Previously on this blog, we wrote about the current battles between the copyright holders of recorded works (you know these works as “music”) and certain scofflaw streaming services that seem to operate based on a policy of denying artists any share in the profit created from streaming their music. We highlighted the work being done by SoundExchange, a vital not-for-profit org enforcing the laws on performance royalties against the biggest streaming services. In this post, we’ll take a look at a similar group operating across the Atlantic to protect the rights of musicians in the United Kingdom and beyond. The group is the Performing Rights Society for Music, and recently they made the careful decision to file suit against one of the worst offenders in denying artists their legally obligated royalties: SoundCloud.
The press release linked above describes the situation so far, and shows how careful most artists-rights organizations are when it comes to litigation, because they know that the RIAA, through its reckless and sometimes offensive litigation strategy, has managed to make a large portion of the public skeptical of legal efforts to enforce musical copyrights. PRS, after carefully analyzing the selections available on SoundCloud and studying the legal ownership of the related copyrights, sent SoundCloud a list of 4,500 musical works owned by PRS members and available on SoundCloud, for which those PRS members had not received a dime. The list was representative – it was not meant to be exhaustive, presumably because such a list would be so extensive (I’ll talk a bit more about why the list should not have been exhaustive below). PRS gave SoundCloud two options: either buy a license to stream these songs, or remove them from the service.
In response, SoundCloud took down a mere 250 posted works, and declined to inform PRS why these specific works and no others were taken down. As a result, PRS is now announcing the opening moves of litigation against SoundCloud.
I don’t think one could legitimately call PRS intransigent or unnecessarily aggressive here – SoundCloud had options that it declined to exercise. This goes back to what I mentioned earlier. PRS, and other not-for-profits that also enforce the copyrights of musical works, knows that it has to tread very lightly from a public relations standpoint. A lot of this is the direct result of the misguided litigation strategy employed by the RIAA beginning with Napster in the 90s, where they sued individual users to the tune of the tens of thousands of dollars for downloading copyrighted works. Now, with the growth of streaming in particular, artists-rights orgs have to be diligent in not only enforcing the copyrights of their members, but doing so in a way that regular everyday listeners can understand and appreciate.
This is why it is frankly galling to think that the impetus was functionally on PRS to provide SoundCloud with a list of essentially stolen music. The burden should be on SoundCloud – a company worth hundreds of millions of dollars and funded with a ton of venture capital – to only post music it knows it owns the right to post. This is not about individual listeners streaming YouTube videos. It’s about about massive wealth being generated for owners and investors on the backs of artists who, far too often, never see a dime.
We’ll keep you up to speed on the PRS lawsuit, and SoundCloud’s response. In the meantime, if you’re an artist or copyright holder who believes the rights to your music are being disregarded or abused, contact The Fried Firm.