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A Look at Christopher Sprigman’s Recent Record

July 16, 2019 Comments off
Sprigman 1

Sprigman Throws a Definition at Blake Morgan

The Spitting Image of the Modern Major General

MTP readers may remember the name Christopher Sprigman.  Most recently,  we have identified him as a counsel to Spotify in the “Nashville cases” brought against his firm’s client Spotify by four plaintiffs represented by well-known and successful artist rights attorney Richard Busch.   These were cases brought against Spotify in Nashville for claims of copyright infringement by independent publishers who opted out of both the NMPA settlement and the Lowery & Ferrick class actions.  (Just to be clear, Lowery had nothing to do with the Nashville cases.)

Sprigman PHV

Professor Sprigman also teaches at the New York University law school in New York and evidently has an of counsel relationship with the distinguished New York law firm Simpson Thatcher.  According to his law firm biography:

“Chris is a tenured faculty member and Co-Director of the Engelberg Center on Innovation Law and Policy at New York University School of Law, where he teaches intellectual property law, antitrust law, competition policy and comparative constitutional law.”

Simpson Thatcher is one of those ultra white-shoe corporate law firms, a very conservative reputation and also highly respected around the world.

Sprigman Lowery

Pot, meet kettle

Professor Sprigman has a history in copyright circles dating back to at least 2002, i.e., before he worked on Simpson Thatcher client Spotify.  His selection to represent Spotify may be explained as simply as Professor Lessig was not available, but it’s more likely that his past work informed his selection as is usually the case.  Nothing wrong with that.

Some of Sprigman’s academic writings can be found on his SSRN author profile.  At least a few of these papers (that we know of)  were co-funded by Google.  That Google connection evidently is a topic of some sensitivity with Professor Sprigman as it was that point that seems to have prompted his unprovoked and public comparison of David Lowery to Alex Jones.

Blake Alex

Aside from the depressing reliability of the Alex Jones Corollary to Godwin’s Law, this was both a shocking yet curious comparison.   Why Alex Jones, of all people?  What about Alex Jones is of relevance to David’s role in the artist rights struggle?  I am of the view that it carried with it an implied threat–Sprigman could get his buddies in Big Tech to deplatform David just like Alex Jones.  Why?   My guess is that it is because Sprigman apparently wants you to believe that David’s message was just as toxic to Twitter.   (David was not even involved in the initial Sprigman exchange at all and tells me he had no idea it was even going on.  He was on the road with Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, you know, selling T-shirts like a good boy.)

Sprigman Lowery 2

The non denial denial

It All Starts with the Disney Fetish

Professor Sprigman has a long-term connection to Professor Lessig, beginning with a 2002 article “The Mouse the Ate the Public Domain” supporting Lessig’s losing argument in Eldred v. Ashcroft attacking the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act.  (“Most artists, if pressed, will admit that the true mother of invention in the arts is not necessity, but theft.”  How very 1999.)

It will not be surprising to learn from the NYU alumni blog introducing Professor Sprigman that Lessig is his “mentor” (“Sprigman set a goal of writing an article within four months that he could take on the job market, if his mentor and the [Stanford Center for the Internet and Society]’s founder Lawrence Lessig deemed it satisfactory. The result was a paper that reintroduced the idea of formalities in copyright law. Its boldness won Lessig’s approval.”)  Ah, yes.  Fortune favors the “bold.”

A younger and perhaps bolder Sprigman held a 2003 fellowship at Stanford’s Center for the Internet and Society (founded by the very bold Lawrence Lessig III and later funded by the even bolder Google in 2006 with a $2 million gift).  This academic fellowship evidently produced his 2004 article “(Re)Formalizing Copyright” boldly published by Stanford and, in a nutshell, advocating a requirement of copyright registration.  (My view of this fascination that many of the Lessig crowd have with registrations is to create a giant loophole that would allow Big Tech to use “unregistered” copyrights (especially photographs) as they saw fit.  Boldly, of course.)

As a quick aside, MTP readers will recall that the “address unknown” NOI debacle makes clear that even if works are registered and readily available through searchable databases that currently exist, Google, Amazon, Spotify and some others cannot be trusted to look for the sainted registrations.  These companies appear not to have looked or not to have looked very hard before attesting that they had searched the Copyright Office records in their 70 million or so address unknown filings.  Even allocating 5 minutes per copyright for search time, it would have taken over 350,000,000 minutes (or 5,833,333 man-hours, 243,055 man-days or 665 man-years.  Roughly speaking.  Feel me?  Curiously, Apple never used the address unknown loophole.  It is unlikely that a registration-based system (which the US abandoned decades ago) would produce the promised results but would produce a substantial burden on all copyright owners, especially independents–not to mention the productivity loss to the Copyright Office itself.

This registration loophole is also a core Lessig concept that he pushed during the orphan works bills of the 2006-2008 period (see “Little Orphan Artworks”.  It is echoed in the Music Modernization Act with the requirements to register with the Mechanical Licensing Collective under Title I (at least if you want to be paid outside of the black box) and the registration requirements under Title II for pre-72 copyright owners imposed by Big Tech’s favorite senator, Ron Wyden.  Note neither requirement requires a formal copyright registration so doesn’t go as far as Lessig, Samuelson and Sprigman, but it’s headed that direction.

David Poe Woodward

Sprigman later was co-author with Lessig of the Creative Commons filing to “save” “Jewish cultural music” in 2005 orphan works consultation by Copyright Office.

creative-commons-2008-schedule-b ANNO

In 2006, Professor Sprigman was lead counsel with Lessig on the losing side in Kahle v. Ashcroft (later v. Gonzales) which unsuccessfully challenged the elimination of the renewal requirement under the 1992 Copyright Renewal Act.  He went on to write “The 99 Cent Question” in 2006 attacking iTunes pricing.

Association with Pamela Samuelson

Pamela Samuelson is another registration fan in the professoriate, so it was not unexpected that Samuelson and Sprigman would find each other.  Among his other accomplishments, Professor Sprigman was a member of Pamela Samuelson’s “Copyright Principles” project and co-authored its paper that also advocated registration (see Sec. IIIA of paper, “Reinvigorating Copyright Registration”).  (MTP readers will remember Samuelson and her husband the tech maven Robert Glushko from the Samuelson-Glushko IP units at various law schools in the US and Canada that consistently oppose artist rights.  A critic might say that the Samuelson-Glushko academic institutes are like Silicon Valley’s version of Confucius Institutes.)

The Copyright Principles Project is especially relevant to Professor Sprigman’s outburst regarding David Lowery because of what I would characterize as the utter failure of Pamela Samuelson to make an impact when she testified before the House Judiciary Committee’s IP subcommittee in 2013.  This missed opportunity was, I think, largely due to Lowery’s takedown of the “Project” that appeared in Politico hours before she testified which Chairman Goodlatte asked to be entered into the record of the hearing where it sits to this day.

Lowery Politico

It’s worth noting that there were no creator members of the Copyright Principles Project, and Samuelson was questioned sharply about this by the IP subcommittee–it sounded like staff had been fed the “Case Study for Consensus Building” without being told that an important group had been omitted from the “consensus”.  Her response was that she didn’t need any creator members on the Copyright Principles Project because she was herself an academic writer.  I think it’s fair to say that while I didn’t see any of the Members laugh out loud, her response was viewed as rather weak sauce in light of Lowery’s post in Politico.   That exchange appears to have led to Samuelson founding the “Authors Alliance” after the hearing evidently to shore up that shortcoming.  Too late for the Copyright Principles Project, however.

All Hail the Pirate King

Like his mentor Lessig, Professor Sprigman also seems to have an interest in defending the alleged benefits of piracy and apparently is a leader of the “IP without IP” movement (and co-author of the piracy apologia, The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation.)   (See also what we call the “pro-piracy” article “Let Them Eat Fake Cake: The Rational Weakness of China’s Anti-Counterfeiting Policy“.  “[M]ost of that harm [of counterfeits and piracy], at present and for the foreseeable future, falls on foreign manufacturers”–this means you, songwriters.)  He frequently writes on pro-piracy topics with Professor Kal Raustiala of the UCLA School of Law of all places.

It should come as no surprise then, that he represented Spotify in the Nashville cases.  He was co-counsel on Spotify’s papers (with Jeffrey Ostrow from Simpson Thatcher) famously making the losing argument that, in short, lead to the conclusion that there is no mechanical royalty for streaming (after the usual Lessig-esque Rube Goldberg-like logic back flips).  In Sprigman’s America, his Big Tech clients would not pay streaming mechanicals to songwriters at all, an issue that was emphatically put to rest in the Music Modernization Act.  (In a curious case of simultaneous creation, Techdirt came to almost the identically flimsy argument.)

David Poe Delete S

What Did We Ever Do to Him?

But before last week, Professor Sprigman most recently came onto the radar in his chairing of the American Law Institute’s Restatement of Copyright which many (including me) view as a political end-run around the legislative process.  Register of Copyright Karyn Temple said the Restatement of Copyright “appears to create a pseudo-version of the Copyright Act” and would establish a contrarian view of copyright under the mantle of the august American Law Institute.  It’s unclear to me who, if anyone, is financing the Restatement.  (MTP readers will recall The American Law Institute’s Restatement Scandal: The Futility of False “Unity”.)

Aside from the fact that the normal world is not waiting for the Restatement of Copyright, it is hard to understand how a person with such overtly toxic attitudes toward uppity artists like Blake Morgan, David Lowery and David Poe should–or would even want to–participate in drafting the Restatement.

Unless they had a reason.  Like providing a citable text holding that piracy is groovy, for example.  Originalists come not here.

As Kevin Madigan observed:

It’s not difficult to understand the creative community’s unease when taking a closer look at two of the projects leaders. The Restatement was originally the idea of Pamela Samuelson, a Professor of Law at UC Berkeley who is well known in the copyright academy as someone who has routinely advocated for a narrower scope of copyright protection. And while her knowledge and expertise in the field is unquestionable, her ability to take an objective approach to a project meant to influence important copyright law decisions is suspect.

While Professor Samuelson’s academic record reveals that she may not be the most suitable candidate to spearhead a restatement of copyright law, the project’s Reporters—those responsible for drafting the restatement—are led by Professor Chris Sprigman, whose work in academia and as a practicing attorney should undeniably disqualify him from this highly influential role.

Yet as of this writing, the American Law Institute still lists Professor Sprigman as the “reporter” of its Copyright Restatement project.

ALI Copyright

As one artist asked me of Sprigman, what drives him to be so consistently on the wrong side?  What did we ever do to him?

badbunny

(h/t to Fox of TO)

 

 

Guest Post by @poedavid: “Dance Like Nobody’s Paying?” Spotify isn’t

July 15, 2019 1 comment

[We’re thrilled to welcome David Poe to MTP!]

by David Poe

Spotify’s disastrous “dance like nobody’s paying” ad campaign has now been demolished in the national press, garnering negative coverage in Newsweek, Billboard, NME, Hypebot, and more. Sometimes big corporations slip up and show us what they really think of us, and this was one of those times.  

But what’s Spotify’s plan?  Here, Variety’s Patrick McGuire suggests Spotify’s intent is to divide listeners and musicmakers:

Similar to the way many people bite into a cheeseburger with no consideration for the cow and farm of its origin, campaigns like Spotify’s widens the growing divide between listeners and creators. Audiences intellectually understand that music doesn’t magically materialize out of nothingness for the exclusive purpose of entertaining them, but as music continues its irreversible transition to all things digital, listeners are becoming less aware and interested in how artists create, record, produce, and share music. With a 2017 Nielsen Music report showing that, on average, Americans now spend over 32 hours a week listening to music, it’s clear that music is hugely important in the lives of listeners — just not in ways that provide meaningful visibility and support to musicians.

Ever heard that song “Put another nickel in / In the Nickelodeon”? It’s from 1950 (written by Stephen Weiss & Bernie Baum.)

Everyone loves streaming. But more than half a century later, most streaming services contend that a song isn’t worth a penny. I respectfully disagree.

Because a song isn’t really a song until someone listens to it, no  musicmaker should be faulted for utilizing all available platforms. But streaming in 2019 forces music makers and fans into the middle of a moral hazard. Music enthusiasts should be able to listen to streaming music without having to compromise their scruples, or that of their favorite bands.

Despite the lack of transparency in the music industry, The Trichordist has managed to cobble together an annual Streaming Price Bible.  It is the most credible summary I’ve found on what each streaming service pays, which may impact where Spotify listeners choose to put their dough-re-mi:

2018_streamingbible

How Bad Is it for Music Makers?

You can easily see from the chart what each service pays for recordings.  At about $0.003 per stream, Spotify pays little but has the greatest market share.  At about $0.0002 per stream, Google/YouTube is even worse. 

Very different companies. Their commonality: free music, which has made them rich from ad revenue and data scraping, but mostly from their stock price increasing at the expense of musicmakers. 

Let’s put this in context.  To earn a monthly US minimum wage, an artist on Spotify would need 380,000 streams by some estimates.

To make the same monthly salary as the average Spotify employee, a songwriter would need 288,000,000 streams.

Frozen Mechanicals

For reference, the statutory rate for a song on a CD or download is 9.1 cents — 4.1 cents more than ye olde Nickelodeon of the 1950s. 

FROZEN MECHANICALS 1909-1977

You might say that’s better than the old days—but it isn’t as good as it looks, because the song rate was frozen for 68 years before it began gradually increasing … only to be frozen again in 2009, where it will stay until 2022.

FROZEN MECHANICALS 2009-2022

Clearly, streaming has all but replaced CDs and downloads, but without replacing revenue from songs to musicmakers. 

Money is being made from streaming if you look at it on an industry-wide basis.  But—due to the hyper efficient market share distribution of the “big pool” revenue share accounting instead of a user-centric model (or the “ethical pool,”) individual music makers are far worse off.  More than ever, streaming revenue is not paid to music makers who don’t share in the big advances or Spotify stock. 

You Can’t Compete With Free

The vast majority of Spotify users are in the “free tier”. By offering free access, Spotify artificially distorts the streaming market and disallows competition amongst streaming companies. As musicians have learned the hard way, you can’t compete with free.

Spotify likes to say it’s artist-friendly, a tool for music discovery. 

Guilty of chronic copyright infringement, Spotify was founded by a former pirate.  It’s a corporate ethos built on theft.  The Music Modernization Act essentially gave Spotify a new safe harbor, but its tactics haven’t changed.

There’s additional shadiness here: allegations of gender discrimination and equal pay violation, expensive, state-subsidized offices, executive  bonuses, corporate lobbyists, a dicey DPO and of course, the “fake artist” scandal.

Spotify’s ongoing lobbying campaign against artist rights continues despite the unanimous passage of the Music Modernization Act in Congress last year (and the jury is out on the MMA and Spotify’s safe harbor).  Shocker—Spotify apparently reneged on agreements it made to accept the Copyright Royalty Board’s mandated increase in songwriter pay.  Another bonehead move that was publicly rebuked by songwriters from Spotify’s “secret geniuses” charm offensive, including Nile Rodgers and Babyface.

Spotify was joined by Amazon, Google, and Pandora in “suing songwriters” to appeal the Copyright Royalty Board’s ruling that increased the paltry streaming mechanical rate, which Spotify lawyer Christopher Sprigman argued against in court.  

Apple Music does not have a free tier and yet was the only major streaming service that did not challenge the new royalty (44% more, which means 0.004 instead of 0.003, which is still bullshit.)  

This may be because Apple recognizes that music helped save its ass from financial ruin 20 years ago. Math is not my strong suit, but numbers indicate music (via the iPod, a now-obsolete door stop) generated nearly half of Apple’s accumulated wealth not to mention introducing a new audience to Apple’s other awesome products.

Or it could just be that Apple understands creators and may actually like us.  There’s a thought.  We were early adopters—Macs have been in every recording studio and creative department for decades.   

Apple Music’s intent to increase artist pay to a penny per side is its best yet, but now long overdue.   Which is a shame, because a trillion dollar market cap company could afford to redistribute some wealth.  If Apple offered a fair alternative, most would run screaming from the competition.

The Generational Problem

There are many who are more expert than me, some quoted in this post. I’d rather be staring into space strumming guitar and writing a song than here discussing music and money. 

But I’m concerned for the next generation of artists, especially the musical innovators. Here’s why:

There used to exist a sort of musical middle class. Artists in all mediums expected financial struggle but there was the possibility of making a living and even growing as an independent artist.  That might include a record deal or selling CDs at a gig in order to make it to the next town. 

Songwriters could get an album cut and get by or even do well if the album sold (Jody Gerson has a great explanation of this.)  Musicians of quality could see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Streaming has “disrupted” all of that.

Light’s out. 

Bands’ streaming access may—may—help build an audience that may somehow convince talent buyers to book gigs that route your tour, which is awesome. But sustaining a career is still cost-prohibitive for many. 

Thus the Top 40 is full of the children of the affluent. 

Not children of millionaires: Stevie. Dylan. John & Paul. Aretha.

Those of us who have been making music for awhile will remember the optimistic, 1990s-era “monetize the back end” argument: bands on the road can make up income lost to streaming by selling merch. 

I tour, too. I wish the best to every band who does so. 

But not every musician can travel … or got into music to sell a fuckin hat.

Another common sense rebuttal to “shut up and tour:” INCOME FROM LIVE SHOWS WAS NEVER MEANT TO REPLACE THAT OF MUSIC SALES — plus both have investment costs and overhead to produce.

Gas costs what gas costs. 

Mics cost what mics cost. 

Streaming doesn’t pay what music costs.

Sorry to yell. Just sick of this lie that to make up for streaming losses all recording artists, especially senior citizens, should tour forever. Or the assumption they are all rolling in dough! Tell that to the punk rock drummer, alto player, the cellist, the songwriter. 

Note: It’s almost impossible to buy a new car or laptop that plays a CD. Low income streaming has effectively replaced higher income physical sales. 

So if streaming is to be the primary method of music distribution — if not the only one — then pay artists fairly.  Or it really will be lights out, if not for the huge artists who regularly celebrate stupidity then for the ones whose songs you want played at your funeral.

Without musicmakers, Spotify has nothing. When Spotify says “dance like nobody’s paying,” it’s because they don’t. 

Given support from listeners and lawmakers, this era of economic injustice via streaming may one day be a footnote.  Fans should not be paying for music they don’t listen to which is what has been happening and is a hallmark of streaming gentrification.

Now, listeners must demand fair pay for musicians they claim to love, whether it is higher streaming royalties or a user-centric royalty allocation—or both.

#IRespectMusic 

Ain’t Too Proud to Beg: Did President Obama Just Endorse Spotify During an FTC Investigation of Apple Music?

August 15, 2015 Comments off

The White House now has a Spotify account.  You would know this if you happened to run across the 500 or so stories about President Obama’s Spotify playlist in the news.  Is this a particularly remarkable occurrence?  Not really–except for one thing.  Something you won’t find in any of the earned media.

Spotify is behind an antitrust investigation into Apple Music by the Federal Trade Commission.  That would be the Federal Trade Commission that reports to…President Obama.  In the middle of a serious investigation into Apple, the White House–that is the “people’s house”–endorses Spotify.

WH Spotify

So how might this have come to pass–now.  Curious timing, wouldn’t you say?  Maybe not.  Aside from the fact that Kara Swisher of Re/Code reported that Google’s head business executive Omid Kordestani is on the Spotify board and ex-Google employees are in leadership roles at the White House (starting with Megan Smith, the Chief Technology Officer of the United States and former vice president of business development at Google), Spotify hired Jonathan M. Prince, the Obama Administration revolving doorman and Clintonista.

Jonathan Prince Employment Timeline–Open Secrets

One of Mr. Prince’s duties appears to be running Spotify’s brand new in-house shillery as reported by Tech Times:

Spotify recently hired four outside lobbying groups who have been privately questioning Apple’s practices in meetings with politicians. Specifically, Spotify has been alleging that Apple took advantage of its size and power in creating unfair deals with various record labels. Spotify is also raising the issue of Apple’s standard 30% fee on all subscriptions purchased through its App Store, the fee which Spotify recently notified its users they could cut by cancelling and resubscribing.

Spotify’s global head of communications and public policy, Jonathan Prince, described the company’s political intentions as a more general effort to keep lawmakers up to date on the latest developments in the area.

Right…just keeping “lawmakers up to date”.

Given Mr. Prince’s easy access to the White House, you have to wonder if keeping “lawmakers up to date” included coordinating an announcement and press event around the White House adopting Spotify, starting with President Obama’s playlist.

And it won’t just be President Obama–according to the official U.S. Government blog on whitehouse.gov, there’s going to be more to come.  As the White House tells us–subscribe!  Of course, you can only “subscribe” if you already have a Spotify account.  So what the White House is actually saying is “get a Spotify account!”

WH Spotify 2

How many press releases do you think Spotify is going to milk out of this one?

Not to mention fawning coverage like this from the L.A. Times:

The world’s most popular streaming service revealed on Friday that the world’s most powerful man, President Obama, and his administration have launched an official channel on Spotify, and will be contributing playlists to the service.

Maybe this was some kind of coded message to the FTC?  Is that phrase “the world’s most popular streaming service” a dog whistle for “slam these monopolists”?

What do you think?

Or do you think that this smacks of..whatchamacallit…crony capitalism?

According to the Spotify press release:

Over the years, the White House has continued to grow its social media presences and find new ways to connect with people all over the country through a range of platforms. On Spotify, you can expect to see the White House share playlists created by administration officials, as well as playlists curated around events and issues to engage the public and acquaint them with the people working in the administration.

Maybe we’ll see a playlists created by FTC commissioners?

No?  Oh, why ever not?

Do you think that the White House is participating in Spotify’s chest beating about being better than Apple Music?  That would be the Apple Music that scored 11 million subscribers in less than 2 months, nearly half of what it has taken Spotify 6 years to convert?

Don’t get sidetracked on this–this is not a political issue.  It’s also not a matter of whether President Obama or other White House folk use Spotify.  We all use a host of products.  Not all of us have a platform like the White House from which to endorse a product.

The point is that it appears that Spotify is using its lobbying muscle to (A) go after Apple Music at the FTC rather than just meeting Apple in the channel with their big boy pants, and (B) get the boss of the FTC to pick a winner.

Spotify definitely ain’t too proud to beg.  It smacks of real desperation, and however much artists may be flattered to be on the President’s playlist, I doubt they’ll be that flattered when they realize their music is being leveraged in the name of crony capitalism.

It stinks.  If they’re going to get the President of the United States to endorse their product, they could at least have the White House encourage subscriptions.

But then–he is the leader of the free world.

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