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Direct Investments in Rights-Tech Companies Hit $95 Million in First Half of 2017

RightsTech companies have raised nearly $95 million in direct investment so far in 2017, according to data compiled by the RightsTech Project, kicked off by Dubset Media’s $4 million Series A round in February.

That figure does not include outright acquisitions, such as Blackstone Capital’s acquisition of performance rights organization SESAC in January, which included the rights management technology platform Rumblefish along with the Harry Fox Agency.

The bulk of the rights-tech investments this year is accounted for by Kobalt Music’s $75 million Series D raise in May, led by Hearst Entertainment, bringing its total capitalization to more than $100 million to date. As with Blackstone’s acquisition of SESAC, much of the investment in Kobalt is premised on the perceived asset value of the rights it controls. But part of the valuation reflects Kobalt’s ability to monetize those rights using its technology platform.

Growing investor interest in the direct monetization of rights is also reflected in Royalty Exchange’s $6.4 million convertible note offering, which more than doubled the company’s original target of $3 million. Denver-based Royalty Exchange allows artists to offer interest in their future royalty stream to investors through the sale of royalty-backed assets.

Other notable raises this year include blockchain-based rights registry Binded (formerly Blockai), which raised $950,000 in June, bringing its total to date to $1.5 million, and music rights payment platform Stem, which raised $8 million.

Company Description Amount raised Investors
Kobalt Music rights and publishing platform $75 million Hearst Entertainment, Balderton Capital, MSD Capital
Dubset DJ remix rights clearance platform $  4 million Cue Ball Capital
Stem Music rights payment platform $  8 million Evolution Media, Aspect Ventures, Upfront Ventures.
Binded Blockchain-based rights registry for visual arts $950,000  Mistletoe, Asahi Shimbun, and Vectr Ventures
Royalty Exchange Music-royalty based asset exchange $ 6.4 million Convertible debt offering

Notable rights-tech direct investments in 2016, included visual arts registry and authentication platform ascribe, which raised $6 million, rights registration and marketplace platform Monegraph, which raised about $4 million, music rights management platform Revelator, which took in about $3.5 million artCOA, which raised $5 million.

Check Out the Agenda for the RightsTech Summit

Nathan Lands, co-founder and CEO of blockchain-based rights registration platform Binded, Virginie Berger, CEO of Pan-European music rights licensing hub Armonia Online, dotBlockchain Music co-founder Benji K. Rogers, and Dubset Media CEO Stephen White are just a few of the leading rights-management pioneers you’ll meet at this year’s RightsTech Summit in New York.

The summit will be held September 27th at the Museum of Jewish Heritage at Battery Place in lower-Manhattan, as part of the 3-day New York Media Festival. The preliminary agenda for the conference has now been posted on the RightsTech Summit website.

Topics include:

  • The future of machine-to-machine rights management
  • Metadata and unique asset identifiers
  • Authentication, provenance and rights registries
  • Blockchain
  • Licensing hubs and online marketplaces
  • Overcoming resistance to sharing ownership and rights data
  • Copyright reform and technology
  • Investing in rights-tech and copyright-backed assets
  • Trusted data vs. trusted databases

Plus keynotes, special presentations and fireside chats.

Click here for information on registering for the RightsTech Summit and/or the New York Media Festival.

Interested in speaking? Contact Paul Sweeting (paul@concurrentmedia.com). For sponsorship and RightsTech membership opportunities, contact Andi Elliott (andi@rightstech.com).

 

Midem 2017: Blockchain & Copyright

The big Blockchain & Copyright panel at Midem on Thursday, featuring RightsTech Summit alums Benji Rogers, co-founder of the dotBlockchain Music project, and attorney Sophie Goossens, focused more on metadata and the mechanics of smart contracts than on issues related to copyight per se. But it was a very interesting and useful discussion nonetheless, especially in addressing the incentive problem inherent to persuading organizations that control proprietary data sets to share their data in the interests of the industry as a whole.

Here’s the full video of the panel:

 

RightsTech Summit Joins New York Media Festival

The RightsTech Summit is joining the New York Media Festival this year. The one-day Summit will be held on September 27th as part of New York Media Festival’s three-day event series. Other events over the three days include the Digital Music Forum, the NY Games Conference, and the Future of Television. All events will be held at at the Museum of Jewish Heritage at historic Battery Place in New York City.

EU Appoints New Commissioner to Lead Digital Single Market

European Commission president Jean-Claude Junker this week named Bulgarian minister Mariya Gabriel as his candidate for Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society responsible for overseeing the commission’s Digital Single Market initiative. Gabriel, whose appointment must still be approved by the European Parliament, would replace Günther Oettinger, who had overseen the DSM strategy since its launch in 2015 but was reassigned the budget portfolio earlier this year, and will report to Andrus Ansip, the commission vice president in overall charge of DSM.

Mariya Gabriel

The appointment of Gabriel comes one week after the EC issued a mid-term review of the DSM strategy, in which it called for swift action by the European Parliament and member states to enact its various recommendations.

“The Commission has lived up to its promise and presented all main initiatives for building a Digital Single Market,” Ansip said in the review. “Now, the European Parliament and Member States need to adopt these proposals as soon as possible, for new jobs, business and innovation to take off across Europe.”

The DSM project has been a focus of controversy from the start, as telecom providers, technology companies and copyright owners have all raised objections to one or more of the commission’s 35 legislative proposals and policy initiatives. Agreement on those proposals among the commission, the European Parliament, and the Council for the European Union has been slow in coming. To date, agreement has been reached on only three:

  • Abolition of phone roaming charges within the EU;
  • So-called portability of online content starting in 2018, under which EU citizens from one country will be allowed to access online services they subscribe to at home while traveling in another EU country, even if the content hasn’t been licensed for release in that second territory;
  • Enhanced data protection regulations

Still pending are controversial proposals to harmonize local copyright regimes among the member states to facilitate EU-wide licensing and distribution of content; an end to geo-blocking that results in consumers paying different prices for digital goods in different EU territories; an update to the cable and satellite directive to facilitate cross-border access to TV and radio programming; an update to the rules regarding content distribution and advertising arrangements; and telecom reform, among others.

Gabriel is currently serving her second term as a member of the European Parliament, where she has focused primarily on visa matters and foreign affairs.

In an interview with Politico Europe Gabriel insisted that her lack of a technical background would not be a handicap in her new position.

Being a commissioner, she told the publication, was “primarily a political job, not a technical one,” adding she was looking forward to working on digital issues because “it’s a field that represents the future.”

 

Competing With Paid

This blog post originally appeared on Concurrent Media.

The rise of subscription streaming services, in both the music and video industries, has given the lie to the old complaint that consumers won’t pay for content online. But to many in the music industry, to say nothing of streaming investors, too many of them still don’t.

Ad-supported free streaming services remain the bête noire of the record labels and music publishers. They rail against YouTube, even as they’re making deals with it, and have fought to restrict the copyright safe harbors that allow YouTube to profit from music posted without license by users. They’ve maintained pressure on Spotify to shift more of its free users to its paid subscription tier, a tune now echoed by potential investors as Spotify eyes an IPO or public listing of its shares, and have begun to restrict when new releases are made available on the service’s free tier.

Pandora, the largest free streaming platform after YouTube, felt compelled to roll out a new subscription tier as it tries to woo investors and potential suitors.

To hear many in the music business tell it, the industry would be better off if free streaming went away altogether.

The video streaming business, however, has lately been moving in the opposite direction, at least on certain fronts. While over-the-top subscription streaming services continue to proliferate, streaming platforms continue to invest in free, ad-supported content.

Ad-supported streaming service Tubi TV this week announced a new, $20 million funding round led by Jump Capital, bringing its total funding since in launched in 2014 to $34 million. While Tubi is targeting the same cord-cutting consumers being catered to by the likes of Hulu, Netflix, CBS All Access and HBO Now, founder and CEO Farhad Massoudi thinks there’s a limit to the amount of paid content consumers will support.

“I think the market is delusional if they think consumers are willing to pay and subscribe to all these apps,” Massoudi told the Wall Street Journal. “In the next year or so these apps are going to disappear, or they’ll see there’s no clear path to significant scale.”

Tubi counts Lionsgate, MGM, Paramount and Starz among its 200 content providers, according to the Journal, and boasts a library of 50,000 movie and TV titles — an indication that TV rights owners are still open to distributing content via free platforms.

Little, if any of the content on Tubi TV is in its first release window, of course, and in many cases has been thoroughly monetized already. So the circumstances are not entirely comparable to the music business. But free, ad-supported video streaming is nonetheless attracting a growing amount of direct and indirect investment in new production.

Facebook, which has made ad-supported video streaming central to its growth strategy, is preparing to debut a slate of original series in June, ranging from mobile-friendly 5-10 minute fare up to more traditional, 30-minute episodes suitable for watching on TV.

Word of Facebook’s plans comes as YouTube is developing its own slate of 40 new original series intended primarily for its free, ad-supported platform. In a recent interview with Adweek, YouTube chief business officer Robert Kyncl made clear the primary role that ad-supported content plays in YouTube’s evolving long-form video strategy:

For many years, [marketers] have been asking me, “When you are going to do big original shows?” Of course, in their minds they mean free [programming] with ads. As you know, two years ago, we started a team to focus on originals, and we created YouTube Red with no ads. At the beginning of last year, we started to think about the fact that advertising is our core business. And big brands and big agencies are our biggest partners. This is something they have been asking for for a very long time, and we should deliver on that…

Secondly, when I started to look at the statistics, they showed a share shift from advertising-supported shows to ad-free shows, which started to increase. I just think that’s a trend that’s not favorable to our biggest partners. We are the biggest video platform in the world. We should play a role in changing that.

Even traditional media companies are eyeing investment in original, ad-supported streaming content, as the list of TV networks and studios lining up to create TV-like content for Snapchat attests.

The reasons for the differences in attitudes toward free, ad-supported channels are both historical and structural. Historically, the music industry’s primary ad-supported business — terrestrial broadcasting — was conducted under compulsory license by broadcasters. Rights owners earned only royalties based on use, under a formula set by the government, or, in the case of sound recording owners, nothing at all.

In contrast, advertising was for many decades the exclusive means of monetization for TV content and the industry’s corporate structure was built around that paradigm. Critically, TV rights owners controlled and conducted the majority of the advertising sales, claiming 100 percent of the revenue it generated.

In the streaming era, music rights owners have been able to tie their earnings more directly to the total advertising revenue pie, but they still don’t control ad loads or prices, and their slice of the pie is still calculated in part by the government. Video rights owners, in contrast, have been able to carry over their direct control of ad sales into the streaming era.

So, could the music business ever accommodate itself to ad-supported business models as the video industry has done? Not without major copyright and structural reforms. But the video industry’s experience suggests that paid and free channels are not inherently incompatible.

Token of My Success

Earlier this month, blockchain solutions provider Tokenly introduced token.FM, a direct-to-fan blockchain-based music platform. Tokenly plans to launch an initial trial of the new platform in early May, along with an Series A fundraising round. The first artist to make her music available on token.FM is singer/songwriter Tatiana Moroz, who introduced the first blockchain-based artist token, Tatiana Coin, in 2014. We asked Tatiana to share her personal story of how she came to embrace blockchain and cryptocurrencies, and how she got involved with Tokenly.

By Tatiana Moroz
Entrepreneurship and managing your career can be a problem that many musicians struggle with. As an independent artist, I know I have. Upon graduation from Berklee, I felt prepared to make my way into the industry, especially with the advent of the DIY tools offered by the internet age. However, what I found was that even though we had taken some steps forward, there was a long way to go to true artistic autonomy.

It wasn’t just the overwhelming amount of work that had to go into creating a career, the new (and unpaid) full time job I was given as master of my own fate, the decision fatigue, and the standard frustrations of a highly competitive industry. The main problems I saw were the industry’s many walled gardens and difficulty accessing financial resources. I also felt that music like the 60’s and 70’s revolution folk that had inspired me, no longer had a place in the world of boy bands and porno pop.

Still, I persevered. Finding my niche, I performed around the country doing political events. Yet I found the DC world to be divisive and fruitless and was quickly disillusioned.

There was a light at the end of the tunnel though, and a technology I fell in love with. I became involved with Bitcoin in 2012, and immersed myself in the space by 2013. In early 2014, I looked at how this technology could be adapted for artists.

By June 2014, with help from Adam B. Levine, host of Let’s Talk Bitcoin and now CEO of Tokenly, I created the first ever artist cryptocurrency Tatiana Coin. The goal was to create an artist specific, personally branded token that would function a bit like a collectible item, but also like a digital gift certificate.

These coins were like flexible rewards. You received a digital token that you could trade, rent, sell, and use at any time. If you wanted to send $5 worth of TC to your friends, there was nothing stopping you. It was also a great way to onboard people into the admittedly challenging cryptocurrency world.

After the initial launch, I put the funds we raised toward recording my new album, “Keep the Faith,” which I put out in March. While the recording part was easy, we wanted to use this technological model for others, and that was the tricky part. It was a little like having a car but without roads or a roadmap. So while I was speaking and singing at conferences and sharing my story, a team assembled under Adam’s leadership, and Tokenly and Token.fm were born.

One of the innovations we have created helps bring scarcity back to the digital space through the creation of tokenized albums. Traditionally, if you buy a record on iTunes, you can’t share it or resell it. However, tokenization of records allows for sharing, trading, and selling of digital music, which gives true ownership back to the fan. Artists can also set their licensing parameters, include their songwriting splits, and automate the sales of their music and merch for retail, commercial, and wholesale use.

Blockchain technology is not just for artists though. It is something the whole music industry should get behind. I have many colleagues who work in music businesses and are frustrated that, instead of helping artists reach their audiences and create meaningful connections, they get bogged down with a costly and time intensive administrative process. Blockchain could change all of that.

Crowdfunding artists via blockchain would allow record-label resources to be focused on growth rather than publishing administration and tracking payments. It would also take pressure off the labels and allow them be more risky and experimental with the acts they sign.

With Adam and the Tokenly team, we are now working toward becoming protocol agnostic. It was important to me that artists have control, and not get locked into another platform. That’s the beauty of crypto though, once someone has your coin, you are forever bound together (till they get rid of the coin anyway), regardless of the platform. So, while we don’t know which blockchain will be the winner, we’ve created an ecosystem where artists can thrive as entrepreneurs and build stronger bonds with their audience.

I think that’s what’s so compelling about Bitcoin and blockchain: the ability to retain control over what is yours, and at the same time, be truly linked to anyone in the world with an internet connection. It is less likely to be corrupted by the touch of man, as math is unyielding in its dependability. It’s more secure, it’s censorship resistant, and more transparent.  I hope that it also allows for more freedom and diversity in music messages.

When artists supported by their fans, and are able to reflect the place they come from, they can offer a real and genuine experience, and that leads to better art. On a personal note, I hope that more liberty in creativity will push our world toward a more peaceful direction.

Tatiana Moroz is an independent singer-songwriter and Founder/CEO of CryptoMediaHub. Her latest album, “Keep the Faith” is available for download from Tokenly and iTunes, and can be streamed from Soundcloud

Why Rights Organizations Want to Make Music Together

Music rights collection societies can’t seem to get enough of each other these days. Last week’s news that France’s SACEM, the UKs PRS, and ASCAP in the U.S. will collaborate in a project to build a prototype blockchain-based metadata linking system was only the most high-profile example of a trend that can trace its origins back at least to SESAC’s acquisition of the Harry Fox Agency in 2015.

Overshadowed by the SACEM/PRS/ASCAP announcement was confirmation last week that Canada’s main performing rights organization SOCAN is in advanced talks with SODRAC, which licenses reproduction rights in Canada about merging the two organizations. In Europe, meanwhile, the cross-border PRO consortium Armonia Online is now up to nine member societies and is eyeing expansion beyond the Continent, Armonia officials told RightsTech.com,  including to North America.

Not all such moves have the same immediate causes or motivations. SOCAN, for instance, has already swallowed MediaNet (formerly MusicNet) and Audiam as it strives to build an end-to-end rights-management platform with reach beyond the Canadian market and a merger with SODRAC, which in addition to representing Canadian songwriters and publishers is the exclusive representative in Canada for music works from 100 other countries, would be of a piece with that broader strategy.

Armonia Online’s growth has been driven by an EU directive to improve transparency and governance of collection societies and facilitate cross-border licensing.

The SACEM/PRS/ASCAP announcement would seem to be at least partly defensive: If blockchain-based metadata management is coming to the music business anyway, better that it be designed to the benefit and specifications of the PROs than risk having to conform their processes to a system designed by and for others.

To one degree or another, however, all reflect the impact of two underlying and related dynamics. One is the increasing complexity of the market for music rights, as both the number of use-cases for music explodes, creating a demand for more efficient and integrated licensing solutions.

The other factor behind the growing urge to merge among collective licensing organizations is the rapid spread of new rights management technology. The growing availability of DIY publishing tools and independent publishing and rights management platforms (think Kobalt) means that, over time, collective licensing organizations will need to manage ever more payouts and account to ever more clients than they have been accustomed to.

That will require much greater granularity of data and greater transparency into the tracking of uses and payment of royalties — something blockchain proponents tout for the technology. But it also puts a high premium on scale. The need to track more uses, and make more and smaller payments to more and smaller rights owners, will generate pressure to drive down the collection societies’ own costs, through greater scale, shared infrastructure around cost-centers like metadata management, and adoption of technology.

Rather than disintermediating collective rights management organizations, in other words, improved rights management technology could, paradoxically, create an incentive for them to get bigger.

Photo: Jens Thekkeveettil (CCO)

Courts, Congress Put Spotlight on Copyright Office (Updated)

This post originally appeared on Concurrent Media.

The federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed broadcasters a major win this week in their long-running legal battle with Aereo-clone Film On. A unanimous three-judge panel overturned a lower court ruling, which had held that FilmOn was eligible for the compulsory license under Section 111 of the Copyright Act that allows “cable systems” to retransmit copyrighted programming contained in broadcast signals without needing to get permission from the copyright holders.

In overturning that ruling, the circuit court closed an apparent loophole created by the Supreme Court in its 2014 ruling against Aereo, in which it held that Aereo was infringing broadcasters’ public performance right by retransmitting broadcast signals over the internet. In addressing whether Aereo was “transmitting” broadcast signals as defined in the statute, Justice Stephen Breyer reasoned that Aereo was acting, for all intents and purposes, like a cable system, which unambiguously “transmits” a signal, and therefore Aereo required a license under the statute’s Transmit Clause.

Maria Pallante

FilmOn seized on that reasoning to argue in its defense against a lawsuit brought by Fox, that it should be treated as a cable system for purposes of the compulsory license, which is a related but legally separate issue under the law. Several courts rejected that argument (FilmOn was sued in multiple jurisdictions) but one judge, U.S. District Court Judge George Wu, accepted it, ruling in Aereo’s favor, which led to Fox’s appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

While the Ninth Circuit’s ruling is an important victory for the networks, how the court reached its conclusion could turn out to be important in ways that go beyond its legal ramifications.

Writing for the court, judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain did not accept either Fox’s or FilmOn’s argument in full, acknowledging that the statutory language is ambiguous enough that could plausibly be reach the way each side would have the court read it, but that neither interpretation was compelled by either the language or the legislative history. To resolve the question, therefore, O’Scannlain defers to the interpretation of the provision offered by the U.S. Copyright Office, which favored Fox’s view.

In doing so, however, O’Scannlain felt compelled to establish the legal foundation for such deference.

“Because the statute does not speak clearly to the precise question before us, we must decide how much weight to give the views of the Copyright Office,” O’Scannlain writes. ” The first question is whether Chevron or Skidmore provides the proper framework to structure our analysis.”

O’Scannlain then goes on, in a footnote, to lay out the basic legal distinction between the two standards. Broadly speaking, under the Chevron standard (from Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Res. Def. Council), courts should defer to an agency’s construction of a statute it has been tasked by Congress to administer where the language of the statute is ambiguous as to the precise question at hand, so long as that construction is “reasonable.”

Under Skidmore, (Skidmore v. Swift & Co.) the weight given to an agency’s interpretation “will depend upon the thoroughness evident in its consideration, the validity of its reasoning, its consistency with earlier and later pronouncements, and all those factors which give it power to persuade, if lacking power to control.”

O’Scannlain then ups the stakes.

“To resolve this issue,” he writes, “we would be required to rule on constitutional questions that could have outsized consequences relative to this case—such as determining whether the Library of Congress is a legislative or executive agency.” If the latter, presumably, the Copyright Office would have a better claim on Chevron deference; if the former, it might only be due Skidmore.

Then comes this footnote:

The Copyright Office is housed within the Library of Congress, and it is not clear whether the Library of Congress is part of the executive or legislative branch. Compare U.S. v. Brooks, 945 F. Supp. 830, 834 (E.D. Pa. 1996) (“[T]he Copyright Office is part of the legislative branch.”), with Intercollegiate Broad. Sys., Inc. v. Copyright Royalty Bd., 684 F.3d 1332, 1341–42 (D.C. Cir. 2012) (discussing why the Library of Congress “is undoubtedly a ‘component of the Executive Branch’”). If the Library of Congress is part of the legislative branch, then the Librarian’s “power to appoint all of the officers who execute the copyright laws” may run afoul of the Appointments Clause of the Constitution.

As it happens, the legal status of the U.S. Copyright Office is very much a live controversy in Washington right now. The Office is currently leaderless, thanks to the abrupt removal of its previous head, Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante, in October at the hands of recently installed Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden. While theories abound as to the “real reason” behind Pallante’s removal, seen as a blow to copyright owners who viewed her as an ally, one factor appears to have been her outspoken advocacy for separating the Copyright Office from the Library and making it a standalone, executive branch agency, with a presidentially appointed register and its own rulemaking authority — a position Hayden strongly opposes.

Members of both the House and Senate Judiciary committees, many of whom are sympathetic to Pallante’s mission to separate the Office from the Library, expressed bi-partisan dismay over her defenestration, creating a rare rift between the Library of Congress and Congress. Pallante had worked closely with the House Judiciary Committee as it conducted a two-year review of U.S. copyright law with an eye toward reforms, including giving the Copyright Office a measure of independence from the Library.

At a meeting earlier this month, leaders of both the House and Senate committees urged Hayden to hold off on naming a new Register, according to a Wall Street Journal report. But in a letter to the committees following the meeting Hayden stuck to her position and reiterated her intention to make the appointment herself.

The chairman and ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, respectively, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), struck back this week, introducing the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017, which would make the Register of Copyrights a presidentially appointed position with a fixed, 10-year term.

In his opinion in the FilmOn case, Judge O’Scannlain side-stepped the question of the Copyright Office’s status by ruling that even under the less-deferential Skidmore standard the Office’s reading of Section 111 was persuasive, and that internet services like FilmOn and Aereo are distinguishable from “cable systems” and therefore not entitled to the compulsory license.

While that might settle the matter as far as FilmOn is concerned, Judge O’Scannlain’s highlighting of the question of the Copyright Office’s status neatly illustrates what’s at stake in the tug-of-war between Congress and the Librarian over control of the office and the appointment of the Register. Courts have disagreed over the years as to how much deference to give the Copyright Office’s interpretations, particularly in close cases involving the application of an old statute to new technologies.

Clarifying the Copyright Office’s legal status could go a long way toward resolving the question of deference, which could impact cases far beyond Fox v. FilmOn.

Update: On Wednesday (3/29), the House Judiciary Committee approved the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act (HR1695), which would make the Register a presidentially appointed position but leave the Copyright Office within the legislative branch. The bill now goes to the full House.

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