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Culture Secretary insists new music-maker remuneration working group will not become a mere talking shop

By | Published on Wednesday 7 June 2023

Houses Of Parliament

UK Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer yesterday reassured MPs on Parliament’s culture select committee that the recently announced government-led working group on music-maker remuneration will be effective and set out to deliver solutions, and not just become a talking shop.

She was responding to concerns expressed by committee member Kevin Brennan MP that some in the music industry are pushing for the terms of reference for that working group to be so wide that it will not be able to focus on the core issues.

The new working group, confirmed last week, is part of ongoing work initiated by the government following the select committee’s big inquiry into the economics of music streaming back in 2021.

Working groups were previously convened to discuss issues around data and transparency in the music streaming domain, the former resulting in a metadata agreement that was signed last week, and the latter in a similar transparency agreement that is now in the final stages of negotiation.

However, when it came to the various remuneration issues raised by the committee, the government initially commissioned research into the copyright law reforms that MPs had proposed to address said issues, rather than facilitating any active industry discussions.

During a general session before the select committee yesterday, Frazer told MPs: “I am really pleased with the work that the industry has done to ensure that the right answers are reached – and you mentioned the announcement last week both in terms of the metadata agreement and the progress on transparency”.

“I do think it is really important in all these sub-sectors”, she went on, “that … organisations within industry work together to resolve the issues of the industry, and I’m really pleased that music has done that”.

However, music-maker remuneration is the area where there is the most disagreement within the music industry, which will make it trickier to reach any consensus within the newly convened working group. Things are also complicated somewhat by the fact that the specific remuneration issues are different for different groups of music-makers. So new artists, heritage artists, session musicians and songwriters all face different challenges.

Among the label community, some – especially independents – acknowledge there are issues still to be addressed, especially in relation to heritage artists and session musicians. Although few labels support the copyright reforms proposed by the select committee and those that acknowledge the issues would prefer voluntary industry-led solutions.

But some – especially the majors – generally dispute many of the remuneration issues raised by the music-makers and MPs on the select committee. They argue that modern record deals are much more generous to artists and that – by committing to pay through royalties to unrecouped heritage artists – issues in that domain have been addressed too, even if much lower CD-era royalty rates are often being applied.

The majors are also prone to argue that the priority for government – and for the music-maker community for that matter – should be ensuring that the UK record industry can compete in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. And/or that the focus should be whatever copyright issue the majors are prioritising right now – so a few years ago that was the ‘value gap’, in a few years time it will be the sound recording copyright term in Europe, but right now it’s AI.

Following the confirmation last week that a remuneration working group will be convened – which in itself proved controversial in some parts of the music industry – now the government is trying to work out what the terms of reference for that working group should be. Which brings us to Brennan’s concerns.

After praising the government for its ongoing work around music streaming – and welcoming the new remuneration working group – the MP said: “There is some concern, I think, because, of course, it’s also terms of reference that count in relation to these sorts of groups”.

“And it’s come to my attention”, he added, “that there’s some in the industry saying privately that they would like to water down the government’s intentions with this remuneration working group by making sure that the terms of reference are sufficiently diluted or wide that it can’t really focus on the central issue here, which is creator remuneration – will you commit to the committee that you won’t let that happen?”

He subsequently noted that the current lobbying focus in the music industry at large is on AI, but urged Frazer to ensure that those conversations aren’t used to drown out other issues. “There’s talk about AI which is very important”, he observed, “but really this is a group that is – as I understand it – intended to focus on the issues that this committee raised about remuneration across the industry”.

Responding, Frazer again stressed her preference for industry-led solutions, noting that “the industry has done a lot”. However, she added, “I’m really not interested in working groups that aren’t there for a purpose. I’m not going to set out here what the terms of reference are going to be, but I’m very happy to update you on those terms of reference”.

Those terms of reference are still in development, she added, insisting that all stakeholders across the music industry would have an opportunity to input on what the agenda of the new working group should include.

Her overarching aim as Culture Secretary, she said, was “to deliver and not mess around”. And therefore, “if we are going to have a working group it is going to do something and be effective”.