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The MMF’s Google Problem

July 5, 2015

David Lowery’s recent post on the Trichordist reveals the disclosure by an apparent whistleblower that the Music Managers Forum and to some extent the Feature Artist Coalition have each been taking undisclosed money from Google and Spotify.  (Given the context, I assume the whistleblower is referring to the MMF chapter in the UK.)  Why is this important?  Because when confronted with the artist rights grass roots movement that Lowery personifies, we can expect Google to do what they always do–try to co-opt it one way or another.

Want evidence?  If you’ve had a look at the Public Citizen report “Mission Creep-y“, Google’s technique of buying their way into issues or industries and increasing their dominance in their ownership and influence through control of resources should come as no surprise.  The venerable good government group provides extensive documentation of Google’s massive investment in indirect lobbying through funding a host of academic institutions (who can forget the millions Google paid for Lawrence Lessig’s enterprises at Stanford), organizations like Creative Commons, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and a host of others.

Creative Commons 2008 Schedule B

What’s the Spotify connection?  The distinction between Google and Spotify is more blurred after Spotify let Google onto their board of directors last year.  I find it hard to believe that Google got a Spotify board seat without a Google investment in Spotify which would be typical of how you get a seat on private company boards of directors most of the time.

In addition to any ownership stake that Google may have, what unites Spotify and Google is advertising supported, i.e., “free”, music.  For which Google sells the ads, of course.  Or as they might say, “content,” which has implications for everyone from visual artists, to movie makers, to journalists, to artists and songwriters.

As Spotify’s billionaire investor Sean Parker told CNN’s Poppy Harlow, the most important aspect of Spotify’s business success is the ability to offer music at scale–or as Thom Yorke said more accurately, the ability to commoditize music.  Commoditizing music is also exactly what Google’s goal is with the YouTube data honeypot, for example, as scale makes scraping the data from YouTube users more profitable.

YouTube Tracking

For these reasons, I think Lowery is on to something with the whistleblower disclosures.  I would agree with David that artists would want to know if their manager is participating in this co-opting exercise.  It’s all entirely believable to me as it is a 100% fit with Google’s modus operandi that I have observed.

How far does this influence penetrate the many MMF chapters?  And what about the International Music Managers Forum umbrella association?

Strange Bedfellows for the IMMF

The mission statement of the International Music Managers Forum says:

The IMMF is an international umbrella organisation comprising of regional associations of music managers from +30 countries from five continents, which currently represent +1.200 artist managers. It’s the IMMF’s mission is to defend the economic and legal interests of artists on an international scale with the vision to create Transparency and Fairness. This shall be accomplished by three core activities: training and education, networking and lobbying.

Sounds good, right?  So why is the IMMF part of a lobbying astroturf group based in Brussels (to lobby the European Commission) called “Copyright 4 Creativity“?  The group features on its home page the IMMF’s “Open Letter on Record Label and Music Publishing Deals” as a tool to accomplish some lobbying goal.  That’s the letter that was written after the mysterious leak of the Spotify/Sony agreement.  So if the group is going to use that letter as a lobbying tool we would expect that the other members of Copyright 4 Creativity would be in line with the IMMF’s mission statement, right?

Wrong.  For starters, the Computer and Communications Industry Association (Google is a member), the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (Google provides support) are all backed by Google.  Google was forced to disclose that connection in its litigation with Oracle on a filing that has become known as the “Google Shill List.”   These groups are also included in Public Citizen’s “Mission Creep-y” lists.

There are some other names on that list that seem odd bedfellows for the IMMF that purports to represent artists but in which artists have an indirect voice at best.  This is a prime example of why artists who take individual action can be so effective (I’m especially thinking of David Lowery and Blake Morgan).

For example, Google and the Computer and Communications Industry Association are also members of the MIC Coalition, a massive lobbying effort organized to continue the practice of denying artist pay for radio play in the US.  I think it’s fair to say that the CCIA has opposed every effort by artists and songwriters to improve their lives.

Dima Panel

Using IMMF positions to lobby for the goals of these other groups seems antithetical to an artist rights organization that the IMMF purports to be.  It’s certainly something deserving of a vote by artists.

While Google itself is not a member of Copyright 4 Creativity, the organization is run by a long-time Brussels lobbyist whose firm represents Google, and even a cursory look at the Copyright 4 Creativity materials reveals some of the same rhetoric we have heard for years from the Google-funded anti-artist crowd.  This, of course, is how the astroturf game is played.

Here’s the real problem–artists have never confronted a multinational media corporation that is willing to spend millions and millions to undermine copyright and artist rights on a worldwide basis.  Through lobbying and strategic investments in academics, astroturf groups and competitors, Google is doing just that while at the same time trying to pass itself off as your best friend.  So the question is how many of the members of Copyright 4 Creativity get money from Google and is IMMF in that position?

There may be explanations for how MMF-UK and IMMF have ended up in this situation, and I’d love to hear what it is.  We owe them a fair hearing, but I think they owe artists an explanation and an opportunity to be heard.  That’s a fundamental aspect of the legitimacy of representation.

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