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The $7.8 Billion Music Case of the Century

George Clinton, Taylor Swift and Pharrell Williams
Musicians George Clinton, Taylor Swift and Pharrell Williams. Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage
Eriq Gardner
July 11, 2022

There was a time, not long ago, when I could accurately predict NPR producers would be calling me up for an interview. How? All I’d have to do is write about karaoke, that sing-along form of entertainment that’s perfect for a drunk Saturday night. It turns out that karaoke not only has been the subject of a lawsuit or a dozen over the years, but this diversion is also a fun vehicle to discuss just how abstruse music rights can be. “You mean you need a separate license when the song is being matched to visuals, and one when the lyrics are reprinted too?”

I was thinking about this the first day of July when the government handed down a decision literally worth billions of dollars, which, not surprisingly, was also pretty much ignored by the nation’s leading news outlets. Who has the patience, after all, to deconstruct a decision by the obscure Copyright Royalty Board to increase the royalty rate that streamers must pay publishers and songwriters from 10.5 percent to 15.1 percent? Or tackle how this might impact an even bigger upcoming trial with no less than $7.8 billion on the line? A few trade publications? Maybe. Anyone else?