The Association of Independent Music Publishers (AIMP) had its first meeting of 2023 on Feb. 2 and invited National Music Publishers’ Association President and CEO, David Israelite, to address the organization. In his wide-ranging presentation, Israelite discussed artificial intelligence, Twitter, “realistic” copyright royalty board reform, and Phonorecords III (the ruling which will set U.S. streaming mechanical rates for the period of 2018-2022), which he said will be resolved “any day now.”
“We are five years and 33 days late of knowing what our rates are and counting,” said Israelite of Phono III, which was intended to be resolved at the start of the period in 2018 but has drug on ever since. In 2018, the NMPA and the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) had won an increase in the headline rate that songwriters and publishers are paid, but the following year Google, Spotify, Amazon and Pandora all appealed the ruling, hoping to go back to a previous rate they had paid in the period before. This led to indecision at the Copyright Royalty Board until July 1, 2022, when the judges announced a long-awaited determination in the remand proceeding, favoring to uphold what headline rate publishers and songwriters had asked for in 2018 but also providing other concessions to the streaming services, but the announcement was not the end of the road for Phono III. A true final determination still has yet to be announced.
“This is the definition of a broken process,” Israelite told the crowd of independent publishers. “This is why our top legislative priority for this next Congress is going to be reforming the way that the CRB works.” A number of independent voices in the songwriting and publishing community have voiced differing opinions regarding how to reform the CRB, how rates should be set, and who should get a seat at the negotiating table, as evidenced in their comments to the board during the proceedings of Phono IV. “CRB reform will only happen if all the parties come together and agree on what to do,” Israelite said. “When I talk about CRB reform, I’m going to talk about it in terms of what is possible, not in terms of what is utopia. There’s a lot we would change if we could [but some of] that is not happening.”
“Instead, we’re focused on two things: First, this process should encourage settlements. The goal of this process is to avoid going to court and working thing out like we have. Second part is that if you have to go to trial, if the settlement fails, then that process should work. When we have to wait more than five years to know what our rates have been, it doesn’t work,” he said. He also requested more resources for the Copyright Royalty Board’s judges.
In Congress, Israelite noted that Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who is the chair of the judiciary committee, does not have a history of dealing with music issues. So, he suggested, “We have to bring [the House] what is close to a finished product with consensus from the industry if there is any chance at passing CRB reform.”
Moving on to his “top legal focus” for the NMPA this year, Israelite called out Twitter for “hiding behind the DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act].” He said, “Twitter is the last major social media company that does not license and pay songwriters.” Since December 2021, the NMPA has been tracking infringements on the platform and systematically sending Twitter takedown notices. Since then, Israelite noted the NMPA has found over 240,000 unique infringements on Twitter. If Twitter does not take appropriate action to take down infringing material and safeguard against future infringements, Israelite said, “they could lose their safe harbor. What does it mean to lose your safe harbor? It means we now can sue you for copyright infringement.”
He then pivoted to discuss artificial intelligence and how it might affect songwriters. There are two main categories of concerns for Israelite when considering AI: inputs and outputs. For inputs, he is concerned that copyright-protected songs could be used as training data, and for outputs, there is worry that AI generators could create derivative works or compete with human made music. “This threatens the entire music economy,” he said. “I think that is pretty clear.”
“We have absolutely no time or attention for a debate about whether this is good or bad about whether it can be stopped or not about whether the music industry likes this or doesn’t like this, that is irrelevant,” he said. “Go back over time over every new technological development, generally, we later figure out how to live with it and make it work for us. Let’s do it now on the front end. Let’s not wait 10 years, and then figure out what to do about this.”
He suggested there are a few ways to safeguard music publishing and songwriters from oncoming AI technology. First, he said the NMPA educates lawmakers about AI’s threats to the music business. “There will likely not be legislation on this for some time,” he explained. Israelite also noted that they will be watching the legal space as court cases resolve certain questions regarding AI, but admitted, “We are not in a position today to even think about bringing legal action against any of these technologies.”
“Market response, to me, is the one that is the most relevant,” he said, considering out loud potential scenarios for the publishers in the room, like, AI generated or assisted songs coming on to streaming services and drawing attention and royalties away from the publishers’ catalogs of human-made music. He also said that some AI could be used as a songwriting tool not too dissimilar to other music creation tools of the past. “We’re only just now beginning to scratch the surface,” he said of what this technology is capable of changing within the business.
“I don’t have many answers for you today, other than what I’m hoping is that as an industry, we approach these AI issues with the mindset of this is not necessarily bad. It doesn’t matter anyway, because we’re not going to control it,” he said. “Instead, what are the opportunities? And how do we engage with it in a productive way, so we don’t look back and say, ‘It took us 20 years to figure out how to deal with AI like we did with digital music’?”
Post comments (0)