The Legal Beat: Artists Push for Streaming Copyright Rule Change – Plus Dr. Dre, Takeoff & More

This is The Legal Beat, a weekly newsletter about music law from Billboard Pro, offering you a one-stop cheat sheet of big new cases, important rulings, and all the fun stuff in between. This week: A huge group of artists push to clear up uncertainty about termination rights and streaming royalties, Dr. Dre threatens to sue Marjorie Taylor Greene, the man accused of murdering Takeoff is released on bond, and more.

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THE BIG STORY: Top Artists Demand Streaming Royalties Rule

When I first reported in October that the U.S. Copyright Office was looking to enact an “obscure” rule change about termination rights and streaming royalties, I received a bit of light-hearted criticism from some folks who had been following the issue closely. They conceded that the subject matter was complex — it’s mind-meltingly complex, trust me — but also said that the stakes were huge.

I guess others agree: In a letter sent last week, more than 350 artists, songwriters, managers and lawyers threw their weight behind the Copyright Office’s proposed rule change, saying they were worried about music creators being “deprived of the rights afforded to them by copyright law.” Signed by Don Henley, Sheryl Crow, Sting, Bob Seger, Maren Morris, John Mayer, Dave Matthews, members of The Black Keys and many others, the letter said that opposition to the agency’s new rule would constitute “a vote against songwriters.”

What’s this new rule they’re so fired up about? As mentioned, it’s pretty arcane stuff. (Go read our explainer if you want more details.) But basically:

The group created by the Music Modernization Act in 2018 to collect mechanical royalties from streaming services (the Mechanical Licensing Collective, or MLC) enacted a new policy in 2021, dealing with who should receive such royalties after a songwriter invokes their termination right. Termination is a provision under copyright law that allows creators to take back control of their works decades after signing them away to a publisher. The problem? The MLC’s new policy seemed to say that if a song had already been uploaded to Spotify’s server prior to when a songwriter invoked their termination right, those royalties would need to keep flowing to their old publisher — seemingly forever — regardless of who now owned them.

That bizarre outcome would seem to be at odds with the basic point of termination, which is designed to help original creators finally derive value from their own works. So in October, the Copyright Office proposed a new rule requiring the MLC to “immediately repeal its policy in full,” calling it an “erroneous” reading of the law. And last week, spurred by groups like the Music Artists Coalition, a huge number of influential members of the music industry said they agreed.

Some of the wording of the letter — about a “vote against songwriters” — was pretty ominous. But it doesn’t seem like there’s any real industry opposition to the Copyright Office’s change. The National Music Publishers’ Association has quibbles about how such changes are enacted, fearing that they might lead to uncertainty and litigation over past practices. But the group says it fully supports a rule change and the goal of making sure that terminating songwriters actually get paid.

Will the Copyright Office enact the new rule as originally proposed, or make changes when the final rule is released? We’ll let you know what the final rule looks like — and whether everyone likes it.

Other top stories this week…

DR. DRE WARNS REPUBLICANDr. Dre sent a scathing cease-and-desist letter to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, threatening the conservative lawmaker with a copyright lawsuit for using the rapper’s 1999 smash hit “Still D.R.E.” without permission in a social media post. “One might expect that, as a member of Congress, you would have a passing familiarity with the laws of our country,” the letter read.

MORE MUSIC TROUBLE FOR TRILLER – Universal Music Group filed a lawsuit against Triller over allegations that the video-sharing app has failed to make payments for months under its music licensing agreements, despite “lavish” spending elsewhere.

MIGOS MURDER SUSPECT RELEASED – Patrick Xavier Clark, the man accused of murdering Migos rapper Takeoff, was released from a Houston jail after posting a $1 million bond. He was placed under house arrest and will be subject to GPS monitoring.

LAWSUIT OVER UMG’S SPOTIFY STAKE – ’90s hip-hop duo Black Sheep filed a class action against Universal Music Group over the label’s ownership stake in Spotify, claiming UMG has accepted low royalties in return for stock in the streaming service. Seeking to represent thousands of others, the case says UMG is “withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties.”

SONY SETTLES FUTURE CASE – Sony Music reached a settlement to end a lawsuit that claimed the name of Future’s chart-topping album High Off Life infringed the trademark rights of a company called High Off Life LLC, a creative agency that says it’s used the name for years.

ROCKER ARRESTED ON GUN CHARGES – Matt Shultz, the lead singer of the band Cage the Elephant, was arrested in New York City and hit with two charges of criminal possession of a weapon after police found two loaded firearms in his room at the Bowery Hotel.

MARILYN MANSON CASE DROPPED – A federal judge tossed out one of the several sexual abuse lawsuits filed against Marilyn Manson, dismissing a case filed by model Ashley Morgan Smithline because she failed to retain a new lawyer after splitting with her old legal team last fall.

GLORIA TREVI ABUSE SUIT – Mexican pop star Gloria Trevi was hit with a new lawsuit over a decades-old claim of sexual assault against two minors, who alleged the singer “groomed” and “exploited” them when they were between the ages of 13 and 15 back in the early 1990s. Trevi strongly denied the accusations, saying she’d been “totally acquitted” when such claims were made in a criminal case in Mexico in the 2000s.

Bill Donahue