Spotify, Google, and Amazon Challenge Increased Royalty Rate for Songwriters [Updated]

Spotify, Google, Amazon, and Pandora have announced plans to appeal a decision by the Copyright Royalty Board that would drastically increase songwriters’ slice of streaming revenue over the next four years. In a joint statement, the four streaming behemoths reportedly said the board’s ruling “raises serious procedural and substantive concerns” and claimed the change “harms both music licensees and copyright owners.”

The three-judge board, appointed by the Librarian of Congress to determine copyright payments, voted 2-1 last year in favor of raising the percentage of mechanical royalties owed to a song’s writers from 10.5 percent of revenue to 15.1 percent of revenue by 2022. The decision followed a two-year trial regarding how songwriter royalty splits might adapt to the streaming era. The leading songwriter association is calling the appeal by tech companies “shameful” and has announced plans to file its own appeal.

“The CRB’s final determination gave songwriters only their second meaningful rate increase in 110 years,” David Israelite, president of the National Music Publishers Association, said in a statement. “Instead of accepting the CRB’s decision which still values songs less than their fair market value, Spotify and Amazon have declared war on the songwriting community by appealing that decision.”

Israelite continued, “No amount of insincere and hollow public relations gestures such as throwing parties or buying billboards of congratulations or naming songwriters ‘geniuses’ can hide the fact that these big tech bullies do not respect or value the songwriters who make their businesses possible.”

“Many songwriters have found it difficult to stay in the profession in the era of streaming music. You cannot feed a family when you earn hundreds of dollars for millions of streams,” Bart Herbison, executive director of the Nashville Songwriters Association International, said in his own statement. “Trying to work together as partners toward a robust future in the digital music era is difficult when any streaming company fails to recognize the value of a songwriter’s contribution to their business.”

Update (Aug. 15): Spotify, Amazon Music, Google Play, and Pandora filed their appeal Wednesday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and the National Music Publishers Association responded with its own appeal. You can read a summary of both filings at Billboard.

“Spotify, Amazon, Google and Pandora have now been forced to admit in court papers how they think songwriters deserve to be paid less,” NMPA president David Israelite told SPIN in a statement. “We will continue to fight for our win to be upheld and for the digital services to respect and value the work of the creators who make their platforms possible.”

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