SGA, SCL & MCNA help win more time for music creators to claim royalties

New York City/Nashville/Los Angeles -- The Songwriters Guild of America, the Society of Composers & Lyricists and the Music Creators of North America coalition enthusiastically welcomed a recent announcement by the U.S. Copyright Office. A report from the Copyright Office recommends delaying the Mechanical Licensing Collective's “market share” redistribution of unmatched royalties. According to the Copyright Office Report, “The first distribution of unclaimed royalties should not occur for at least five years from the date that the ability to claim [ownership of works] in the portal is made available to the public. After five years, the MLC should apply relevant criteria to determine whether the first distribution should be further deferred.”

“This important recommendation would give songwriters and composers more time to claim the royalties they’re owed,” said SGA president and songwriter Rick Carnes. “Since most of us are earning far less than a living wage, every cent of royalties we can collect is immensely important.”

It was recently reported that there are at least $425 million in unmatched royalties currently being held by the MLC for songwriters who have not been found for payment. But, within its structure, the MLC has an inherent conflict of interest. Basically, the MLC is governed mainly by big-money music interests like streaming platforms and major publishers. If these distributors fail to find the songwriters who are owed these millions, they can – after a time – divvy up the unpaid millions between themselves and other big-money music interests on a “market share” basis. That means that the already-richest in music will get the largest share of this unclaimed money and any songwriters who were due these royalties lose the right to claim them. The copyright Office’s recent recommendation would increase the length of time the MLC must hold the money in order to allow rightful songwriters to claim their royalties.

"The Copyright Office came to exactly the right conclusion on this point, though there’s a long way to go before full implementation of the identification process ensures that music creators are being paid,” said Carnes.

SCL president and composer Ashley Irwin further praised the Copyright Office’s statement that details the elements needed for a robust MLC campaign to educate the music community. Education of the MLC registration process is necessary so that songwriters and composers are paid what they’re owed. The Copyright Office report reads: “In recognition of the music industry’s broad and diverse spectrum of songwriters and copyright owners, the MLC should engage--to the broadest extent reasonably practicable--in conducting its education and outreach activities.”

Irwin and Carnes were also grateful that the Copyright Office cited the joint comments of the SGA, the SCL and the MCNA in regards to this issue: “The outreach effort must not only be global in scope, but also be specifically targeted to include those economically disadvantaged, and thus hardest to reach, through traditional means. This includes reasonable and creative efforts to reach members of oppressed minority groups and indigenous communities across the U.S., Canada and the world.”

Copyright Office acts to ptotect songwriters

 MCNA president and songwriter Eddie Schwartz and co-Chair/composer Greg Johnston also endorsed the Copyright Office’s recommendation that a third-party auditor should verify the MLC’s market-share distribution calculations on any “permanently” unmatched royalties. The Copyright Office statement specifically read that the MLC’s calculations: “…should be verified by an independent third-party accountant or auditor. The Office recommends that the finally-adopted calculation methodology itself be independently reviewed as well to confirm it operates as intended.”

According to the groups, however, the Report also had some disappointing omissions. Among them, the Copyright Office declined, for the time being, to mandate an MLC performance metric that evaluates whether music creators actually receive their proper shares of royalties in future market-share distribution scenarios. It also did not adopt a request for creation of independent music creator advisory committees to provide feedback on issues such as “private industry settlements.”

Most notably, the Office did not address the inherent dangers of conflicts of interest present on an MLC board with ten music publishers (including all of the major global conglomerates) and only four songwriter-composers.

“Remedying the dangerous and exceptionally unfair construction of the MLC board is high on the legislative agenda of America’s independent songwriters, composers and lyricists,” said Carnes. “We have to address this lack of representation.”