The sleek new revamped Myspace has no problem paying major labels for the right to stream their music. But indie labels — and their bands — aren't seeing any of that kickback, and now they're furious about it.
The New York Times's Ben Sisario broke this story last week, and it's only been getting uglier since. Charles Caldas—the head of a company that negotiates digital rights on behalf of many smaller record labels—told Sisario that Myspace is streaming songs put out by Domino, Merge, Beggars Group, and many other independent labels without permission. The xx, Vampire Weekend, Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear, Tom Waits, and Animal Collective are among the artists "being exploited without permission and not getting remuneration for it," according to Caldas. Observers suspect that major labels are getting a sweetheart deal because they have a 40 percent ownership stake in Myspace.
If Caldas sounds angry, wait until you hear what indie label reps said about Myspace at an industry gathering today. In a press conference held at MIDEM (the music industry's big annual trade fair in Cannes, France), Alison Wenham called Myspace's actions "repugnant." Wenham—the president of the Worldwide Independent Network and CEO of the Association Independent Music—fumed:
There is an impression, a complacence and I would suggest an arrogance which is offensive, that you do deals with the majors, and the independent sector should be somehow grateful for the promotional value that these services will apparently bring to your artists and to you.
Wenham said Myspace should be more like Spotify, a streaming service she says "works extremely well" for the artists she represents (many musicians getting pennies every year from Spotify might beg to differ, though). Other indie label execs praised French streaming platform Deezer and Sirius XM for paying indie artists.
This skirmish is really messing with Myspace's attempt to revitalize itself as a premier destination for music streaming. Though Facebook obviously has a lock on social networking at this point, their music features are almost nonexistent. Myspace's big re-launch was pegged to the release of Myspace investor Justin Timerlake's latest single, signaling the company's big bet on music being the thing to save them from total irrelevance. Those who've been paying attention to this issue should be getting flashbacks to 2008, when Myspace and indie labels were at each other's throats over similar issues.
In Myspace's defense, spokeswoman Neda Azarfar said that the offending tracks "were likely uploaded by users." If indie labels submit a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown request, Myspace would be happy to comply, she said. Glassnote founder Daniel Glass says he's preparing to do just that. Saying that he's shocked by Myspace's "arrogance," Glass promised to submit papers to get Myspace to take down Mumford & Sons' "I Will Wait," one of Myspace's most-streamed songs at the moment. Justin Timberlake was too busy previewing the preview to another album preview to comment on this issue, probably.