Artist Aimee Mann sues content provider to music services MediaNet for infringement

Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - 12:35pm

Singer-songwriter Aimee Mann has filed suit against a company called MediaNet, described by Billboard as "essentially a white label that serves up more than 22 million songs to over 40 music services including Yahoo Music,, eBay and various online radio services."

Mann claims the service has willfully infringed on her copyrights through the unlicensed use of her music, and induced copyright infringement by its partners. She's asking for statutory damages which could end up as high as $18 million.

MediaNet CEO Frank Johnson says Mann's claim is without merit, and says his company has properly licensed Mann's music since 2003, and have made regular royalty payments.

Formerly known as MusicNet, the company was founded in 1999 and backed by music label groups BMG and EMI, along with AOL and RealNetworks. It was on online music store and the music industry's poorly-received answer to the then popular filesharing service Napster. MusicNet and the rival UMG/Sony Music-backed Pressplay were named two of PC World's "25 Worst Tech Products of All Time."

After being acquired by private investors, "the company appears to have had an interesting, legally contentious road toward becoming some form of back office aggregator of music for dozens of online music services," Billboard wrote.

For its coverage, GigaOm commented, "In the bigger picture, the MediaNet affair looks like part of a long and unfortunate history of middlemen in the music industry who have exploited, or outright robbed, the musicians they’re supposed to represent." Such cases "show how musicians’ financial woes arise not just from low streaming royalties, but from the complicated way in which music money is collected and distributed... Going forward, musicians can’t simply rail that streaming services should pay higher fees. They must also explain how to create a more rational system of payments to ensure they receive those higher fees in the first place."

Read Mann's complaint here. Billboard's reporting is here. And there's more from GigaOm here.

Makers of "Happy Birthday" documentary sue to have song declared public domain

Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - 12:50pm

Filmmakers producing a documentary about the song "Happy Birthday" say Warner/Chappel has no right to collect royalties on it, and have filed a class action suit.

The movie producers say they now have irrefutable evidence to show that any possible copyright on the song expired no later than 1921. The aim of the suit is to have the song declared "public domain," and for Warner /Chappel to return the million of dollars its collected on royalties.

The Hollywood Reporter has more here, including this link to the full complaint. That sweet image is from Laughing Squid here.

Oxenford looks at Register of Copyrights proposals for copyright reform

Tuesday, June 11, 2013 - 12:30pm

We're written several times about U.S. Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante's efforts to spur Congress to reform copyright law.

The usage, creation, and consumption of copyright material in 2013 is massively different than even 15 years ago, when the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was passed -- the last major update to copyright law. Many of the concepts created even that recently no longer fit today's reality.

Streaming radio legal and royalties expert David Oxenford summarized some of Pallante's thinking today. He wrote of Pallante aims for updated copyright laws:

"Copyright owners must have the meaningful ability to protect the content that they create. But the public must also be able to access that content in a meaningful ways. Both creators and users of content have responsibilities to participate in the larger copyright economy to make sure that it functions properly."

He cited Pallante's call for "a full performance right in sound recordings," which we wrote about here. While we wrote specifically about a potential broadcast royalty obligation for sound recordings, Oxenford points out that Pallante's assertion could potentially mean sound recording royalties for "bars, restaurants, stadiums, and all other venues where recorded music is performed." (Like broadcast radio in the U.S., today these venues pay publishers and songwriters to publicly perform copyright song compositions, but not for recordings.)

There's more, and we recommend reading Oxenford's summary of Pallante's thinking in Broadcast Law Blog here.

SoundExchange opens audits on Cumulus, Saga streaming music use

Friday, June 7, 2013 - 10:50am

SoundExchange, the recording industry body that administers royalties for digital uses of copyright sound recording (like webcasting and satellite radio) has reportedly begun auditing broadcast groups Cumulus Media and Saga Communications.

Broadcasters aren't mandated to pay royalties for their "on-air" use of sound recordings, but do become SoundExchange customers when they stream.

Inside Radio reports SoundExchange is "policing station logs to ensure broadcasters are paying what they should in streaming royalties," and that Beasley and Greater Media have already been under SoundExchange's microscope. SoundExchange will need to pay for the audits unless they find a licensee underpaying by 10% or more.

Industry groups that administer composition and publishing rights, ASCAP, BMI, and Sesac, conduct similar audits.

Inside Radio says SoundExchange is using an outside firm to conduct the audits. Read more here.

Copyright chief Pallante renews priority for "full sound recording performance right," aka on-air radio royalty

Thursday, June 6, 2013 - 12:05pm

Speaking at the World Creators Summit in Washington, D.C., U.S. Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante confirmed "Provid(ing) a full public performance right for sound recordings" -- assumed by some to mean broadcast radio royalties for records -- is a policy priority of the U.S. Copyright Office.

In October of 2011 the Copyright Office officially stated terrestrial radio royalties were a priority for the next two years, basing the argument on the need for parity with other services like Internet radio.

"There is an economic disadvantage between the businesses that offer sound recordings over the Internet as compared to those that offer them over the air (the former are required to pay performance royalties while the latter are not)," read the "Priorities and Special Projects" paper released in October 2011 (see more in RAIN here). "Finding a way to reconcile these differences has been a long-standing goal of Congress and the Copyright Office, and the Office will continue to provide analysis and support on this important issue."

Earlier this year Pallante pledged to work towards copyright law reform, focusing specifically on the DMCA (which is the primary law governing Internet radio's use of copyright sound recordings). See more in RAIN here.

The Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Subcommittee of the House Judiciary held its first hearing on comprehensive copyright review last month (see RAIN here).

Low publishing fees, royalties on "skipped" songs could be sticking points for Apple to get iRadio out the door

Tuesday, May 21, 2013 - 1:45pm

Greg Sandoval at The Verge and Paul Sloan at CNet both report that negotiation snags are delaying Apple's roll-out of its much-anticipated "iRadio" streaming service (Apple reportedly wants to debut this summer at the latest, and possibly by next month's Worldwide Developers Conference).

Part of the problem is apparently that Apple's service will be more like Pandora, and less like Spotify. Sandoval writes, "The record companies and music publishers don't want another web radio service that satisfies a lot of music consumption but doesn't pay them much... The widely held belief by industry leaders is that to stop the slide in music sales, consumers have to be offered unlimited access to deep pools of songs that are supported by either small, monthly subscription fees, or advertising sales."

According to The Verge, it's Sony/ATV -- that's a music publisher, not a label group (and administers copyright song compositions, not recordings) -- that's holding up the negotiations. BMG Rights Management, the fourth largest music publisher, is another hold-out.

But CNet says it's Sony Music (the label group) holding things up for Apple, "over how much Apple would pay for songs that people listen to a fraction of and then skip." Sloan writes, "That skipping has become an issue is frustrating executives at the other labels because they see Apple's free radio service as a potential boon for the music industry overall and are eager to help the company get it launched... While it's unclear what Sony is asking for... if Apple bends for Sony on this issue, it would cause problems with its deals with Warner and Universal."

Read The Verge's coverage here and CNet's coverage here.

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