"As soon as you say 'mechanical licensing,' in the first 15 minutes, you lose people," said John C. Beiter, an entertainment attorney with Nashville's Shackelford, Zumwalt, and Hayes LLC, at last week's 2014 edition of CMJ Music Marathon. "If we want everyone to understand what's going on, we have to stop using jargon."
Indeed, discussion could be stupor-inducing even for the seasoned, exhausted, CMJ-going music industry professionals at the conference's Friday (Oct. 24) Entertainment Business Law Seminar. Part of the MCLE/CPE (Minimum Continuing Law Education/Common Professional Examination) program, the series of panels took a deep dive -- or a nosedive, depending on how interested your audience is in the titillating intricacies of music law -- into issues that have been plaguing musicians and the music industry since Napster's Cheshire cat first donned those headphones.
The topics tackled over the course of a single day included litigation surrounding major cases like Beastie Boys vs. Goldieblox and Spirit v. Led Zeppelin, artists' move away from major labels and toward self-releases, and intern lawsuits. The most dense, least sexy panels -- and the most important ones -- parsed the ever-changing field of publishing and digital rights, made increasingly relevant by the Pandora/ASCAP/BMI/UMPG proceedings or Sony/ATV's pan-European licensing deal.
Each of these cases were addressed in two afternoon panels, "Legislative Fix for Copyright Woes: Reality or Pipe Dream" and "Cross Border Digital Rights: The Long and Winding Road to Clearing Digital Rights Abroad." The first emphasized Washington, D.C. as a music-centric city on par with New York and Los Angeles, where a lot of far-reaching, seminal legislation is passed; especially with regard to how radio royalties are distributed.
"Two hundred and forty-two million people listen to FM radio," said panelist Julie Massimino, vp of global public policy for SoundExchange (who, on the note of jargon, was encouraged by the panelists to use "Hemingway" rather than "Faulker" sentences to describe federal copyright law protecting pre-1972 recordings. "It's been an outstanding issue since 1971," she quipped).
"There's a $17 billion business selling advertising on music stations -- using music to sell advertising." She went on to point out that 2005's Local Community Radio Act didn't pass in 2009 (it eventually passed the next year) because of lobbying opposition to its exemption for small broadcasters. "At what point does the National Association of Broadcasters cave, or give?" Whatever that point is, it wasn't reached during the panel.
The next, "Cross Border Digital Rights," mitigated the optimism of global opportunities for newer technologies (e.g. new Sony products for territories "infatuated" with the ring tone market) with the realism of thorny logistical, bureaucratic difficulties (the process of licensing music requires obtaining deals with GAMA for German repertoire, SASEM for French, and SEGAI for Latin-American, to name a few). "You can't fit digital into a past structure," said panelist Mitch Rubin, global head head of composition rights business affairs at Microsoft Mobile.
Another problem, they argued, was lack of transparency. "'What repertoire do you represent?'" said Cliff Fluet, partner at London's Lewis Silkin LLP, imitating a typical conversation between rightsholders and collecting societies. "'I don't know, but I'm going to say, 'I'm not going to tell you.'" Another area that could use with some clarification is streaming services; as has been evidenced by Spotify's recent artist overtures, musicians might want to think about raising royalty issues with labels and distribution organizations like ASCAP and BMI.
Another issue that wouldn't be solved during the panel, but left the audience slightly the wiser -- though not necessarily more energized.