Universal Music Keeps Trying To Claim Zoe Keating's Royalty Checks, Despite Having Nothing To Do With Her

from the the-plight-of-the-indie-musician dept

Zoe Keating is a wonderful musician, who you hopefully already know about. A truly independent (but quite successful) musician, she's been showing how to connect with fans in a variety of interesting ways, building up a massive fan base (and she recently explained how she approaches her career over at our Step2 service). A few months back, she had mentioned to me that she was surprised when she received a statement from SoundExchange (who collects money for artists for online streaming), in which the royalties for some of her original music was being claimed by Universal Music Group. I was curious to see how such a thing could happen. Keating filed a complaint with SoundExchange, who checked with Universal, who admitted the music was Keating's alone... and the whole thing was worked out. Mistakes happen, and while it was a bit of a pain, it all got corrected, and we decided not to write a story about it.

However, earlier this week, Keating noted that Universal Music was once again claiming her own music as its own, and trying to claim the royalties owed to her. I asked her for some details, and she passed along all of the various emails, including the ones from earlier this year, in which SoundExchange insisted that everything was sorted out. Of course, in one of those emails, SoundExchange also admits that such situations are "not uncommon." That seems pretty ridiculous, but as long as they sorted everything out.

The latest, however, is that even though SoundExchange had previously reached out to Universal Music, on behalf of Keating, it now sent her an email saying that there were, once again "overlapping claims." Even worse, the note said that if she didn't respond within 90 days, the royalties would go to Universal, because they give preference when songs are claimed directly by a label.

Keating was forced, yet again, to complain to SoundExchange over Universal Music trying to take her royalties. In response, someone from SE suggested that it may have been Keating's own confusion -- even suggesting that she may have been confused about the difference between master sound recordings and compositions (Keating was not confused, and holds the rights to both, since they're entirely original compositions and recordings by her).

Those with a conspiratorial bent might think that this is a neat way for the major labels, like Universal Music to simply claim the rights to any indie artist's music. Just keep making the claim, and leave it to the artist to sort it out by working through SoundExchange's bureaucracy. I certainly doubt that's truly the case. It probably is just someone, somewhere making an administrative mistake in how things are recorded -- but just the fact that Keating has to continually explain this situation just to keep Universal Music from getting the royalties owed to her is pretty crazy. On top of that, each time this happens, such funds are held until the conflict is resolved. For an indie musician, having such funds held can be a pretty big deal.

The whole situation seems pretty ridiculous all around.

Update: The situation has now been resolved, with Universal admitting -- yet again -- that it does not have any claim or rights to Keating's music. Separately, SoundExchange wanted to make clear that the "conflict" in data came from a (nameless) webcaster, who incorrectly listed Keating's music on their playlist as belonging to Universal Music. They insist that Universal had nothing to do with the actual claim. What's unclear is why SoundExchange relies on webcasters for the copyright holder info. I can understand getting a listing of songs and artists, but asking them to figure out who the label/copyright holder is seems like a situation that is going to turn up all sorts of bogus data, something that SoundExchange admits outright is "a challenge across the industry."

Separately, SoundExchange claims that they do not give preference to labels as I stated in my post. But in the letter sent to Keating on Monday, it states: "our policy is to give preference to repertoire that is claimed directly by a label. Therefore, if we haven't heard from you within 90 days, we will adjust the claim in favor of the new claimant." That certainly sounds like they would have given preference to Universal Music. If that's not the case, it seems like they should clarify the language in such emails.

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  1. identicon
    Zoe Keating, 20 Oct 2011 @ 9:06am

    Errors and Apolgies

    I'm left with a lot of questions. When an artist registers for SE they register their recorded catalog. It then takes 4 to 6 months or more for the SE registration process to complete, during which time I'd assume SE is verifying the artist's catalog.

    Why then, does an erroneous metadata submission from a webcaster trump the artist info that is supposedly on file?

    SE are the good guys, but it seems like they're opening the door to potential abuse here.

    Also, why is it up to the artist registered with SE to initiate a claim process? If an artist doesn't scrutinize their quarterly SE statements for metadata errors, and then file a claim, any labels erroneously listed as rights holder will get the royalties for the artists songs.

    As for my weird case… seven months after my claim was resolved in my favor, I get this notice from SE that there is a claim on my music and the ball is in my court to take action within 90 days, or I would lose my royalties. In fairness to SE and Universal, reading the notification, it does not say WHO initiated the claim. I saw in the claim that it was Universal again, and made the incorrect assumption that it was they….I tweeted about it, and here we are. As none of the involved parties have yet to apologize, I'll be the first. Dear Universal, I'm sorry I assumed you were claiming my music and that I tweeted about it. (I was going to say "I'm sorry a clerical error at SE caused me to assume you were claiming my music" but even though true, it's a really lousy and ineffective apology)

    Here's text from the SE Claims Issue, interpret as you will…..

    (note the term "new claimant" which I interpreted to mean that the new claimant...ie. Universal... initiated the claim. When really it was a webcaster's erroneous data the initiated the claim....)

    ----

    TIME SENSITIVE CLAIMS ISSUE FROM SOUNDEXCHANGE: RESPONSE REQUIRED

    Tracks in Conflict", a.k.a. Overlapping Claims
    Please copy the code below and click the link provided in order to retrieve the report. You will find a "Tracks in Conflict" file for your label, as prepared by the SoundExchange Claims department.   These are generally tracks that were reported to SoundExchange (by digital service providers) as belonging to your label, and for which SoundExchange subsequently received a claim from another rights owner.    I.e., we have two labels claiming rights to the same track, which we need to ask you about.

    We ask that you review this list, and indicate in the first column as follows:
    a)      Enter "YES", if your label affirms the right to the digital performance royalty for the track listed, or
    b)     Enter "No" (or leave blank) if the track was mistakenly reported as attributable to your label.  In whichevent the rights to the track will be adjusted to the new claimant.

    Conflict Resolution Policy
    Because the information SoundExchange receives from digital services can be inaccurate as to ownership, our policy is to ask the originally identified label to positively affirm or release their rights to the repertoire listed.  In order to resolve these issues expeditiously, we must receive your response within 90 days of this report being sent.   Because a label is more likely to have accurate information about ownership than a digital service provider, our policy is to give preference to repertoire that is claimed directly by a label.  Therefore, if we haven't heard from you within 90 days, we will adjust the claim in favor of the new claimant.    Please note, the new claimant may receive adjustments from prior periods that were paid incorrectly, with these amounts debited against the account of the incorrectly paid label.

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