Irving Azoff Calls on Music Industry to 'Work Together' in National Music Publishers' Assn. Keynote

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Irving Azoff accepts the Recording Academy President's Merit Award onstage during the 2016 Pre-Grammy Gala and Salute to Industry Icons honoring Irving Azoff at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on Feb. 14, 2016 in Beverly Hills, Calif.

In a keynote address at the National Music Publishers' Assn. legendary music industry executive Irving Azoff called upon the music industry to work together.

"The music industry has never been more powerful and popular and we as an industry have never done a shittier job of rallying together as one industry," Azoff said. "We should work together to solve the root of the problem" -- fair compensation. 

"I had one artist who was making $450,000 a year between all of his royalties," Azoff said. Now after the digital revolution, he is down to making "$40,000 a year."

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"How many tens of thousands of people in the music industry have to lose their jobs?" he wondered.

The keynote, a Q&A conducted by NMPA president David Israelite, said different sectors of the industry must put aside their differences and work together so the industry can achieve fair pay for the creators and the music companies.

But he noted that digital services like Youtube, which have very nice executives working for them, say they are not making any money on their ad-supported services, Azoff noted. "How can you sit there and say we can't afford a couple of hundred millions of dollars for your industry, when their market cap is worth a half a trillion dollars?"

Azoff noted that the industry has been operating under the consent decree since the 1941. "Anyone with sense would ask, why does the DOJ think we still need a consent decree," he observed. "I think its deplorable."

On top of that, Azoff turned his attention to the latest turn of events with the Department of Justice's review of the consent decree, which was initially aimed at allowing publishers to partially withdraw digital rights from the ASCAP and BMI blanket licenses and directly license those rights to digital services. As part of that review, the DOJ is also thinking about enforcing 100 percent licensing, which means that no matter what share of the song you own any copyright holder can license the entire song, which goes against industry practice. The enforcement of that interpretation "will create havoc for the songwriters," Azoff said. "Are the songwriters only going to be able to write with other songwriters from the same PRO? If not, who pays if they write with songwriters from a different PRO? Also, if one guy get a higher pay check than your songwriter," he said, how will that play?

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The DOJ is supposed to take care of the consumer, but "they have confused the consumer with the licensee," Azoff said. "I don't understand it. I think the licensee has convinced them that they won't be able to license if partial withdrawal is allowed."

Israelite said that it seems that the career attorneys at the DOJ are trying to regulate the industry outside the scope of what was intended with the original consent decrees in the 1940s. Even the Register of Copyright says that the DOJ interpretation violates copyright law and the NMPA had a hard time trying to get them to acknowledge the Register's letter.

Then Israelite moved Azoff onto the safe harbor controversy and that aspect of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which allows digital services to not be charged with copyright infringement, even though the music industry is forced have the DSP remove the same song tens of thousands of times. 

"The DMCA is out of date," Azoff said. "What it was meant to do in 1998, the digital companies no longer need protection. Companies like YouTube and Soundcloud should have to play by the same rules as their competitors—Apple and Spotify."

At a minimum, if they get a take down notice, that songs "should stay down, instead of forcing copyright owners to play that horrible whack-a-mole."

Azoff noted that the music industry is up against formidable foes with a government that doesn't move easy. But if the songwriters and artists come together with the publishers and the labels, he said, "there is one place we can't lose in the court of public opinion."

He noted that even TV show creators and channels get to negotiate fair rates without government regulation. When someone like MTV can't agree with its cable operators on its rates, they get to take down their shows. Azoff wondered, why can't the music industry have that same right?

Moreover, as a regulated industry, "It's silly that we are fighting over pennies and leaving millions on the table."

Finally, Azoff noted that no matter what role he played in the industry, as a manger, a promoter, a label executive, "If you do what's right by the creator" -- whether that's the artist or songwriter -- "it will eventually be right for your company as well."