Indie Dilemma

Indie labels pull songs from social site days after launch due to expired rights.

This article is from the February 2, 2013 edition of Billboard, featuring the only major interview Justin Bieber has granted for the Jan. 29 release of his new album, Believe Acoustic. Also in the issue -- the second since the magazine relaunched -- there's a five-page EDM package lookin at the hottest clubs, DJs, albums and more; an analysis of Sony/ATV's groundbreaking deal with Pandora; a detailed look at ticket-pricing strategies and why less-expensive tickets can make or break a show; a Q&A with Big Machine chief Scott Borchetta and much, much more.

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Merlin, a global rights agency that represents more than 100 independent labels, complained to Myspace that its songs were being uploaded illegally to the site since 2011 after Myspace failed to renew its licensing deal with Merlin for those tracks -- some of which may have been uploaded by the artists themselves. Merlin's portfolio includes indie heavy-hitters like Beggars Group (the xx, Vampire Weekend), Merge (Arcade Fire, She & Him), Epitaph (Bad Religion, Tom Waits), Domino (Animal Collective, Arctic Monkeys) and Warp (Grizzly Bear, Boards of Canada).

"With our members' repertoire freely available across the service, but without the permission of the artists and without any remuneration, Myspace [is] openly infringing abusing rights of Merlin's member labels and artists," Merlin chief executive Charles Caldas wrote to Billboard in an email.

Although the size of Merlin's catalog is relatively small (1 million-plus tracks, compared with Myspace's catalog of 50 million), the company's clients represented about 10.5% of all digital streaming activity, according to a 2011 report.

Beggars Group director of digital Simon Wheeler dispatched the company's artists and their teams to help manually remove tracks from their pages the morning after the news broke in the New York Times. Within hours, artist pages for Beggars Group acts like Vampire Weekend, the xx, Cat Power and Pavement were wiped clean of any music affiliated with their main labels, save for stray compilation tracks from pre-existing Myspace deals. "I just hate spending huge amounts of time working on cleaning up other people's messes," Wheeler says. "And certainly not when we're not going to get any money out of it."

Myspace's relationships with other indies varies. Carpark, home to Cloud Nothings, Class Actress and Young Magic, appears to have yanked its acts from the site even as fellow signee Toro y Moi has just released a new album. Mom+Pop, however, was still streaming a new release from Fidlar, and Mumford & Sons' "I Will Wait," on Glassnote, was among the site's most-streamed songs.

"I've worked with Myspace for quite some time and there are still some great people over there and some great music fans," Mom+Pop head of digital marketing Robbie Mackey says. "The usability of the new platform is pretty compelling."

The attention to indies also arrived at a time when Myspace was shining a spotlight on its celebrity creative director, Justin Timberlake, whose new single "Suit & Tie" debuted at the same time of the site's open beta. Traffic has stabilized in recent months. Myspace attracted 27.4 million unique users in December 2012, according to comScore. That's up from 26 million in September but still nearly half of the audience that was visiting the site during its pre-News Corp. spinoff period.

All three major labels are still active partners in Myspace Music, with interest rising in making the site a new marketing hub for acts with an indie spirit. "I don't think anyone's really been that voice of the fans for a really long time," one major-label marketing exec told Billboard in September. "The Hype Machines and Pitchforks all have a place, but that's very far away from the mainstream. As much as I love and respect what those sites do for our artists, I feel like that spot somewhere between the hipster and the mainstream is a very empty place right now."

Executives for both Merlin and Myspace confirmed that the companies are in talks to renew their licensing deal. "Myspace is completely dedicated to artists, protecting their rights, valuing their work and helping them succeed," a Myspace representative says.

Additional reporting by Reggie Ugwu




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