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
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Oct 2011 @ 12:01pm

    I'm confused, is Universal Music claiming right to the songs in question or is someone at SoundExchange making a clerical error? We need clarification, falsly accusing either at this point seems like it might be premature. Oh wait, this is TechDirt, no facts needed, just an excuse to blame a major music label for something.

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