by top artists and songwriters, and verified there are copyrights on-file with the Copyright Office for these works.  Examples would be Taylor Swift, Alan Jackson, The Eagles, Disney musicals, many other recognizable and–more importantly–findable song copyright owners.

Castle:  Which means that those copyrights should not be subject to “address unknown” NOI filings because their address is known.

From what I understand, Google is taking the position that if a song copyright owner is not identifiable in the public records of the Copyright Office Public Catalog, they treat it as address unknown.  I’ve also heard that Google is refusing to accept address changes directly from copyright owners for whom they already have a “regular” NOI relationship (or direct agreement) and are telling those copyright owners that they will only deal with them through the Copyright Office Public Search Catalog:

We now receive our data from the United States Copyright Office Public Catalog, as required by Section 115 of the US Copyright Act. If any of the information in the Notice is out of date, then please update your registration with the United States Library of Congress (http://copyright.gov). For more information on compulsory licenses, please visit: http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ73.pdf.

The most immediate problem with this approach is that the Copyright Office Public Catalog clearly states that it only covers titles that were registered after 1978.  Pre-78 titles are on paper records at the Copyright Office.

Did you find any pre-78 songs in your sampling of the “address unknown” data?

Sabec: Yes, we found very well known songs from well known artists from the pre-1978 period. We also found songs from the pre-1978 period that have filed renewal registrations available in the Copyright Office Public Search Catalog.

Castle:  That’s odd because the Copyright Office puts users of their catalog search on notice that it only covers post-78 titles, as does the Library of Congress which sells this information out the back door for big fees.

Have you been able to afford the tens of thousands of dollars to purchase the Library of Congress database of copyright registrations and recordation to compare what’s been registered to what’s in the “address unknown” filings?

Sabec: No, we have not purchased the database.

Castle:   So it doesn’t appear that Google, Amazon or Pandora are doing anything in the way of searching the card catalog or using the many other resources available to it to find, say, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Garth Brooks, or Alan Jackson, not to mention songs from the pre-78 period?

Sabec:  No, it does not. And it makes no sense. We are cross referencing the NOIs and using the available Public Search Catalog to determine that many of these “address unknown” NOIs should not have been filed in the first place. Many owners are known and easily identifiable in the Public Records.

Castle:   What can the average songwriter do to find out if they’ve been forced into getting involved in this entire debacle?

Sabec:  This is a daunting task. It takes a lot of time and energy, and is a very expensive undertaking. Rightscorp are investing the time, energy, and money to solve this debacle and we intend to offer songwriters and rights-holders appropriate solutions.

Castle:  It sounds like you’re collecting the data that would allow you to be in the same position as whoever is filing all these “address unknown” NOIs.

Given that you have that data, what’s the next move for Rightscorp on these mass NOIs?

Sabec:  We intend to create a technological solution to this technological problem. We have already created a searchable database and can assist rights holders in determining the extent of their exposure. If a rights-holder would like to know more about our solution, I can be contacted at info@rightscorp.com

Castle:  Thanks for participating today, Christopher, please keep us informed of your next moves.

Big Tech’s Latest Infringement Loophole: Mass Filings of NOIs to Avoid Paying Statutory Royalties (Part 3)

Recap of Part 1 and Part 2

As we saw in parts 1 and 2 of this post, New Boss companies like Google are playing on a loophole in the Copyright Act’s compulsory license for songs to shirk responsibility for song licensing from the songwriters or other copyright owners, get out of paying royalties and stop songwriters from auditing.

Not only have Google targeted long tail titles, but also new releases and songs by ex-US songwriters who are protected by international treaties.  This is exactly the kind of rent seeking behavior by crony capitalists that gives Big Tech a bad name in the music community.

Google are doing this on a grand scale and at great expense, reportedly using “millions” of “address unknown” NOI filings with the Copyright Office that are supposed to be reserved for bona fide situations where the copyright owner cannot be found after a reasonably diligent search.  Amazon is doing the same.

Through a quirk in the law (which needs to be fixed pronto) Google and Amazon are paying astonishing sums in filing fees to send the “address unknown” NOIs to the Copyright Office for songs that have not been registered for U.S. copyright or otherwise recorded with the Copyright Office.  “Address unknown” NOIs are intended to be used when you really can’t find the address of the copyright owner after a diligent search of relevant records, although the Copyright Act limits the search to the public records of the Copyright Office.  That limitation on records to be searched is a legacy echo from the 1909 revision of the Copyright Act which required registration and renewal for copyright to attach in the U.S.

So far, the overwhelming majority of “address unknown” NOIs are filed by Google.  Spot checking the Amazon filings shows that Amazon filed a handful of titles.

Google apparently accomplishes this by manipulating a data dump from the Library of Congress that was never designed for filing mass NOIs and comparing the metadata in the data dump song title to their own list of sound recording titles that they want to exploit on their services.

Moral Hazard Revisited, DMCA Style

If you have a recording you want to use, you need to clear the song.  You take that song title from the recording and look it up in the Library of Congress data dump.  If it’s not there, you file the “address unknown” NOI.  Wash, rinse, repeat 1,000,000 times or more. See how that works?

As if by magic, you don’t have to pay mechanical royalties until the songwriter figures out what you have done by checking the NOI submissions page at the Copyright Office (assuming anyone knows it’s there or knows their song might be listed) and then…does what?

co-nois-1
Note that “1 NOI” means “1 NOI with tens of thousands of songs attached in an Excel file”

This approach is fraught with moral hazard for largely the same reasons that plague the DMCA safe harbor–the party who benefits from avoiding both royalties and copyright infringement liability by sending the “address unknown” NOI is also the party who decides whether they qualify for the “address unknown” NOI.  The Copyright Office clearly lacks the resources to cross check.  Sounds kind of like DMCA notices, right?

The excuse the services  give for this approach is that they can’t find the copyright owner for “long tail” and new releases.

The long tail part you can understand, but of course you have to ask yourself if a title is so obscure that you can’t find the song copyright owner, then why use it at all?  Holding a track off of a service is far more likely to get the songwriter to come forward than sneaking around through the back door.

The New Release Scam Illustrated

It’s with new releases that Google runs the true arbitrage play.  This is the part that makes no sense, particularly for songs written or owned by people with whom Google does repeat business.  By relying on the “address unknown” NOI filings for new releases, even for songs that may be subject to a direct license, Google is using a loophole to appropriate value to themselves that should rightly go to the songwriters.

Let’s take another Sting example.

Sting released the song “50,000”, apparently as a single from his new 57th & 9th LP.  “50,000” is an introspective Sting-style tribute to David Bowie and Prince.  The album release date was September 23, 2016 and the single debuted around September 17.  Google must have gotten the track around the same time as it is listed in Google’s September 16, 2016 mass NOI filing on line 626.

50000-noi

“50,000” is a particularly good example of how bogus Google’s approach is to “address unknown” NOIs.  Google’s basis for filing the NOI on “50,000” apparently is that “50,000” is not included in either a copyright registration or other recording in the public records of the Copyright Office at the moment that Google looked for it.  What this evidently means is that “50,000” wasn’t in the Library of Congress data dump sometime prior to September 16 when Google filed its mass NOI.

It is important to remember that there is no requirement for anyone to register their works or otherwise record their works in order to enjoy the rights of a copyright owner–such as mechanical royalties.  This is true under international copyright law, not just in the U.S., so this quirk in U.S. copyright law is probably illegal and possibly unenforceable  (which is why the “address unknown” NOI filing needs to be amended or eliminated–more about that below).

So simply put–how can you take away rights from a copyright owner based on a registration requirement that the copyright owner is not required to comply with because it is a formality that is actually prohibited by law?  Sound Kafka-esque to you?  It does to me.

In Sting’s case, Google knows who Sting is.  They have other songs by Sting for which they probably sent an NOI.  They may even have a direct license with Sting’s publisher that may actually supersede or be in lieu of a statutory license.  In other words–they very well may have actual knowledge of Sting’s publisher.  Wouldn’t that be a good place to start?

Yet because a new release has not yet shown up in the Copyright Office records, Google sends an NOI and will not be required to pay royalties until–if ever–the song is included in the Library of Congress data dump.  Even though Sting is not required to register the song, Sting’s publisher may decide to register the copyright in order to take advantage of statutory damages and attorneys fees for infringement actions.

Getting a conformed copy of a copyright registration can take months–so for a single or an album, any mechanical royalties from Google under a statutory license during the new release window will never be paid.  And if any direct license does not expressly prohibit including titles in mass NOIs, there’s a good chance no new release will get mechanical royalties from Google.

What Is To Be Done?

So now we know what the problem is, how to stop it?  Not so easy to do.

1. Anticompetitive:  It should not be lost on anyone that the government has created an opportunity for companies with market power to use their leverage to the disadvantage of their competitors as well as songwriters.  It takes considerable capital to pay the filing fees  to the Copyright Office and purchase data from the Library of Congress in order to arbitrage this loophole.

2. Take Down the Recordings:  There are any one of a number of ways that the terms of a typical interactive music service license can be interpreted to allow the sound recording owner to pull recordings by at least current roster artists, especially new releases written by artist/songwriters (including co-writes) who complain to their labels.

3.  Take Down the Songs:  Direct licenses from music publishers presumably have some clause that will allow the publishers to stop mass NOI filings for their catalog, particularly of the type that creates a nonexistent distinction between versions of a song that have been retititled–not by the songwriter or publisher but by the artist or record company because the versions of the recording are different even though the song remains the same.

4.  Counterfeits or Bootlegs (including stream rips):  Statutory licenses are only available for sound recordings distributed under the authority of the copyright owner.  There are a number of NOIs that look suspiciously like bootlegs or counterfeits, some of which may have been stream ripped.  As Google is presumably sending NOIs for YouTube Red or other on-demand service.

5.  Congressional Investigation to Stop the Library of Congress Selling Data for NOIs:  The LOC has no business selling what is obviously incomplete data or misleading data to a user who so obviously is using it for a harmful purpose.  The LOC could stop that immediately if they were so instructed by the Congress, and in any event the Congress should investigate.

6. Use Webform to Update or File Your Address Including Excel File Link:  The Copyright Office has a webform for email contact by the public available here.  You can use this to file your address and link to your catalog in an Excel file (hosted on your website or blog).  Such correspondence is likely subject to FOIA (and therefore part of the public records of the Copyright Office), but you can also state in your webform that you are submitting the information with the intention that it become public and demand that your information be provided to anyone submitting a mass NOI as part of the LOC data dump.

The point that seems to have escaped Google and Amazon is that this loophole will surely be stopped, but what won’t be stopped is the complete lack of moral compass that would drive megacorporations to run roughshod over songwriters that they so aptly demonstrate.