You may not know the names Shinyribs, Guy Forsyth, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Grupo Fantasma, Carolyn Wonderland, Sara Hickman or Jimmy LaFave, but we do here in Austin. You probably know Willie Nelson and so do we. We even have a street named after Willie.
What else do these artists have in common aside from being some of Austin’s most loved and respected artists and songwriters? Spotify, Google, Amazon, iHeart can’t seem to find them and have sent “address unknown” NOIs for all of them. (This issue involves mechanical royalties, not SoundExchange royalties or ASCAP/BMI/SESAC royalties. For the background on mass NOI loophole see my article from the American Bar Association Entertainment & Sports Lawyer.) The more we research this issue, the less anyone will believe that the Music Modernization Act is going to solve the problem of not finding what you don’t look for. (You can search for yourself in the SX Works NOI Lookup database (account registration required) that indexes the 60,000,000 plus “address unknown” notices to the Copyright Office from companies like Spotify, Google, Amazon–although interestingly, not Apple. Apple seems to be able to run their service on a loophole-free basis.)
Realize that this is not the fault of the songwriter–it’s easy to find these songwriters if you look for them. The problem is that the only place these services are required to look is in the public records of the Copyright Office and the songs will only be there if the songwriter registered them which they are not obligated to do in order to be paid mechanical royalties. Seems kind of confusing and circular? That’s because it is and because it is a loophole that hardly anyone ever used since 1976–up until Big Tech found it in 2016.
It is particularly galling that these giant companies all come to SXSW with a big presence but can’t seem to manage to pay our top songwriters. And remember–it’s not that there is a deferred royalty or retroactive royalty–until these songwriters either prove that they actually already registered their songs in the Copyright Office or do in the future, they don’t get a royalty at all courtesy of a loophole in the Copyright Act and the abject failure of the Congress to do anything about it. And remember–there is nothing that requires them to register in order to enjoy all the rights of a copyright owner, including the right to make Spotify rich and Google richer.
That’s right–81 notices on the late Jimmy LaFave:
Ray Wylie Hubbard has 126:
Shinyribs got 57:
Carolyn Wonderland racked up 189:
Sara Hickman has 111:
Grupo Fantasma gets 62:
Guy Forsyth has 103:
And Willie Nelson has 2,897:
So when ya’ll tech bros are in Austin this week, make sure you drop by if any of the songwriters you are stiffing are playing a show. You could even tip. Maybe you can find them in the SXSW show listings.
And enjoy your visit.