Royalties and Copyright: Playing Fast and Loose in the Music Game

Recently Hypebot has been reporting on potential class action lawsuits against Universal Music Group. Chuck D and other artists are alleging they got stiffed on song and ringtone royalties. One statement on the claim reads:

"According to Ridenhour's claim, under UMG's current method of accounting, artists and producers receive $80.33 for every 1,000 downloads, when the correct amount should be $315.85 per 1,000. On the ringtone side of things...The suit claims that UMG's current accounting method yields $49.89 per thousand downloads, as opposed to the $660 per 1,000 that the suit claims is actually owed."

Regardless of the legitimacy of the statement, it is not unheard of for record labels to play hardball with paying artists (even more so when they are struggling to keep their businesses viable).  However, it is not only the big labels that are hearing complaints from artists.

In a recent spat with progressive rock legends King Crimson, Grooveshark has repeatedly been unable to stop copyright infringement of King Crimson’s works on their popular streaming service. While Grooveshark has taken down King Crimson songs from the application, the same songs reappear within hours of them being removed (you can read the heated email exchange on DigitalMusicNews).

After the King Crimson emails, other complaints have popped out of the woodwork. Lisa Thomas Music services wrote:

“I am the publishing administrator for the main songwriters of the Eagles and have spent hours upon hours serving DMCA takedown notices on Grooveshark’s designated agent demanding the site remove all of the compositions owned and controlled by my clients. I have cited specific url’s of each infringing post in the notices. To date, Grooveshark has not removed any of the material.”

Above are two examples of artists getting the raw end of the deal from two different businesses: one the old school establishment (UMG) and one digital music service (Grooveshark). I can attest to the fact that many users love Grooveshark, and I’m sure many artists do too, but often there is a fine line between creating a great product and playing fast and loose with other people’s property.

Spotify seems to be the darling child of Facebook and many new users of their product in the U.S., but even they have seen record labels leave them due to ambiguous terms and small royalty checks. Whether you are the entrenched industry companies or the up-and-coming digital innovators in the music space, sometimes it is hard to please everyone when it comes to pleasing the artists and the listeners. Can everyone be happy?