Santa’s guide to tech companies: Who’s been naughty and who’s been nice to songwriters this year

The following MBW blog comes from David Israelite (pictured), President & CEO of the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA). The NMPA is the trade association representing American music publishers and their songwriting partners.

Songwriters have made a list and checked it twice, and this year some tech companies have been good, while some deserve lumps of coal.

The following is Santa’s report card on the streaming services and apps that have been naughty and nice when it comes to valuing songwriters.

First, let’s start with the Nice List…
  • Apple Music has shown a willingness to work collaboratively with music creators. Their platform encourages paying for subscriptions to access music, and most importantly, when Spotify and Amazon led the charge last year to appeal the rate increase given to songwriters by the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB), Apple chose not to participate. Additionally, as songwriters look for new revenue streams, the recently announced Apple Fitness could help expand a new and exciting area for songwriters to receive well-deserved compensation.
  • YouTube has no doubt a complicated relationship with the music industry, but overall 2020 has proven that things may be looking up with the tech giant. While in previous years YouTube would have earned lumps of coal for not doing enough to discourage piracy on its platform, lately YouTube has been sending signals of wanting to improve its relationship with music creators. Notably, we are optimistic about the potential of YouTube Shorts, which could provide much needed new revenue and entertainment.
  • TikTok dance videos dominated the COVID-19 world and the tech giant made progress with the industry this year. In July, TikTok and NMPA reached a Global Partnership Agreement which accounted for its past use of songs and created a way for songwriters and publishers to be paid moving forward. As we count down the holiday season and TikTok transfers ownership, it exemplifies that companies can come to the table, and right past wrongs with music creators.
  • Peloton has pedaled its way into songwriters good graces this year. The service settled its past claims and developed a new partnership through NMPA in late February. This happened just as quarantine made companies like Peloton essential. To get through the new year, we’re hoping for a Tread machine, though it may be hard to get down the chimney.

Now on to the Naughty List…
  • Beginning last spring, Spotify led the charge in court to lower what it pays songwriters. For context, in 2018, the CRB gave songwriters a 44% raise and last year, Spotify decided to appeal that raise, along with Amazon. Due to this appeal, songwriters must go back to court to fight to uphold the higher rates they earned. This unprecedented move came as the service was booming and undeniably capable of paying songwriters the court-mandated rates, which were not anywhere near what the market would dictate. Spotify not only pays the bare minimum, it is fighting to lower that floor. Additionally, the service continues to promote its free-tier, instead of incentivizing users to pay for subscriptions which would result in higher royalties. Ultimately, while Spotify offers a highly popular platform that is profitable for performing artists, it is actively working to devalue the contributions of songwriters. All the while it is simultaneously promoting its “Secret Genius” program in an attempt to distract from these tactics. It’s “2020 Wrapped – Year in Review” should say it listened only to its bottom line.
  • Equally troublesome is Amazon, Spotify’s partner in fighting the last meaningful raise given to songwriters. The appeal process it initiated is protracted and expensive – when the money spent on the lawsuit could go to songwriters – which is all the more troubling during a time of extreme hardship for creatives. This coming from the most valuable company in the world makes it particularly offensiveAdditionally, Amazon has failed to ensure its subsidiary, Twitch, is properly paying music owners, and therefore is equally at fault for its failure to do so. This lapse was exemplified when Amazon’s CEO didn’t even know if Twitch licensed music when asked about it in a Congressional hearing earlier this year.
  • Speaking of, Twitch, not only has the growing platform brazenly chosen not to license songwriters’ music, it has done so while creating a whole music section on its platform. On top of this, it has developed and promoted a “Twitch Soundtrack” of supposedly licensed music to use, that is in fact not the problem solver it purports to be. The lengths to which Twitch has gone to avoid paying for music – at the expense of its own users in addition to songwriters – makes it particularly egregious.
  • Another app, Triller – the rapidly growing TikTok competitor – continues to operate largely unlicensed. The platform, which creates short form music videos and is used by some of the biggest artists in the world, has programs to auto-sync music – which clearly is essential to the platform’s success. The audacity to build a platform with such a heavy music component without ensuring songwriters are paid is particularly insulting during a pandemic when so many music creators are suffering.
  • We close out the list with the ever-present partridge that has provided no favors to songwriters. While it’s hard to explain just how much Twitter has failed in 280 characters, suffice it to say, until it takes responsibility for the content that makes its service popular, songwriters will continue to go undercompensated. Music and videos are abundant throughout Twitter and yet unlike platforms such as Facebook, Twitter still has not fully licensed that music and therefore continues to steal from creators.

New partnerships with platforms – from apps to streaming services – show that no relationship is a lost cause, so we hope that the new year spurs new mindsets when it comes to seeing songwriters as allies, not adversaries.

Valuing songwriters isn’t just good for the writers, it’s good for the quality of a digital service, it’s good for users and it’s good for the future of music as it guarantees creators will continue making what people love.

We’ll keep working until all services see songwriters as business partners. Until then, we’ll know if you’ve been bad or good, so you better be good for songwriters’, and your own, sake.Music Business Worldwide

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