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The MLC Being Audited by Bridgeport Music, Company That Reps George Clinton & Funkadelic

Bridgeport Music is conducting an audit of the Mechanical Licensing Collective (The MLC), according to the Federal Register. Bridgeport, which represents the interests of George Clinton and Funkadelic, is best known for its bullish approach to copyright enforcement, once accusing more than 800 artists and labels of infringement in one lawsuit in the early 2000s.

This is the first time the MLC has been audited since it officially began operations on Jan. 1, 2021.

The Nashville-based collection society dates back to the creation of the Music Modernization Act (MMA), a landmark piece of legislation for the music business that passed in 2018. The law created a new blanket license for musical work mechanicals, replacing the previous piece-meal licensing system that was complicated for both digital services like Spotify and Apple Music and for the music business. Because of the ineffective old system, a pool of $427 million in unmatched and unpaid mechanical royalties on the publishing side (often nicknamed “blackbox” royalties) accumulated.

The MMA created the MLC to collect and distribute the mechanical royalties that resulted from this new blanket license and to match and pay out as many of the “blackbox” royalties as it could. The law also stipulated that the MLC could periodically audit the digital services operating under the blanket license to verify the accuracy of their royalty payments, and allowed copyright owners to periodically audit the MLC to verify the accuracy of the royalty payments the collection society makes to copyright owners.

To begin the auditing process, the copyright owner — in this case, Bridgeport Music — must file a notice of intent to the Copyright Office and the MLC. The Copyright Office then notifies the Federal Register, which must publish that news within 45 days of receipt.

Bridgeport Music’s stringent approach in going after so-called copyright infringers, most commonly rap artists who have sampled Clinton or Funkadelic’s work without permission, has had a major impact on the music business. In Bridgeport Music v. Dimension Films (2005), it was ruled for the first time that sampling any sound recording — no matter how minimal or unrecognizable the sample is — in a newer work constitutes copyright infringement unless a license is obtained. Along with Marvin Gaye‘s estate, Bridgeport was also a plaintiff in the Blurred Lines lawsuit, which is believed to have greatly widened what elements of a song are considered protected under copyright law.

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