How The Record Labels Kill Off Innovative Startups With Ridiculous Licensing Demands

from the an-inside-view dept

We recently showed a graphic description of the ridiculous licensing spiderweb any new music startup needs to go through these days. That was a UK depiction, but it's quite similar in the US and other parts of the world as well. What's not seen in the graphic, however, is just what some of the demands are from those copyright holders in order to secure the necessary licenses. We've heard time and time again from innovative music startup after innovative music startup, that when the major record labels come calling, they do so with outrageous demands for upfront payments, excessively high ongoing royalties and a demand for equity. Quite frequently, the record labels try negotiating through lawsuit, by suing the startup as a part of the "negotiation." While many of these lead to "settlements," the results are ridiculously burdensome, leading many of these startups to go out of business. is a startup that has gone through much of this cycle, including lawsuits from the majors and "settlements." Except, the settlements were so burdensome that Playlist declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy to try to get out from under some of its liabilities. What that's also done is given us a glimpse behind the scenes of just how much the labels end up getting from such startups. For example, Playlist apparently owes the four major labels a combined $24.4 million for helping people find and listen to music.
These fees were the result of the settlement licenses worked out by the labels, but the company can't even come close to paying them off. And, because of this, people will just get the same music elsewhere -- from offerings that probably don't pay the labels a dime. It's really quite impressive when you look at the long list of innovative music services startups killed by ridiculous major label demands.

Filed Under: licensing, music
Companies: playlist

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    interval (profile), 27 Aug 2010 @ 8:28am


    Its a symptom of the culture I think. A lot of these people are looking at their retirement portfolios and trying to force these small players to make a big payoff. Or they simply don't see the value in a bunch of bit-players paying them a nickle each.

    I used work for this old Irish guy back east who had a vending machine business. He would beg municipalities to put vending machines in the oddest places, do some "dirty dealing" to cut out competitors, and just get as many of HIS machines out as possible, which sounds a lot like the tactics of the labels. But he'd also undercut all vendors by as much as he could stand. Sometimes he'd sell sodas, matches, whatever, at a loss. He was getting ready to retire to the Hamptons when I left NY to go to school out here (he ended up with a huge operation that netted him millions every year, but it took him years.) I asked him how he made a fortune selling crap food and matches for nickels (back then.) He responded in a way that makes so much sense, and we've all heard it;

    "A nickle here, a dime there, pretty soon you're talking real money."

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