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Apple Music sued over unpaid mechanicals Stateside 

By | Published on Tuesday 19 December 2017

Apple Music

Apple Music has got itself one of those super fashionable mechanical royalty lawsuits in the US – and just in time for Christmas! According to Billboard, lawyer Richard Garbarini filed a class action against the Apple streaming service at the weekend, naming independent songwriter Bryan Eich as the first member of the class.

As much previously reported, pretty much every streaming service has been accused of not paying all the so called mechanical royalties due to US songwriters and music publishers for the songs they stream. The lawsuits on this issue against Spotify have garnered the most attention, but a plethora of other services have also been sued, with Garbarini himself behind previous lawsuits against Tidal, Slacker and Google Play.

The services argue that they’d love to pay everyone their mechanical royalties – adding that they are already handing over all the accompanying performing right royalties due to writers and publishers – but that an entirely inept licensing framework for mechanicals Stateside makes it tricky to ensure everyone gets the money they are due.

The main problem is that, unlike in most other countries, there isn’t an industry-wide mechanical rights collecting society able to offer streaming services a blanket licence.

Such societies do exist for performing rights – in the form of ASCAP, BMI, GMR and SESAC – which means on that side of the song copyright the digital platform can pay a society which then works out which writers and publishers are due the money. But on the mechanicals side of the song copyright no such society exists, so the streaming service must identify the song being streamed, and all the beneficiaries of the song copyright.

There are agencies that can help with that task, and many streaming firms have used the Harry Fox Agency, which was previously owned by the music publishing sector’s trade body. Though that hasn’t stopped a big stack of writers and publishers going unpaid.

Moves are now afoot to establish a mechanical rights collecting society in the US that could offer that all-important blanket licence, though that will require a change to the statutory compulsory licence that covers mechanicals in America. If that does happen, the digital services will no longer need to identify songs and songwriters, instead handing over all the money to one society, which can then take over failing to pass on the money to the right people. Or pay them. It could pay them.

In the meantime, the lawsuits on unpaid mechanicals continue to mount up. Garbarini is seeking statutory damages of $30,000 for every song controlled by a class member which has been streamed by Apple Music without mechanical royalties being paid. Good times. And well done Apple. Now you’ve got an unpaid mechanicals lawsuit in the bag you’re a proper streaming service.