Music Publishers Choose Lawsuits Over Progress At Annual Trade Meeting

It’s litigation over innovation once again as NMPA President David Israelite says his organization will continue to sue for infringements with the Department of Homeland Security as their ad hoc enforcer. Improvements in licensing technology, which would suppress infringement, can wait. With this agenda, will the NMPA throw content/tech relations back to the early 2000s?

Moses Avalon

This year’s National Music Publisher’s Association (NMPA) board meeting/conference on June 11th, 2011 was a subdued and somewhat bitter event. Stationed at the New York Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square, Manhattan, about 700 key members of the US music publishing industry gathered to be briefed on the year’s events and challenges for the future.

NMPA president, David Israelite presided. A polished speech-maker and former member of the Department of Justice, Israelite informed his minions of many things the organization is doing to narrow the disproportionate gap between the amount of revenue record labels receive and the amount music publishers receive in volume licensing deals for the newer cloud locker services. (So far, labels are getting between 50%-35% while publishers get only 10-12%)

This ongoing civil war in the music trade has, in the past, held up negotiations with web-based music services as each side jockeys for larger cuts of revenue. Publishers claim the importance of the underlying composition (which they control) is of equal import to the master recording, controlled by labels. Labels, of course, assert that their substantial investment in both the recording and the artist is senior in driving the market, and therefore, feel entitled to a lion’s share.


But what struck me most was Israelite’s announcement: that although the $100 annual NMPA dues would not be increasing, Israelite did ask members, to volunteer to “invest” in the NMPA’s litigation efforts to recover lost income from illegal P2P file sharing and piracy. In-between the lines of his “request” was the direct implication that the organization will be making note of all who are not helpful in this effort.

Much like the RIAA, the NMPA would benefit from new legislation and government efforts to control illegal distribution of music. Israelite’s request was not unexpected, but for a former DOJ employee to categorize contributions to a legal/lobbying fund, as an “investment” might attract the ire of the SEC, who regulates public and private offerings.

"For as little as $1 a day, you too can help us file lawsuits destined to be our own undoing."

Israelite’s speech was followed by a key note address by John Morton of the Department of Homeland Security, who claimed, “not enough is being done to prevent theft,” and pledged that the Fed would continue to “seize websites.”


The roughly two hours of speeches mostly outlined plans for defensive legal action against infringers and facilitators thereof, but not one word was spoken about progress.

For example, the much needed global database of songs and authors, which was a key subject at NARM legal panels, and which would expedite payments to songwriters from new digital revenue streams, was absent. Most experts agree that this database is an essential step towards “one-click” licensing; the lack of which, it is believed, encourages infringement and creates barriers for much needed revenue.

Creation of such a database would be impossible without the leadership of the NMPA. Yet, despite much talk around the industry’s water coolers, neither Israelite or any other speakers that day mentioned a single word regarding its progress.

This apparent bias of the NMPA toward litigation rather than innovation left me wondering, “Haven’t they learned anything from their sister group, the RIAA, about how to best deal with the changing landscape?”

Following the keynote addresses singer/songwriter, Richard Marx received his NMPA Icon award. He blessed us with three acoustic songs and a charmingly self-deprecating story of how he was profiled for a body search while boarding the plane earlier that day. (I could not help but wonder how many in the audience would question the veracity of his story by presuming that celebrities flying first class are exempt from such episodes.)

After the award, the delegates made a bee-line for the open bar and the lavish buffet strewn with expensive cheeses and crudités. I was no exception but I might have been the only one with these thoughts: “No wonder the world thinks the music business is rife with fools. We keep repeating mistakes while expecting new results.  Then we celebrate mediocrity and dine in extravagance while we eat our young.”

Still, it beats working for a living.

Mo out.

8 responses to “Music Publishers Choose Lawsuits Over Progress At Annual Trade Meeting”

  1. Geza X says:

    Top notch article. Super-clear exposition of opinons on both sides.

    All of this says so much about the state of corporrate america and how, through collusion with government, companies are preferring extortion from their customers to making products. It will get worse and also more personal. Companies become every bit as predatory as governments will let them. I hate to bring up Nazi Germany but there’s a fine example. The powers to track, harass, imprson, are being handed freely to large corporations in america now under the premise of Intellectual Property protection.

    This is not just happening in the music business. That’s why I was so struck by your line: ‘Then we celebrate mediocrity and dine in extravagance while we eat our young’

    Hmm…sounds a lot like the insurance and real estate debacles that brought the economy down, doesn’t it?And I’m reminded of the Canadian oil refineries that were gonna sue California because the governor didn’t want MTBE in the gas. You didn’t hear about that? It brought down a governor and gave us an action figure hero.

    How do you sue a STATE? Let me tell you–

    In my opinion, this kind of thinking is the product of the Free Trade Agreement. That was constructed to expedite the needs of big business, not the public. It gave large corporations broad powers over international lines and created all sorts of ‘legal remedies’ for their (admittedly massive) Intellectual Property problems. That is now the template for each country and we all have to comply. It trumps all national, state, or local laws.

    The next step in the downfall is the expanson of the ‘corporeal rights’ of corporations–the legal mumbo-jumbo that grants CORPOrations physical ‘bodies’ (from the latin ‘corpus’). Most people know of the partisan legal controversy surrounding chief justice Clarence Thomas’ recent decisions, but the public is grossly undereducated in what it means to be a coporation…

    A corporation is sort of a Frankenstein monster in a way: it’s a bunch of interchangable parts from various people’s (or other corporations) ‘bodies’. It’s a form of ‘life’ created by legal fiat, by decree. Scotch taped together and powerful, these soulless creatures walk the earth in search of money and don’t answer to anything else. So, you see, it doesn’t MATTER where the money comes from. They can just dig the gold out of your teeth and show a great 4th quarter.

    Without the countervailing influence of a strong, healthy government elected BY the people FOR the people, there are no checks and balances to keep this system from ‘Going Rogue’. It is an inevitabiliity.

    Mark my words: corporations will eventually be awarded voting rights in America. They are already insulted that they have to compete with the public since they ‘create all the wealth’ in america. Times are changing with the introduction of Homeland Security wiretapping and snoopng into every corporation’s protocol.

    America has been taken over by thugs and gangsters disinterested in art, culture, or education. We are already force-fed less than a dozen albums a year with nothing on the fringes till you go underground. At this rate, someone will patent the musical scale (Do Re Mi) and struggling artists will have to pay top 40 artists a royalty fee for every note they play.

    OF COURSE IT’S FAIR. Since the top artists ‘create wealth’ by using those notes, they should own them more, right? Aren’t we still paying royalties on cassettes and blank CD’s? Shit, why did I even SAY it? Now it’s in the psychic stratosphere. “Wake the lawyers, we gotta new scam!”

  2. Fuzzbucket says:

    Ummm…maybe I’m missing something here. I’m all for protecting intellectual property, but could someone explain to me how copyright infringement of music is a threat to our national security?

    • Jon Rezin says:

      It isn’t much of a stretch to figure out why it might have national security implications. Copyright/Intellectual Property extends to more than music and movies. It includes anything we create or conceive. The laws that protect one protect them all. (though there are certain specific adjustments for particular mediums) I suppose you could use the phrase “give em an inch and they’ll take a mile” to describe what they are trying to help avoid. If copyright is allowed to be weakened or intellectual property ceases to be an individuals or companies and all becomes communal property then we will end up destroying what is left of our idea economy in this country. That idea economy is one of the last major things we have going for us since we exported most manufacturing jobs overseas. Not to mention the direct threat of weapons and other technology ending up on the web for all with a browser to download.

      All that said.. I think there has to be a better and more sane option than simply suing everyone. It seems society has developed a culture of downloading etc where people don’t perceive it as wrong. That culture needs to change and it certainly won’t happen through big companies suing poor old grandma or her 5 year old who downloaded an mp3.

      • Fuzzbucket says:

        Actually it’s a pretty big stretch. And I wasn’t asking about the the implications, just the subject at hand.

        Obviously Intellectual Property encompasses a great deal more that books, films, or music. Probably there are potential dangers to be addressed in this arena, but music isn’t one of them. Should the DHS not be focused on things that present an actual threat? What’s left of our economy is not hanging on to music publishing as though it’s our only hope to stay afloat.

        We’d be better served if the DOJ looked to the cause of this problem instead of the going after the effects.

        Copyrights began to be attacked in a big way by venture capitalists seeking free content for their web ventures. The result is a generation of Digital Natives who expect everything that can be digitized to be available for to them for free. Further, as you pointed out, many thousands of American jobs have been shipped overseas, not by people stealing copyrights, but by our very own American corporate managers who, in their quest to maximize the bottom line, have removed American labor from the equation.Those companies have done far more damage to this country’s people than some erstwhile “terrorist”.

        Positing “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” sounds like you’re suggesting that the illegal downloading of music is a “gateway drug”. If you let them start out by downloading Rebecca Black then the next thing is that they’ll be downloading plans for bio-weaponry and hacking codes to bring down the banks? Really?

        That, my friend, is the stretch.

        • Jon Rezin says:

          haha.. very nice rebuttal. However I wasn’t implying that downloading an MP3 is a gateway drug to a high schooler downloading blueprints for weapons of mass destruction. That would most certainly be a stretch.

          I do think, however, that you can’t explore “the subject at hand” and understand the current actions and motivations of the DOJ without addressing the “implications”. The “implications” and “subject at hand” are inextricably linked.

          As to the issue of national security: It seems that the mere fact that the DOJ is addressing such huge amounts of manpower and resources to these efforts indicate that they see it as more significant threat than simply the downloading of some MP3’s. It seems obvious, to me at least, that if they see these sites and their activity as a threat to National Security then it probably is. My response was simply throwing out possible explanation for the motivation behind their actions… and some possible implications of a a lack of action. A fairly simple response to the fairly simple question you posed. “but could someone explain to me how copyright infringement of music is a threat to our national security?” To answer that question requires discussion of the implications.

          All that said… I think the idea of finding a solution rather than simply dealing with symptoms is correct. Your point that “We’d be better served if the DOJ looked to the cause of this problem instead of the going after the effects.” is a good one… and one that I agree with. I think the responsibility extends beyond the DOJ though. I think of the DOJ as more of a police force than legislators. Just like police who patrol our streets their job is to enforce the laws as written… they are not responsible to develop new ways to address the root causes or triggers of criminal behavior. That responsibility lies with the community. In the case of a local community it would be families, neighbors, city councils, etc. finding ways to improve the community situation. (education, homelessness, etc) In the case of music publishing it seems it would devolve to trade associations like the NMPA and their members to help spearhead efforts, education, and technology that would help change the culture around illegal content and end the sickness. (The one-click licensing database is an example) But rather than seeing the long view, they instead “invest” their members limited resources into short-term, short-sighted actions like lawsuits.

          The database Moses mentioned would be a good start. It is thought that the existence of this “one-click licensing database” would help alleviate some of the illegal usage of content. People are willing to pay for content and use of content if it is simple. Netflix and iTunes have proven that people pay for convenience. Netflix bandwidth is actually ranking higher than P2P bandwidth. The amazing part, is that though Netflix’s on demand movie catalog is lacking a lot of choice, people are still choosing to watch second tier movies rather than spend extra time looking for the newest blockbuster on bittorrent. I think this is a simple fact of human nature and would extend into licensing.

          If we fix the “ease of use” and “smoothness” issue with licensing, I think we would hear a less talk of how P2P and illegal streaming is stealing money from music and how we have to sue it out of existence.

    • Ken Hatley says:

      I don’t think it is the infringement people are trying to protect at all. However, it is the difficulty in licensing material that is beccoming more and more complicated, that actually inhibits the proper exploitation of Intellectual Properties such as songs, to maximize earnings for the writer / artist. As songwriters, we are losing money everyday by the exhorbant fees and complications for a producution company to license our products. I am for eing paid a fair pay, don’t get me wrong. But I am not in favor of sitting idly by when I hear film companies and Advertising agencies tell me they just can’t afford to license any longer so they o a work for hire, at a very low rate, or use royalty free music. That is where the volume of the market is now.

  3. Marty M says:


    Thanks again for your efforts on the behalf
    of those who “create” the music. It’s clear from
    your report that not much has changed.
    The publishers continue to be seen as “stepchildren”
    by the labels. And that the labels and their
    Attorney’s will continue their “raping” of the
    often starving artists while they continue
    funding their lavish buffet’s and luxury lifestyles.

    It really breaks my heart to know so many
    extraordinay artists that are “surviving, gig
    to gig” without basic needs such as health care while most who love their music live much better

    It is not a pretty picture and I’d advise my kids
    to become anything but a musician at this time.
    much better lifes.

    • Ken Hatley says:

      You are so right. Look who is making the money off the companies such as Spotify, Napster, The Orchard, etc.

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