Songwriters of North America Argues for Industry Coalition to Form the MLC

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The Songwriters of North America has submitted a letter to the Copyright Office arguing why its industry consensus coalition, which also includes the National Music Publishers' Association and the Nashville Songwriters Association International, should be chosen to form the mechanical licensing collective (MLC) created by the Music Modernization Act.

The MLC will collect mechanical publishing royalties from on-demand digital services like Spotify and Apple Music and disburse it to the copyright owners. The MLC is also charged with creating and managing a database that matches recordings to composition so that the money gets to the rightful owners.

"This group of highly respected professionals, with their ingrained knowledge of every painstaking negotiation, of every nuanced detail and amendment as they were made in real time, can likely avoid missteps and workarounds, which would ultimately result in litigation, thus delaying the end goal of getting songwriters and publishers paid this new mechanical streaming right which we worked so hard to obtain," the letter states.

The industry consensus group is one of two entities to put in applications to the U.S. Copyright Office to build the MLC, with the other group being the American Mechanical Licensing Collective. AMLC board members and/or committee members consist of Clearbox Music Publishing founder/CEO John Barker; SGA president Rick Carnes; Boogie Shack Music Group’s Hakim Draper; songwriter Zoe Keating; Union Music Group president Ricardo Ordonez and Audiam CEO Jeff Price.

The SONA letter specifically addresses one of the AMLC's main arguments against the industry coalition's bid, centering around "black box" money -- royalties for songs played where the recording couldn't be correctly identified and matched to publishers. Since major publishers have direct licenses with DSPs, AMLC principals worry that their competitors would have a conflict of interest and award themselves money that belongs to independent songwriters, who possibly don't know how to register their songs in the right places.

"Their default position is to spread fear by playing upon an old and tired trope about greedy major publishers - ready to obfuscate and pounce on a writer's hard-earned money at every turn," the letter states. "We, however, have worked closely with the publishing community throughout the MMA process and know that is simply not the reality. The reality is a firm and shared commitment to finding and paying the proper rights holders as quickly and efficiently as possible, therefore centralizing and lowering the costs of collection and distribution for both publishers and self-published songwriters."

Below is the full letter from SONA:

To: Karen Temple, Registrar of the US Copyright Office
US Copyright Office 

It would be easy to forget that the Songwriters of North America's (aka SONA's) Board, Steering Committee and many of its members are all full-time working songwriters and composers, given how involved, engaged and present we have been in the creation, passage and implementation of the Music Modernization Act (the MMA). Writing music is what we in SONA do for a living.  We don't simply want the new Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) to work -- we need it to work -- efficiently and quickly. 

SONA is an all-volunteer non-profit organization made up entirely of the exact people who will benefit (or not) from the outcome of the USCO's selection of an MLC.  We remain committed to staying engaged and to informing our community of creators about the necessary steps for an effective MLC. 

That has driven us to volunteer our time to advocate for the best and most effective way to build this new entity. From our unique position as songwriters who have been privy to the MMA's origins - from our vantage point "inside the room" while the MMA was being made - we, along with our attorney-advisor, Dina LaPolt, firmly believe that the ones best suited to create the MLC are the ones who imagined it from the start - the coalition of music publishers, songwriter groups and digital service providers who worked along side Members of Congress to draft and pass the law itself.

We believe the coalition-led MLC slate is the best and only choice for our working songwriter/members because it will build an MLC that is in compliance with the MMA. This group of highly respected professionals, with their ingrained knowledge of every painstaking negotiation, of every nuanced detail and amendment as they were made in real time, can likely avoid missteps and workarounds, which would ultimately result in litigation, thus delaying the end goal of getting songwriters and publishers paid this new mechanical streaming right which we worked so hard to obtain.  

We are also strong believers in the governance and oversight that the coalition-led MLC will have by and for songwriters.  Our organization played a vital role in creating and executing a selection process for board and committee members which was both far-reaching and transparent.  And those songwriters who were selected for board seats and committee positions are representative of the greater songwriting community that we are a part of: there are those who have had publishing deals with major publishers and independent publishers; and there are those who have been self-published throughout their careers.  They are representative of a variety of genres and experiences, ages and gender. We know they will work collaboratively with their publisher partners and yet, not be afraid to push back when necessary.

From our position "in the room," we also have first-hand knowledge of the plan regarding the so-called "black box" of unclaimed funds -- which is to match and distribute as much of it as possible.  We believe that the claims of "billions of dollars" in unmatched money are outlandish and meant to scare less-informed songwriters into entrusting the job of building the MLC to a group of licensing companies whose functions could be made redundant and outdated once the MLC is up and running.  Their default position is to spread fear by playing upon an old and tired trope about greedy major publishers - ready to obfuscate and pounce on a writer's hard-earned money at every turn. We, however, have worked closely with the publishing community throughout the MMA process and know that is simply not the reality.  The reality is a firm and shared commitment to finding and paying the proper rights holders as quickly and efficiently as possible, therefore centralizing and lowering the costs of collection and distribution for both publishers and self-published songwriters.

We hope that the Copyright Office will appreciate and consider our unique position when making their determination, and choose the coalition-led MLC submission.

Sincerely,

The Songwriters of North America Board of Directors

Michelle Lewis - Executive Director
Kay Hanley - Co-Executive Director 
Shelly Peiken - Secretary
Brendan Okrent - Treasurer
Pam Sheyne 
Adam Dorn​
Michelle Featherstone​
Adam Gorgoni​
Jack Kugell​
Dina LaPolt, esq.

The SONA Steering Committee

Jake Bernard
Claudia Brant
Kyler England
Chris Fudurich​
Jess Furman
Debbie Hennessey
Whitney Hogan
Chris Horvath​
Dahlia Lagos
Lucy Levinsohn​
Sonja Midtune​
Matthew Puckett
Jordan Richman​
Michael 'Smidi' Smith


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