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Spotify appoints a new head of publisher licensing as US mechanicals dispute rumbles on

By | Published on Thursday 5 October 2017

Adam Parness

Spotify has hired itself a new Global Head Of Publisher Licensing in the form of Adam Parness, who will be “charged with leading Spotify’s relationships with the publishing industry and partnering more deeply with songwriters and music publishers”.

This will presumably mean getting involved in the ongoing, still-a-problem, will-not-fucking-go-away mechanical royalties nightmare that the streaming music firm continues to tackle Stateside.

As much previously reported, Spotify has found itself on the receiving end of litigation for not paying all of the so called ‘mechanical royalties’ due on the songs it streams, mainly because it doesn’t know who to pay. Despite pledging tens of millions of dollars in a bid to make this problem go away, that hasn’t stopped new lawsuits from being filed.

The problem is that the conventional system for paying mechanical royalties to songwriters and music publishers in the US has always been useless, and said system simply can’t cope with streaming services that need to pay micro-payments on millions of tracks.

Opinion is divided on whose job it is to solve this problem, though technically it is Spotify which is legally liable if mechanical royalties go unpaid. And some reckon there are less conventional systems for getting mechanicals paid that would run much more smoothly.

Spotify’s most recent tactic in the ongoing legal dispute has been to argue that mechanical royalties aren’t due at all when music is streamed. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t want to pay songwriters and publishers the money they are due, it would just rather pay all song royalties via the performing rights organisations like BMI and ASCAP.

Because most people reckon a stream exploits two elements of the song copyright – the ‘copy’ bit and the ‘communication’ bit – song royalties are usually split into two: the mechanical right royalty for the copying and the performing right royalty for the communicating. And in some countries, like the US, the two elements of the royalty are paid through different systems and/or organisations.

This means that Spotify is already paying some money over to BMI and ASCAP, and if it could make those organisations responsible for all the streaming income that is due to songwriters and publishers, the digital firm could politely excuse itself from America’s mechanical royalties shitstorm.

However, suggesting that streams don’t exploit the mechanical rights in songs is a controversial position that has pissed off some of Spotify’s friends in the songwriting and music publishing community, as well as further riling its enemies.

That’s the point at which New York-based Parness is entering the party. Fun times. He’s previously worked at a number of other digital music providers, most recently Pandora, which has been on the receiving end of plenty of acrimony from the songwriting community too. Though its relations with songwriters, and the wider music industry, had improved somewhat before Parness took his job there in July 2016.



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