When the music industry comes together, powerful things can happen. We proved this in 2018, when a broad coalition of businesses and organizations joined forces to pass the first major copyright bill since Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998.
The first time I heard about the possibility of this legislation was when the NMPA called me in the spring of 2017 and said, “Hello, Alisa — the DSPs want to work with publishers; they want to figure out the mechanicals issue and there’s a chance we can straighten out the compulsory licenses and create a collective to manage the licensing.” Like they say in the movies, “You had me at ‘Hello.'” I knew I had to be involved with this legislation, and the collective.
The negotiations behind the final bill were complicated, and I was fortunate enough to be invited to Washington, D.C. to participate in discussions with DSPs, publishers, and songwriter representatives, to hash out the fine print. I weighed in from the perspective of an indie publisher and record companies, while others did the real heavy lifting, building a consensus among music companies, online platforms, and politicians. We watched CSPAN with bated breath when the law came up for a vote, and then again when, finally, the bill was signed. Then we started working on the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) that the law called for. This week, from Oct. 26-30, the MLC will run panels and programming intended to provide updates about its progress, as it prepares to launch its full operations in January 2021. (For more information, and to register, click here.)
Mechanical licensing has always been an arduous process. Early in my career, the only way to find out who owned a particular song was to phone a PRO. The digital age promised to make that easier — just as the most popular songwriting model evolved from one or two writers to an approach where “it takes a village” of several writers and publishers holding shares.
At the same time, the rise of music streaming services made this information far more important to the music business. As uploads to those services grew, so did the number of third-party companies to which they outsourced licensing and royalty payments. Right now, publishers and songwriters have to register and monitor their works at multiple DSPs and service providers, which creates both an enormous amount of duplicative work and complicated liability issues. We needed to address this madness.
In the two years since the MMA became law, publishers, songwriters, and various digital service executives have donated hours to establish and launch the MLC, the non-profit organization that will collect and distribute mechanical royalties. It’s governed by a diverse Board of Directors that consists of self-administered songwriters and executives from music publishers, large and small. As chair of the MLC board, I can assure you that we’re committed to serving our members – publishers, administrators, CMOs, self-published and -administered songwriters, and anyone else with the right to collect mechanical royalties in the U.S.
Last Fall after successful negotiations between the Board and the Digital Licensee Coordinator (DLC), which represents the interests of DSPs eligible to secure the blanket license created by the MMA, the MLC became financially secure. (Our budget, which by law must be paid by DSPs, includes a one-time assessment of $33.5 million, plus annual assessments for ongoing costs, beginning in 2021 with $28.5 million.) That means it can distribute 100% of the digital audio mechanicals it receives from DSPs to its members, without having to deduct any administration fees.
Over the past 10 months, we’ve used this money to hire our first CEO, Kris Ahrend. With the Board’s guidance, he has assembled a talented and diverse team of more than 40; a Nashville headquarters; and begun to build out operations. We’re developing an online portal where members can register new works, check the data for their existing works, and — as of 2021 — receive royalty statements. We’ve also laid the groundwork for the first public mechanical rights database in the U.S.
To make this work, however, we need you — your input, your engagement, and your data. And as the MLC prepares to begin fully operating in January 2021, that involvement is more important than ever. If you have the exclusive right to collect mechanical royalties in the US, you should sign up to join the MLC in order to begin getting paid. Second, you should check the data for your musical works by participating in The MLC’s Data Quality Initiative (DQI), which allows rights holders to compare their data with that of the MLC in order to ensure they get paid properly. Third, you can keep up to date with everything we’re doing by signing up for The MLC’s monthly newsletter, following us on social media, or visiting the MLC website. Finally, tell your colleagues, collaborators, and clients to do the same — not only to support the MLC but their own livelihood.
Alisa Coleman is the chair of the board of the MLC, as well as the chief operating officer of ABKCO Music & Records, Inc.