Tuesday, September 29, 2015

'All About That Bass' writer decries streaming revenue

Written by Nate Rau — A co-writer behind the international smash hit "All About That Bass" said he was only paid $5,679 in streaming revenue, crystallizing the plight of songwriters as he spoke to key members of Congress during a roundtable discussion Tuesday about music copyright.

The roundtable was hosted at Belmont University on Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee, which is taking a listening tour after nearly two years, 20 hearings and more than 100 witness testimonies in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, the committee chairman, said the goal is to escape Washington and hear from Nashville stakeholders about how they're affected by the current music copyright climate. Goodlatte began by asking the 21-member panel representing record label executives, publishers, songwriters, music industry advocacy groups, attorneys and broadcasters about where there is agreement on what changes are necessary to the copyright system.

Producer and songwriter Kevin Kadish, one of the first speakers, zeroed in on financial challenges songwriters face with music streaming services.

"I've never heard a songwriter complain about radio royalties as much as streaming royalties," Kadish said. "That was the real issue for us, like 1 million streams equals $90. For a song like 'All About That Bass,' that I wrote, which had 178 million streams. I mean $5,679? That's my share. That's as big a song as a songwriter can have in their career and No. 1 in 78 countries. But you're making $5,600. How do you feed your family?"

Five Republicans, including four members of the Judiciary Committee, were on hand for the listening tour. They were Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California; Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas; and Rep. Doug Collins, R-Georgia. Brentwood Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn was also in attendance.

Collins is the lead sponsor of the Songwriter Equity Act, legislation designed to improve royalty payouts to publishers and songwriters such as Kadish. Collins told The Tennessean afterward that he believes the listening session served to highlight the points of agreement between the splintered factions of Nashville's music industry.

Collins said it was useful to hear from creators on the impact of the fast-growing streaming marketplace. The Recording Industry Association of America reported on Monday that streaming revenues have eclipsed $1 billion. But songwriters and publishers argue they're not getting their fair share of the pie.

"The thing I felt the best about was there is common ground on a number of issues," Collins said. "And the (agreement was that) there is inequity at this point — how you solve that inequity there may be some disagreement. But we're moving to some ideas that would remove the governmental barriers. Almost everyone said, except for the ones who want status quo, that the government part of it is something that could be removed, and there's a better way to fix that."

Music copyright reform is a complicated, tangled issue that pits business partners on opposite sides of some proposals and in agreement on others.

Representatives from the radio broadcast industry made clear their opposition to the creation of a performance royalty for terrestrial radio, which is a proposal on the table with the Fair Play, Fair Pay Act. Questions of whether a single federal judge or private arbitrators should settle royalty rate disputes bogged down the conversation.

One idea that gained traction during the discussion was the creation of a centralized music copyright database, which would be used to improve transparency and to simplify licensing. That suggestion was made earlier this year in a report by the U.S. Copyright Office. Many stakeholders at the roundtable discussion echoed the need for improved transparency on how royalty revenues are distributed.

Collins told The Tennessean he is unsure if a government-run or privately run database would be preferable. He said he's been impressed with Copyright Office Director Maria Pallante and is considering possible reforms to give her office more clout. Right now, the Copyright Office is under the Library of Congress. Collins said he is not ready to go into specifics for what that proposal may look like.

"There's some ideas we're thinking about," Collins said. "There's some others who want to move it completely. I'm not sure we're on board with moving it completely. There's a model I've sort of played with, and we're not ready to get there."

For now Collins has set his sights on pushing the Songwriter Equity Act, which seeks to create a willing buyer, willing seller arrangement for songwriters and publishers. Copyright owners would be able to offer the fair market value of their songs, including synchronization licensing, as evidence when arguing the digital royalty rates at the federal Copyright Royalty Board.

Participants in the roundtable included executives and influencers from most corners of the music industry — though representatives from Nashville's growing music technology and entrepreneurship sector were largely absent. The 21-person roundtable was, with the exception of two women, mostly affluent, middle-age, white men.

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