Billboard Op-Ed: It’s Time for Facebook to Accept Songwriters’ Friend Request

January 17, 2017

Facebook was built on sharing. One of the most commonly shared things on Facebook is music. Specifically, covers of songs. Fan versions of hits have produced some of today's biggest stars, but -- there's one problem, Facebook hasn't licensed with any of the publishers who represent the songwriters behind that music. With views in the millions, it's time for Facebook to answer songwriters' friend request and properly license their platform. Otherwise, it may find itself de-friended by the music industry.

Since its launch in 2004, Facebook's timeline has been dramatic. Today the company is valued at around $350 billion, with analysts projecting that going to over a trillion dollars in the near future. In the U.S. alone, Facebook currently has over 170 million users.

One of the reasons Facebook has been so successful is because it allows talent to travel fast. Likes propel videos to the top of friends' and fans' feeds. In a recent snapshot search of 33 of today's top songs, NMPA identified 887 videos using those songs with over 619 million views, which amounts to an average of nearly 700,000 views per video. In reality, the scope of the problem is likely much greater because, due to privacy settings on Facebook, it's almost impossible to gauge the true scale.

Additionally, while we don't know the full extent of what is posted, we do know that engagement and viewership on Facebook often outpaces other social media video platforms. In fact, in a recent study of the popularity of copies of Adele's music videos, of the 60,055 copies of "Hello" found that while "Facebook had only 64 percent of the number of copies published to YouTube, Facebook still garnered over two times more video views than YouTube. On average, Facebook racked up 73,083 views per video, whereas each YouTube amassed an average of 23,095 views per video."

For these reasons, we wrote to Facebook in July of 2015, asking them to work with music publishers to ensure songwriters were respected and paid. At that time, Facebook was in the process of negotiating deals with major record labels in order to license the distribution of music videos, but had not yet approached publishers about also compensating songwriters. Unfortunately, over a year has passed and nothing has changed. Facebook has even added to its repertoire of broadcast capabilities. Facebook Live has launched, but due to the nature of live broadcasts, they are almost impossible to monitor. Today the live streaming platform produces millions of videos and billions of views.

Facebook's inactivity and unresponsiveness has left publishers no other choice but to attempt to remove the music that amounts to stealing from their songwriters. To aid in this effort, NMPA and our member publishers have sent thousands of takedown requests, but this is merely a drop in the bucket.

For the most part, Facebook has remained passive in its approach and largely has left it to copyright owners to report cases of infringement rather than tackling the issue directly. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which Facebook has claimed provides it with "safe harbor" protection from copyright liability, Facebook is responsible for terminating the accounts of repeat infringers. But these whack-a-mole efforts have been proven insufficient and ineffective. Issuing takedowns and haphazardly removing accounts of serial infringers are not long-term solutions.  More importantly, it is not what the music industry wants.

We have seen what Facebook may soon become in the form of YouTube. However, unlike Facebook, YouTube took steps to license with record labels and publishers. While the percentage they pay is only a fraction of what it should be, even that fraction today generates hundreds of millions of dollars for the music industry. Facebook would be wise to befriend songwriters and publishers as partners now -- not pursue the path taken by other digital services who now find themselves at odds with the creative community.

The publishing and songwriting industries do not want to discourage fans from enjoying -- and covering -- their songs. They don't want to take down videos or punish those who post them. Unfortunately, because Facebook has failed to license properly, it's been the only recourse. This doesn't have to be so.

Many digital music services have been down this road. Asking forgiveness instead of permission is a common path for tech companies. The reality is, songwriters and music publishers want Facebook and other tech startups to be successful, but creators cannot be a casualty of that success.  Facebook has been warned, and now must face the music and work on a solution. The breadth of Facebook's influence is enormous -- and an industry-wide settlement would empower the platform to encourage the legal sharing of its users' talents.

Great artists and entertainers have been discovered by posting videos to social media and attracting an audience that eventually filled stadiums. This kind of organic, local-to-global music scene is vibrant and should be cultivated and grown. However, it can only happen if Facebook decides to recognize the important contribution of songwriters.

David Israelite is the President and CEO of the National Music Publishers' Association (NMPA). Founded in 1917, NMPA is the trade association representing all American music publishers and their songwriting partners. For full article on Billboard, click here.