One of the pieces of advice that artists and songwriters hear pretty constantly from indie vets is to get your metadata in order. The reason why is that in order to get paid, organizations that collect the money have to know who you are and how to get hold of you first. That’s why collection agencies all over the world have little pots of money without a home that the industry calls “Black Box Income.”
Black box income is money that’s held in either by a collection agency, or more recently, a streaming service, where the company doesn’t know who to send it to. I know, that sounds pretty outrageous, but it’s been going on for decades in regards to foreign income, and more recently from streaming services who can’t find the artists or songwriters because of incomplete metadata.
Sometimes black box income is called “unclaimed royalties” or “unmatched royalties,” but whatever it’s called many industry execs believe it to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars! In some cases it’s the fault of the publisher or record label that the royalties can’t be matched to the artist or songwriter, and in other cases it’s because the various organizations collecting the money haven’t made it particularly easy to claim it. Either way, there’s a lot of dough out and some of it may have your name on it.
There may be relief soon though. One effect of the Music Modernization Act is the creation of the Mechanical Licensing Collective (or MLC). The MLC will be a nonprofit entity that will administer not only blanket licensing, but also form a group called the “Unclaimed Royalties Oversight Committee” that will be composed of both writers and publishers. There’s a provision to exclude anyone who might be in a position to block royalty collection from being on the committee.
The MLC hasn’t been officially set up yet, as proposals for just how to do it are still being accepted, but the Copyright Office will make the selection on July 8th. Hopefully by the end of the year the black box income will start to be paid out to artists and songwriters who need it most.
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