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Songwriters Earn 2024 Cost of Living Adjustment for Physical and Digital Sales

Mr. Nimbus | 12/12/2023

Songwriters and publishers will see a royalty bump in the new year for physical sales (including vinyl, cassettes and CDs) and digital downloads. According to a new document, published in the Federal Registrar on Tuesday (Dec. 12), the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) upped the U.S. statutory mechanical royalty rate from the current rate of 12 cents to 12.40 cents if the song has a run time of five minutes or less. (If over five minutes, the rate is 2.39 cents per minute.)

This rate change is based on the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (U.S. City Average, all times) that was published by the Secretary of Labor.

This form of publishing royalty is paid to songwriters and publishers by record labels, which license their compositions for sound recordings that are then made into digital downloads or physical copies. This system is unlike that for U.S. mechanical royalties for streaming, which are paid to publishers and songwriters by streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music.

Consistent Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) have been an important (but controversial) part of the conversation around U.S. mechanical royalty rates in recent years. Prior to January 2023, the minimum statutory mechanical rate in the United States had been stuck at 9.1 cents since 2006, losing value each year as inflation climbed. January 2023’s raise represented a 32% rate increase.

In May 2022, when the 2023 adjustment was announced, BMG made a statement criticizing the majors, saying in part, “The entire songwriter community owes a huge debt of thanks to those who fought for this increase in the face of the opposition of major record companies and indifference of music publishers. … Without their belief and commitment, the [Recording Industry Association of America] RIAA (representing record companies) and the [National Music Publishers’ Association] NMPA (representing music publishers) would not have been forced back to the negotiating table.” This is a sentiment also held by independent songwriter George Johnson, who has consistently led the fight for a COLA adjustment through his participation in the Copyright Royalty Board proceedings.

For years, the NMPA didn’t push for the rate to be raised beyond 9.1 cents, while all sides weighed how to first establish streaming models and what rates should be paid for the fast-growing income stream of the music publishing business. While dealing with those larger issues, the NMPA and the labels continued the cycle of a 9.1 cent settlement for every five-year term from 2008 through 2022, and they were ready to do so again for the 2023-2027 term, as indicated in their initial settlement.

When Johnson, followed by other songwriter advocates like the Songwriters Guild of America and Music Creators of North America, pushed against the initial settlement rate of 9.1 cents for that term, the NMPA noted that litigation is costly, running into the tens of millions of dollars — which is why the organization initially focused on adjudicating streaming rates rather than the penny rate for physical and downloads. To litigate for both streaming and the penny rate would be even more costly than the millions the NMPA was already spending.

Moreover, it was argued that spending money fighting for the rate change for digital downloads and physical sales could be a wash for publishers when weighing the legal costs against how much additional revenue a possible rate increase could achieve. While physical and downloads back in 2021 accounted for 15% of market share for labels, for publishers it was a 5% market share. Some in the publishing business were also afraid that if they pushed for a higher penny rate, they would lose the support of the major labels in their quest for better streaming rates.

The CRB judges ultimately tossed out the 9.1 cent settlement for 2023-2027, and then the publishers and major labels came together to put together a second settlement for that term featuring a 12 cent penny rate and a COLA adjustment.

In a Dec. 7 statement about the upcoming adjustment from 12 cents to 12.4 cents for 2024, NMPA president/CEO David Israelite, said: “We are pleased that the Copyright Office has approved a Consumer Price Index (CPI) increase for physical products like vinyl records and digital downloads. Last year NMPA, the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) and others worked to raise these mechanical royalties from 9.1 cents to 12 cents — a 32% increase with the added insurance of including a mandated Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) lift each year. While these forms of consumption are not top revenue streams in the current market they still represent a meaningful piece of the music industry and it is important that they continue to grow.”

This post was originally published on this site

Written by Mr. Nimbus

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