ESMAA founder shares thoughts on regional music rights body’s first year in business

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Updated 09 August 2022

ESMAA founder shares thoughts on regional music rights body’s first year in business

  • ‘Nobody can deny that we have been the loudest voice in the region,’ Hussain ‘Spek’ Yoosuf told Arab News as he reflected on effect it has had on the music industry in the Middle East
  • ESMAA, which takes its name from the Arabic word for “listen” and was established in August 2021, works with global rights holders to facilitate the licensing of music in the Gulf

DUBAI: In August 2021, the Abu Dhabi-based independent music company PopArabia announced the launch of ESMAA, a music rights management organization.

ESMAA, which takes its name from the Arabic word for “listen,” works with global rights holders and regional businesses to facilitate the licensing of music in the Gulf. In the year since its launch, it has signed agreements to represent global royalties-collection agencies, including the UK’s Performing Right Society for Music and the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada.

It has also signed agreements to license music from the library of British record label Chrysalis Music and Global Master Rights, a neighboring rights company that represents more than 300 record labels and 2,500 performers including Rihanna, Billie Eilish, Metallica and David Guetta. Neighboring rights royalties are paid to performers who record a song, typically when it is played on the radio or in a public venue.

Hussain Yoosuf

ESMAA also operates as a client rights management entity of the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers, marking the first and, to date, only time an organization from the Gulf region has been able to benefit from CISAC’s technical tools and solutions for the administration of creators’ rights.

In addition, it was the sole music-licensing partner for the Expo 2020 Dubai and is distributing royalties around the world generated by the event. This year, ESMAA announced a licensing agreement with Saudi entertainment company MDLBEAST that will ensure composers and rights holders are paid any time their work is performed at a MDLBEAST event.

Most recently, ESMAA signed an agreement to represent US-based performing rights organization the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers and its affiliate, Harry Fox Agency, a US mechanical rights organization.

“As ESMAA continues to fulfill its mission to provide a comprehensive music licensing solution in the Gulf, it is crucial that we continue to grow our representation of global music rights,” said Hussain Yoosuf, better known by his stage name “Spek,” the founder of ESMAA and its parent company PopArabia.

ESMAA has achieved a lot in just one year, yet Spek told Arab News that when he began his crusade in the region’s music industry people thought he was “crazy.” Although the UAE and other Gulf countries had laws in place relating to intellectual property rights and licensing “they didn’t really have any infrastructure of enforcement unless you wanted to sue everybody that you met” and piracy levels were at almost 90 percent across the region in the days when music was a physical, CD-based business, he explained.

“People thought I was crazy, because there was no reason to invest in the music industry in the Middle East at the time because you knew that whatever you invested in was going to get pirated,” said Spek.

His biggest challenge, he added, was the inability to “cultivate a healthy and varied ecosystem around music” because “you couldn’t have any monetization around the asset that you created.”

While he was an aspiring artist in Canada, Spek said he would work odd jobs to save up the thousands of dollars he needed to record his music in a studio. Now, with the advent of digital technology and music-streaming companies, old-style recording studios and distribution are almost obsolete. Anyone can record music in their home now and upload it immediately.

“All of the traditional gatekeepers have been eliminated; it’s the best time ever to be an independent music artist,” he said.

Music streaming has not only altered the way music is recorded and distributed but also how people listen to it.

“The way we consume music has changed based on the way we receive the music,” said Spek. “Moreover, it’s about the creation of domestic content.

In the US, old songs now represent 70 percent of the music market, according to research by MRC Data, a music-analytics firm. The Middle East region is bigger geographically than the US, Spek said, and so the audience here is more connected.

“Repression leads to expression, so you have a lot of people with a lot of things to say,” which means there are more independent artists coming out of the region, he explained.

Even before the launch of ESMAA, PopArabia was already supervising music licensing. Over the past 10 years it has represented all of the major music publishers, Spek said, and currently represents about 60 percent of all global music.

“When people are looking for a broad license, we’re often the first conversation because so much of the rights sit in one place,” he added.

“We ended up doing things that a traditional publisher doesn’t generally do, which is trying to solve industry problems. And I’m all for that — but how do you keep the lights on as a business if all your time is spent trying to fix the industry?”

And so, ESMAA was born. Despite initial challenges and difficulties, Spek said he has not really faced much “pushback.” Saudi Arabia, for instance, has made a “conscious decision to invest heavily in entertainment and make a lot of progressive moves that change the social fabric of the Kingdom.”

A few years ago, Saudi Arabia was not even “in the conversation” when it came to music and entertainment but now “there is so much excitement and they are looking at these issues at the very highest levels of the government in Saudi and are very committed to opening it up,” he said.

Through its work with governments and artists, ESMAA is committed to making a difference in the industry.

“Nobody can deny that we have been the loudest voice in the region with respect to these (licensing) issues and moving the market forward,” Spek said.

“When the history books are written, we have got some section in there for having begun a process to open up royalties and distribute royalties when music is put in public, which I think is an essential step to developing a healthy ecosystem.”

Trump files $475 million defamation lawsuit against CNN

Trump files $475 million defamation lawsuit against CNN
Updated 27 sec ago

Trump files $475 million defamation lawsuit against CNN

Trump files $475 million defamation lawsuit against CNN

NEW YORK: Former President Donald Trump on Monday sued CNN, seeking $475 million in damages, saying the network had defamed him in an effort to short-circuit any future political campaign.
The lawsuit, filed in US District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, focuses primarily on the term “The Big Lie” about Trump’s false claims of widespread fraud that he says cost him the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden.
CNN said it had no comment on the lawsuit.
Trump repeatedly attacked CNN as president, which resonated with his conservative followers. He has similarly filed lawsuits against big tech companies with little success. His case against Twitter for knocking him off its platform following the Jan. 6, 2021, US Capitol insurrection was thrown out by a California judge earlier this year.
Numerous federal and local election officials in both parties, a long list of courts, top former campaign staffers and even Trump’s own attorney general have all said there is no evidence of the election fraud he alleges.
Trump’s lawsuit claims “The Big Lie,” a phrase with Nazi connotations, has been used in reference to him more than 7,700 times on CNN since January 2021.
“It is intended to aggravate, scare and trigger people,” he said.
In a statement Monday, Trump suggested that similar lawsuits would be filed against other news organizations. And he said he may also bring “appropriate action” against the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by his supporters. The lawsuit comes as he is weighing a potential bid for the presidency in 2024.
New CNN chief Chris Licht privately urged his news personnel in a meeting more than three months ago to refrain from using the phrase because it is too close to Democratic efforts to brand the former president, according to several published reports.

Duolingo in talks to offer ‘cheap and secure’ English-language tests for UK visa applicants

Duolingo in talks to offer ‘cheap and secure’ English-language tests for UK visa applicants
Updated 04 October 2022

Duolingo in talks to offer ‘cheap and secure’ English-language tests for UK visa applicants

Duolingo in talks to offer ‘cheap and secure’ English-language tests for UK visa applicants
  • The online tests would help applicants from 67 countries that do not have any accredited testing centers save time and money, CEO says

LONDON: Duolingo has confirmed it is discussing with the UK government plans that would allow visa applicants around the world to take an online English-language test through the company’s popular language-learning app for less than $50.

Duolingo’s CEO and founder, Luis von Ahn, said during an interview on Sunday that the business is ready to offer “cheap and secure English-language tests” to people who are required to pass one to work or study in the UK.

“Harvard, Stanford, MIT … and I believe there are 75 universities in the UK that accept the test,” he said. “But we’re not yet accepted by the UK government. I think they’re coming around to agreeing that online tests are good.

“We’ve been talking to them. I don’t know how fast the UK government moves. My experience is that all governments move very slowly. So I don’t know how long it will take but I think that will be really good for the world if it happens.”

Duolingo has been offering English-language tests to students seeking admission to universities since 2016. Von Ahn said that initially, some universities were reluctant about the company’s proposal over concerns that the tests would not be fair or secure. But the increased use of online technology during the COVID-19 pandemic helped overcome much of the skepticism and accelerate the adoption of online tests as an alternative to expensive in-person examinations.

“I applied to come to the US to study,” said Von Ahn, who is originally from Guatemala. “In my country, they ran out of these tests so I had to fly to a neighboring country, El Salvador, which in the late 1990s was a war zone. It cost me $1,000 just to fly there and take the test. It was ridiculous.”

Currently, people who apply for visas to work or study in the UK are required to demonstrate their English proficiency by taking a “secure English language test” at an accredited center in one of 134 countries and territories worldwide.

This means that people in 67 countries — including Mali, Niger, Uruguay, Paraguay and Guatemala, as well as many Caribbean and Pacific islands — have to travel abroad to take the test.

Von Ah said that in addition to its mission to “make language education accessible to everybody,” Duolingo wants, through its online English-language test, to address this inequality among countries by making it easier and cheaper for all visa applicants to take the test.

According to market and consumer data company Statista, 239,987 work visas and 432,279 student visas were issued in 2021 to people applying to enter the UK. Of the latter, 27,520 went to students from the MENA region.

Von Ahn founded Duolingo with business partner Severin Hacker in 2012, quickly establishing himself as one of Silicon Valley’s leading entrepreneurs.

The California-based education-technology firm is now valued at $4 billion and offers tuition in more than 40 languages. In the past few years the company has expanded the services it offers beyond traditional language-learning courses. As well as the Duolingo English Test it now offers Duolingo ABC, which helps children learn to read, and is preparing to launch a math app next year.

Snapchat launches Family Center parental-control feature in Saudi Arabia

Snapchat launches Family Center parental-control feature in Saudi Arabia
Updated 04 October 2022

Snapchat launches Family Center parental-control feature in Saudi Arabia

Snapchat launches Family Center parental-control feature in Saudi Arabia
  • It allows parents to monitor the online safety of their children by providing details about people with whom youngsters are communicating through the app

DUBAI: Instant messaging service Snapchat, in cooperation with Saudi Arabia’s General Commission for Audiovisual Media, has launched in the Kingdom its Family Center parental-control feature.

The new feature was introduced to the app in August in the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. It was launched last month in the UAE at an event attended by Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and other government officials.

Family Center is designed to give parents and guardians more control over children’s Snapchat habits. It allows them to view details of the people with whom a child is communicating without seeing the content of the conversations, to protect the privacy of the young person. Any suspicious accounts can be easily reported to Snapchat.

Family Center is designed to be used both by parents and children. Parents and guardians are required to install Snapchat on their own devices and then link their accounts to those of their children to access the feature. They can also invite other family members, age 25 or over, to use the feature.

According to a study by data analytics and brand consulting company Kantar, 71 percent of parents in the Kingdom use Snapchat.

Journalists lament proposed closure of BBC foreign-language services

Journalists lament proposed closure of BBC foreign-language services
Updated 03 October 2022

Journalists lament proposed closure of BBC foreign-language services

Journalists lament proposed closure of BBC foreign-language services
  • BBC Arabic radio, others face ax as broadcaster moves to digital-first
  • 382 jobs also set to go in $31m cost-cutting exercise

DUBAI: The BBC’s announcement that it is set to end several of its foreign-language services, including BBC Arabic radio station, has been met with disappointment around the world.

Channel 4 News’ international editor Lindsey Hilsum said on Twitter that “people rely on these radio language services for fair and balanced news they can’t get elsewhere.”

This was especially critical in countries where governments restricted internet services, she added.

Yaser Atrash, a journalist at Syria TV, said on Twitter that “the memory of generations is extinguished.”

The reactions follow an announcement from the corporation last week that it is planning to close its BBC Arabic station after 84 years as part of a cost-cutting exercise and move to digital-first broadcasting that will also see the demise of several other foreign-language services.

A total of 382 workers at the BBC World Service are set to lose their jobs amid rising costs, a freeze in license fees and the move to digital platforms, the company said.

The corporation’s international services needed to make savings of £28.5 million ($31 million) as part of wider reductions of £500 million, it added.

Ali Al-Ahmed, a Saudi political affairs expert and founder and director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, said on Twitter: “In May 2000 I visited #BBCArabicRadio for the 1st time & told its manager then Gamon McLellan to plan to shutter radio service & focus on TV.”

Liliane Landor, director of BBC World Service, said the cuts and closures would not mean a reduction in the quality of service.

“We will continue to bring the best journalism to audiences in English and more than 40 languages, as well as increasing the impact and influence of our journalism by making our stories go further,” she said.

The World Service currently operates in over 40 languages around the world and has a weekly audience of about 364 million people. But the corporation said audience habits were changing and more people were accessing news online.

The company said it was proposing to stop its radio services in Arabic, Persian, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Hindi, Bengali, Chinese, Indonesian, Tamil and Urdu.

The language services it is proposing to move to digital-only are: Chinese, Gujarati, Igbo, Indonesian, Pidgin, Urdu and Yoruba.

Eleven language services — Azerbaijani, Brazil, Marathi, Mundo, Punjabi, Russian, Serbian, Sinhala, Thai, Turkish and Vietnamese — are already digital-only.

Russian TV protester listed as wanted fugitive

Russian TV protester listed as wanted fugitive
Updated 03 October 2022

Russian TV protester listed as wanted fugitive

Russian TV protester listed as wanted fugitive
  • Journalist Marina Ovsyannikova is accused of spreading fake news about Russia’s armed forces

LONDON: Russian TV journalist Marina Ovsyannikova, famous for staging an on-air protest against Russia’s war in Ukraine, has been put on Moscow’s wanted list after her ex-husband reported she had escaped from pre-trial house arrest.
Ovsyannikova, 44, was given two months’ house arrest in August, and faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty of spreading fake news about Russia’s armed forces.
The case relates to a protest in July when she stood on a river embankment opposite the Kremlin and held up a poster calling President Vladimir Putin a murderer and his soldiers fascists.
The term of her house arrest was due to last until Oct. 9.
However, the state-run news outlet Russia Today reported on Saturday that she had fled along with her daughter, and that her whereabouts were unknown.
“Last night, my ex-wife left the place that the court assigned her for house arrest and, together with my 11-year-old daughter, fled in an unknown direction,” it quoted her ex-husband as saying.
On Monday, her name could be seen on the interior ministry’s online list of fugitives from justice, accompanied by a photo.
The circumstances of where she went or how she left are not clear.
Russia passed new laws against discrediting or distributing “deliberately false information” about the armed forces on March 4, eight days after invading Ukraine.
Ovsyannikova, who was born in Ukraine, came to international prominence in March by walking out in front of studio cameras during an evening news broadcast on the flagship Channel One with a placard that read “Stop the war” and “They’re lying to you.”
She has already been fined for two previous protests against the war.