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Guest Post: Mr. Muzzey Goes to China: How One Composer is Using Detection Services to Get Paid on Unlicensed Music Uses

January 13, 2020 Comments off

By Kerry Muzzey

[We’re honored to have Kerry Muzzey back again to tell his story of how one composer is working with music detection services and his US PRO to catch thousands of unlicensed uses in China and elsewhere.  Really incredible tale well told.  This post was created from a Twitter thread that Kerry posted, follow him @kerrymuzzey]

This is a post for my composer brethren and my copyright friends. Its about my dramas with China, and its about why you should be using detection services to track your music on YouTube and on TV.

The Basics: CCTV is China Central Television: it’s a massive network in China with 50 networks under its umbrella. They don’t license music, because China. But also because of something else.

MCSC is the performing rights org in China: basically they’re the ASCAP/BMI in China and MCSC have reciprocal agreements with ASCAP/BMI just like most of the foreign PRO’s do.

I use Content ID to track my music that appears on YouTube. This is how I found out that over the years CCTV has used my music in a ton of their TV shows: they uploaded them to YouTube and Content ID found these uses for me.

CCTV didn’t license my music for their TV shows which then went onto their on-demand services and onto YouTube, where the shows were monetized.

I’ve been going back and forth with CCTV for seven months now as I try to resolve my claims with CCTV because I should’ve been paid for these uses of my music.

Short version: CCTV doesn’t know what it’s doing. At all. Like, “I don’t know how they manage to get programs onto air” levels of ineptitude. First they admitted that they didn’t know my music titles because the torrents they got the music from didn’t have song titles.

Then as if that wasn’t bad enough, the official CCTV Copyright Department said that all music originating in the U.S. is Creative Commons, which they read on a website once, so that means they can use all US-originating music for free because it’s all subject to a Creative Commons “license.”  (FYI this is not true, but it’s China soooo….)

In November CCTV came up with a new and different answer: CCTV pays an annual license fee to MCSC and in exchange CCTV can use any music it wants in CCTV’s shows because MCSC has agreements with ASCAP and BMI. I am a BMI writer.  CCTV says that BMI gives my rights to MCSC and so I need to deal with MCSC, it’s not CCTV’s problem.

Now, we all know that this isn’t true: ASCAP/BMI don’t represent synchronization rights or master recordings: they rep only public performance rights. Performance rights are necessary in addition to, not in place of, sync/master licenses for use of music in TV shows, etc.  Pretty basic stuff.

Meaning that BMI/ASCAP can’t grant these rights to MCSC because they simply don’t have Sync or master rights in the first place.  And you can’t give what you don’t have.

BUT when CCTV is paying millions annually to MCSC, *you* try telling China’s largest broadcaster’s lawyer that they are misunderstanding what rights MCSC is granting to them (and that they’ve been doing it wrong since 1992). But this was a BIG brick wall in my way.

So I contacted BMI’s International Department and explained to them what was happening. They’re familiar with me because I’ve had this same issue with most of the EU PROs after finding 6000+ unlicensed uses of my tunes on 100s of EU TV shows (in this case from using tools from Tunesat).

And BMI said “you are 100% correct: we obviously don’t have those rights to grant, they’re yours exclusively and we don’t rep sync or masters.  MCSC and CCTV are wrong.” And BMI International wrote a very succinct letter for me that I could give to both CCTV and MCSC that clarifies this.

I emailed that letter to CCTV and MCSC yesterday morning explaining to them both what rights MCSC does and doesn’t grant to CCTV. You’d think that China’s largest TV network would know what they were paying millions to MCSC for each year.

You’d also think that MCSC would be pretty clear with China State Television about *WHY* CCTV is paying them millions of dollars and what they’re getting for that money.

And you would think that some random composer wouldn’t have to explain it to them but OK.

And then last night, 12 hours after I emailed the official BMI letter, I got an email from MCSC cc’ing CCTV’s lawyer saying “you are correct, we do not represent any of these rights and you have to deal with CCTV for these infringements.”

Progress! BUT…MCSC’s response of course leaves me with some serious questions.

1) CCTV pays big fees to MCSC for public performance fees but doesn’t do cuesheets. So I don’t know how any of that money is going to the music being used in the TV shows (which isn’t licensed anyway because they don’t license music, full stop).

So… where is that money going? It’s going somewhere.  Who’s getting it? CCTV pays MCSC supposedly thinking that MCSC grants them permission to use all music in the world.  Which means that MCSC takes CCTV’s money, but MCSC doesn’t get cuesheets from CCTV so they can’t distribute those royalties, which means that MCSC has a lot of money to acct for.

2) if CCTV has thought that their MCSC annual fees pays for “use any music you want for free” since the early 1990s when MCSC was formed and has never done cuesheets, hasn’t MCSC wondered where the past 27 years’ worth of cuesheets are so they can distribute those royalties correctly?

And here’s the thing that all of this turns on – the one thing that is exposing all of this: DETECTION TECHNOLOGIES like Content ID, AdRev or Tunesat. These technologies are the X-ray specs that have revealed all of this.

The other thing that this drives home for me: the importance of our PROs. I only made this progress because BMI came to my rescue. Should BMI have to write a letter telling China’s PRO what performance royalties are and how they work?! No – but it’s China.

I’m suddenly acutely aware of the interconnectedness of our music-and-broadcasting ecosystem, where PROs are basically under attack from places like Discovery, and where none of my composer friends realize that their music – their work – is being used in places like the huge China market without their knowledge, or permission, or payment.  PROs like MCSC are collecting the money for it but not distributing it, so everyone profits except for the composer whose work is the thing being bought and sold without even knowing.

As a composer your work IS out there being used – correction, being stolen – and being bought, sold and capitalized on like someone selling a hot car stereo, except the buyers and sellers are major corporations and broadcasters.  Those TV shows with the composer’s stolen music end up on YouTube where YouTube and the broadcaster get to sell ads on them – and you, composer, are none the wiser, having no idea that your iTunes album or SoundCloud uploads are underscoring an entire TV series.  Because no one checks.

UNLESS you happen to have a detection technology searching for your audio fingerprints – and most composers don’t.  And well, doesn’t this all seem a little bit… criminal? Illegal? Doesn’t it kinda feel like no one is minding the store?  So here’s the thing: you have to mind your own store and buy your own x-ray specs. Explore detection technologies; see what you find.
Run into problems like mine above? Your PRO is your friend: they’re the closest thing we composers/songwriters have to a union or collective representation. They’re there to help you. It can take time – they’re overwhelmed & understaffed. But they’re on your side.

And the thing is, they don’t know that this stuff is happening unless their members tell them about it. And by the way, it’s not only China that’s a problem.  In just the past two months, BMI has had to write letters for me to the PROs in Germany, France, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and the Netherlands telling each of them that “BMI doesn’t give you sync or master recording rights, you have to get those from the publisher and label.”

Each PRO in those countries? Floored. Dumbfounded. This was news to them. And in each case their response is the same:  “Why is this the first time we’re hearing about this? Why now?” And the answer is “detection technologies.” Because of that tech, these thefts of our works are finally pinging on radar screens. But you have to be using the tech to hear your ping.

You can’t rely on TV networks to do cue sheets like they’re supposed to, you can’t rely on TV shows ex-US to play by the rules and license their music – but you can rely on detection technologies to discover these thefts of your work. They’re pretty darn robust.

This was way longer than I anticipated, but it’s a heck of a story & while the ending is still TBD, it looks like the good guys might win.  Composers: know your business, know your rights, try out the detection tech, support your PROs.

And for the legal folks out there who know about stuff like financial crimes…. shouldn’t somebody have stumbled across this already? Audited MCSC by now? Our industry needs someone to Erin Brockovich China’s PRO & broadcasters.

A P.S. to this thread that I forgot to include: HunanTV & Beijing TV also pay annual performance license fees to MCSC but neither do cuesheets, same as CCTV. So MCSC can’t distribute the owed performance royalties. SO…

What does MCSC do with the money?

New update:

The saga continues: BMI and MCSC (China’s BMI) have told CCTV that they misunderstand what rights they grant & have re-states that neither can grant sync or master recording rights. CCTV now insists that both entities are wrong, and that MCSC definitely holds the rights to be able to automatically grant gratis master recording & sync rights to any music at all, worldwide, in any media, because BMI grants those rights to MCSC who has granted them to CCTV but MCSC just doesn’t understand their own contract. I’m not kidding: this is happening.

If anyone from PRS For Music, ASCAP or BMI [or GMR or SESAC] is following this thread, you guys really need to bring the hammer down on MCSC for its absolute ineptitude. And while you’re at it, ask MCSC where all your performance royalties are.

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