The Major Labels Think That They Own The Independent Artists – Do They?

Michael Robertson
Michael Robertson

Love him or hate him, Michael Robertson tends to get a fair bit of press where music is concerned. He is the founder and former CEO of digital music pioneer He is currently the CEO of music locker company MP3tunes. Not exactly the sort of guy you can ignore. You can sue him from here to eternity, and the major labels have, but you can’t ignore him.

So when he wrote a guest post for TechCrunch last month, I posted it in the Balanced Copyright Facebook Group. It was definitely newsworthy, even if it wasn’t what they would want to hear.

What I wasn’t expecting was that anyone would respond, and that in responding, they would effectively tell me what they thought, and why they thought it. Here’s what I posted, and the responses, in order. The original is here, and if they suffer an attack of common sense and decide to delete anything I’ve printed it out as a PDF, and uploaded it here as evidence.

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Wayne Joseph BoreanBalanced Copyright For Canada 

Behind The Scenes: Record Label Demands From Amazon

Amazon defied the record labels by launching an unlicensed personal cloud music service. (Disclosure: I’m CEO of competitor MP3tunes.) Music companies immediately expressed their dissatisfaction and Amazon public stated they would discuss licenses with labels. Since then considerable speculation has

April 29 at 9:45am · Like · · Share

    • Jeff Thistle All reasonable requests, but the article certainly demonstrates why even the heavyweights are having as much difficulty bringing this service to bear as they are. 

      April 29 at 10:06am · Like

      Wayne Joseph Borean 

      Why are they reasonable? Let’s say I want to use the locker service. I upload a pile of music. The label wants a cut. What right do they have to a cut? None of the music I’ve uploaded is owned by them, or ever been touched by them. It’s by artists who have never, ever, signed a label contract.
      Artists like:
      Heather Dale, Tom Smith, Leslie Fish, Paul McDonald, Talis Kimberly, Errol Elumir, Bill Mills, Bill Roper, Heather Borean, Julia Ecklar, Anke Teschke, Anne Prather, Barry Childs-Helton, Graham Leathers, Blind Lemming Chiffon, Bob Guest, Downtown Freddy Brown, Brenda Sutton, Carla Ulbrich, Cat Faber, CJ Cherryh, Chris Conway, Steve, Savitzky, Daniel Glasser, Judith Hayman, David Weingart, Dawnya Thill, Debbie Ohi, Urban Tapestries, Urban Terrorists, The Duras Sisters, Diana Gallagher, Marty Burke, Larry Niven, Duane Elms, Eli Goldberg, Dr. Erica Neely, Evelyn Baker, Dr. James Robinson, Jeff & Maya Bohnhoff, Seanan McGuire, Tony & Vixy, John Caspell, Brooke Lunderville, Lloyd Landa, Karen Linesly, Jodi Krangle, Joe Bethancourt, Joey Shoji, Juanita Coulson, Michael Longcor, Kathy Mar, Katy Dröge-Macdonald, Kirstin Tanger, Kristoph Klover, Lynn Gold, Mark Bernstein, Mark Osier, Mary Ellen Wessels, Jordin Kare, Melissa Glasser, Michelle Dockrey, Mike Whitaker, Peter Alway, Sally Childs-Helton, Sally Headford, Sherman Dorn, Steve Macdonald, T J Burnside Clapp, Technical Difficulties, Terence Chua, Randy Hoffman, Vicky Borean, Zander Nyrond, Scott Snyder, Tony Fabris, Luke Ski, Tom T-Bone Stankus, One Soul Thrust, Anne McCaffrey, Tania Opland, Mike Freeman, Cecila Eng, Larry Warner, Dave Greenslade, Echo’s Children, Puzzle Box, Frank Hayes, Gunnar Madsen, Hamish Imlach, Hard Drive, Run GMC, Heather Alexander, Jeffrey Hitchin, Karen Underwood, Joan Gaustad, Meg Davis, Mercedes Lackey, Margie Butler, Ookla the Mok, Peter S. Beagle, Phil Mills, Philip Allcock, & Three Wierd Sisters
      I could list a hell of a lot more. There are far more artists who have recorded music WHO ARE NOT ASSOCIATED WITH ANY LABEL than are associated with a label, especially now when economics favor the independents.
      So why should the labels get any cut, when they have NO connection to the artist or their music by contract or copyright? If the Mafia was doing this we’d call it BLACKMAIL, and the police would be called in.
      April 29 at 12:25pm · Like

      Jeff Thistle What measures do you propose be put in place to prevent the uploading of major label owned content? I can’t speak to the mechanism to determine what an annual fee would be (presumably it would be by percentage of catalogue * number of lockers that the content resides in), but asking that controls be put in place to prevent the service from becoming another illegal sharing vehicle is *very* reasonable. 

      April 29 at 12:35pm · Like · 1 person

      Wayne Joseph Borean What measures do you propose to make sure that YOUR system doesn’t interfere with the rights of the independents (For those who don’t know, Jeff Thistle works for EMI Music) 

      April 29 at 8:11pm · Like

      Jeff Thistle I like how you revealed that as if it was some sort of dirty secret Wayne 🙂 

      April 30 at 6:04am · Like · 1 person

      Wayne Joseph Borean There are people who read the Group who don’t know who you are. For that matter, and to be honest, I should tell you that I’m working for Semi Accurate this week. Next week, hell, who knows. 

      April 30 at 9:10am · Like


The point being that Jeff Thistle, who works for EMI, doesn’t give a damn if he collects money for works that were written, played, and recorded by independent artists. He is fine with that. In the real world, we would call that theft.

The Major Labels want a system that will allow them to collect money for every music track in every music locker. It doesn’t matter that those tracks were recorded by independent artists. It doesn’t matter that the labels have no contractual rights of any sort to that music. They want to collect the money anyway.

This is called rent seeking. It’s like Microsoft wanting to collect their money on every PC sold. It doesn’t matter that the PC that I bought last month will never have the Broken Operating System installed on it. Microsoft wants to collect the money, without doing the work. It’s the same with the labels. They don’t want to do the work, but they want to collect the cash.

And the labels have reasons for fear. Every act that ever existed in the United States is just waiting to pull back their copyrights in 2013. The RIAA member companies will fight this to the death of course. They tried to get the law changed, and when that failed, they hired Mitch Glazier as a payoff for being a good corporate droid. They don’t have much choice, because if they lose, their corporate stock values will plummet like a paralyzed falcon.

If they can lock in the ability to charge for every single song in every single locker now, they can partially prevent the damage that will come when they start loosing court cases. And lose them they will. The United States Congress passed the 1976 Copyright Act with language specifically giving artists the right to retrieve copyright ownership. The letters from the Artists have already started to arrive at the Record Labels, and in 2013 the court cases start. There’s only eighteen months to go. The Record Labels are terrified…

And now you know why the Record Labels want to charge for every song in every locker, even if they have no rights to that song. It’s called guaranteeing a revenue stream. Who cares if it’s theft? They don’t.


Wayne Borean

Friday May 27, 2011



7 thoughts on “The Major Labels Think That They Own The Independent Artists – Do They?

    1. Why? It was accurate (and by the way, I have the entirety of the Balanced Copyright Facebook Groups posts saved to my backup drive – which is really useful since the group was taken down).

      I never, ever, take something down. I do apologize if I’m inaccurate, but in this case, I’m not. I may have misunderstood you, but you did post those exact words. Hell, it is what you implied.

      I don’t know what you were really thinking. I’m not a mind reader. I am however a writer and editor. I get paid for doing this, and I know the English language.

      Just curious – it’s over two years later. I know you were aware at the time that I’d posted this. Why are you concerned about it now?

      You do realize that there are copies of this particular post in a variety of places, which I do NOT control. It got picked up by a bunch of people at the time, and I’m not sure who all copied it, or if those copies are still online. I know that a bunch of my stuff got translated into Russian and Spanish, and this particular post may have been included.


      1. I suppose I’ll keep my mouth shut next time and not attempt to participate for fear of being grossly misrepresented. Thanks for nothing.

        1. Jeff,

          You said what you said. You’ve never explained to me how you were going to be able to implement a reliable system to determine who owned what. You never explained why the industry should get a share out of every cyber music locker.

          Go ahead. Give us some details. Remember that I used to work as a computer programmer, and that I’ve also worked as a Major Accounts Sales Representative, and used to sell to companies a lot bigger than EMI on a regular basis.

          If I tend to be skeptical, I have reason.


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