Google received 21-million copyright takedown requests in the past month

Tuesday, October 8, 2013 - 7:10am

Does Internet radio solve piracy? Let’s be clear about the question.

By “Internet radio” we mean all forms of interactive listening that reflect the consumer trend to access as a new form of ownership. In other words, reaching for the celestial jukebox instead of hoarding song files in local storage, whether or not those files are obtained illicitly.

By “piracy” we mean any music consumption unauthorized by music owners, regardless of whether that behavior displaces legal downloading or listening. (Displacement has been a much-argued question for 15 years.)

Now that we’ve clarified the terms, let’s admit that the answer is unknowable. There is logic to the idea that streaming music, and music subscriptions, offer an easier, safer, and more satisfying path to soundtracking one’s life than unauthorized methods. If Spotify had existed in 1998, during Napster’s heyday, it is possible that the novel delights of file-sharing would have been substantially undermined.

Enough speculation. Here are some numbers. Google reports receiving 21.5-million copyright removal requests in the past month, and nearly 6-million in the past week. The accelerating pace of those requests is breathtaking (see the graphic), and likely due to increased surveillance as much as it is due to supply or demand for unauthorized music.

What is a copyright removal request to a search engine? Google is not a peer-to-peer file-sharing network, but it does serve as a directory that points to file-sharing platforms. As such, it must respond to DMCA-compliant takedown requests. These requests emanate in the greatest volume from industry groups like the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and its British counterpart, the BPI (British Phonographic Industry). Those two alone are responsible for about 10-million takedown requests in the last month, nearly half the total. Another top-three request source is Degban, a technology provider that uncovers unauthorized services. Microsoft gets into the act, too.

All these groups, and others, want search results removed from Google. Google complies with 97 percent of requests.

The meaning of all this is debatable. It is wrong to imagine that 21.5-million new file-sharing networks popped up in a one-month period. Most takedown links point to individual files on a P2P platform. There could be a million requests related to one underground service. As to actual use, Google’s disclosure does not hint at clickthrough, or offer any measurement of how popular unauthorized file-sharing is. The ongoing request-and-removal process has become systematized through technology, and functions as a tamping-down method of keeping illegitimate music distribution partly hidden.

Music streaming and music piracy live side-by-side. We’ll take streaming any day.

Major labels sue SiriusXM over pre-1972 sound recordings

Thursday, September 12, 2013 - 12:55pm

Yesterday major record companies Sony, Universal, and Warner, along with smaller group ABKCO, filed copyright suit against satellite radio operator SiriusXM, alleging unauthorized use of pre-1972 sound recordings.

Late last month SoundExchange, the record industry administrator of digital sound recording copyrights, filed its own suit against Sirius for its failure to pay for its use of sound recordings released more than 41 years ago (see RAIN here).

Federal law didn't protect sound recording copyrights until 1972 (older recordings are protected by state laws -- and yesterday's suit cites California law). As such, Sirius hasn't paid for licensed use of these songs, which reportedly account for 10% to 15% of its programming, according to SoundExchange.

The New York Times covers the story here, The Verge here.

In biggest deal of its type yet, WMG gets paid for all CC use of music, presumably for online royalty discount

Thursday, September 12, 2013 - 12:55pm

Radio broadcasters aren't legally obligated to pay for the on-air use of copyright sound recordings. The owners of those copyrights, by and large record labels, have long pressed to change that.

Broadcasters and pureplay webcasters alike, however, are legally obligated to pay for the same recordings for online listening. In some cases, these royalties can amount to large percentages of operators entire revenue. As broadcasters see a future with a higher and higher percentage of their listeners consuming content online and via mobile devices, they've joined with pureplay operators in working to reduce these obligations.

Today Clear Channel, the largest U.S. broadcaster, announced it has secured a licensing deal with Warner Music Group designed to work towards both these ends. It's the latest and by far the largest in a series of licensing deals between major U.S. broadcasters and sound recording copyright owners.

Like the previous deals, Clear Channel will "share revenue" (that is, pay a royalty) "from all platforms" (including AM/FM, where the vast majority of the broadcaster's listening still happens) for the use of recordings. Though the details of these deals are never made public, most believe that Clear Channel will benefit through a reduced royalty obligation for online streams, and perhaps reduced uncertainty over on-air royalties. The record industry has the support of several members of Congress to create a licensable right for on-air use of sound recordings (N.C. Rep. Mel Watt promises to introduce a bill to do just that -- see RAIN here).

CNet writes (here), "The pact, Clear Channel's first wide-ranging strategic alliance with a major label, underscores how both labels' and traditional radio are testing new ways to ensure self-preservation in the digital age."

Clear Channel's on-air/online music licensing deals, to this point, have been with independent labels and labels groups. WMG is one of the "big three" record label groups, including labels like Asylum, Atlantic, Elektra, Nonesuch, Parlophone, Reprise, Rhino, Sire, Warner Bros., Warner Music Nashville and more, with a catalog of more than one million copyrights worldwide.

The deal also includes increased Clear Channel promotion of WMG recordings and artists via its over 850 radio stations nationwide (with a monthly audience topping 243 million listeners), its iHeartRadio online radio platform, and more. Clear Channel says WMG will benefit from "programs to dedicate commercial time specifically to launch new music," and promises special digital and online programming, as well as new targeted user interfaces to promote music purchasing.

SoundExchange wants "$50 to $100 million or more" from SiriusXM for back royalties

Tuesday, August 27, 2013 - 12:55pm

SoundExchange, the record industry body that administers sound recording performance royalties for digital (Internet, satellite, and cable) radio, has filed suit against SiriusXM for what it calls "a massive underpayment" for the period between 2007 and 2012.

According to SoundExchange, SiriusXM "took a number of impermissible deductions and exemptions in calculating its royalty payments... including deducting for pre-1972 sound recordings and certain channel packages containing music."

Federal law didn't protect sound recording copyrights until 1972 (older recordings are protected by state laws). As The Wall Street Journal explains, "Because of that, Sirius has never paid to use these songs, even though such oldies account for an estimated 10% to 15% of the satellite-radio company's total airplay, according to SoundExchange Inc. Sirius sets aside the revenue generated by these pre-1972 spins before it calculates the royalties it owes rights holders."

Last year the federal government (Copyright Royalty Board) set new statutory licensing terms for SiriusXM to cover a five-year period. According to that decision, the satellite broadcaster is to pay 9% of gross revenue this year, rising to 11% by 2017. Read more here.

Part of that settlement was an amendment that explicitly allows SiriusXM to cut its SoundExchange payment by subtracting the share of revenue from pre-1972 recordings from gross-revenue. This allowance for older recordings was not explicitly part of the licensing terms for the 2007-2012 period, however. The Journal reports that SoundExchange plans to present the new regulation (which it's appealing) as "evidence that such an exclusion didn't exist before."

The suit was filed yesterday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. SoundExchange says it is seeking to recover "$50 to $100 million or more." We haven't yet seen a public comment from SiriusXM on the matter.

Read more in The Wall Street Journal here.

Proposed bill would establish performance right for radio, not mandate royalties per se

Monday, July 29, 2013 - 1:10pm

Rep. Mel Watt's (N.C.-D) proposed bill, on which we reported here, will actually simply "recognize a performance right" for the use of recordings on AM/FM radio, The Hill reports. The bill itself will not actually require broadcasters to pay royalties, as we had initially reported.

"While an older version of Watt's bill from 2009 made it mandatory for traditional AM/FM radio stations to pay royalties to musicians for the songs that they air, the lawmaker told The Hill that the new bill won’t go that far. The new version of the bill will simply establish that musicians have public performance rights to their work," The Hill wrote.

Watt hopes the measure will lead broadcasters and copyright owners to privately-negotiated deals in the market for the use of recorded music.

Radio broadcasters "would have to sit down with artists and either work out a regime on their own or be subject to litigation about the value of what they're playing," Watt said.

Read coverage in The Hill here.


Sources suspect major labels convinced Google to blacklist Grooveshark

Friday, July 26, 2013 - 12:50pm

Google has reportedly added streaming service Grooveshark to its "blacklist" of sites it filters from its "Instant" and "Autocomplete" search services.

Google regularly filters sites it deems copyright infringers from appearing to users via this functionality. (Simply typing "Grooveshark" into the search field still finds the site.)

[Note to self: Launch company called ""]

For years Grooveshark has attracted the ire (and legal attention) of record labels and music rights advocates for its alleged unlicensed use of copyright musical compositions and recordings. Grooveshark has actually secured licensing agreements with several indie labels -- but not major label groups, all of which have sued the company. wrote (here), "To us it seems likely that the addition of Grooveshark is not based on algorithms or DMCA requests. Google is asked to remove a median of 12 Grooveshark URLs per week, compared to 1,792 for BTloft, which is not on Google’s piracy blacklist. Perhaps the music labels have been pushing for Grooveshark’s inclusion behind the scenes?" seems to agree (here). "It seems to have been somewhat related to the successful appeal by the Universal Music Group against Grooveshark two months ago."

For years, Grooveshark operated like an "on-demand" music service, enabling users to hear any song in its library at any time, and create and share playlists of such music. In April, Grooveshark (see RAIN here) unveiled a new service called "Broadcast," which converts playlists into user-generated online radio (which has different licensing requirements). More recently, online music service (see RAIN here) ceased its on-demand-style streaming and switched to an online radio service model -- forced to do so by "the record labels," the company told listeners.

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