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MMF launches $ong Royalties Manifesto at The Great Escape

By | Published on Friday 13 May 2022

The UK’s Music Managers Forum launched a new ‘$ong Royalties Manifesto’ at the CMU+TGE conference in Brighton yesterday. It calls for an overhaul of how songwriters are paid when their music is streamed, and proposes a three step plan for achieving that change.

Launching the new manifesto, MMF said that, despite highlighting the negative impacts of ‘royalty chains’ on the income songwriters receive in the ‘$ong Royalties Guide’ that it launched at the last in-person Great Escape in 2019, little has since changed.

While recording artists can be paid within two months of a stream, it can take more than two years for the writers of the music to receive their share of royalties. When that money does come in, it’s often with deductions, plus there is a risk that significant sums are not accuratley allocated to the songs that have actually been played.

The aim of the manifesto is to affect change to ensure that song royalty payments are as quick, efficient and accurate as the payment of recording royalties. This would mean a comprehensive overhaul of how data is uploaded and collected. As well as speeding up payments, it is hoped that this would also eliminate the need for a digital ‘black box’ of unallocated money.

The three steps the MMF is calling on the industry to make are…

1. Immediate logging of splits and issuing of ISWC
The percentage ownership of of songs by each writer should be decided and logged at the point of creation – not, as is sometimes the case, months after a track is released. The ISWC code, which is used to identify a song (similar to the ISRC that identifies a recording) should also be issued prior to a recording being released and stored in a publicly accessible database run by an organisation appointed by the music industry.

2. Provision of ISWC with recording as it is released
It should be made mandatory for labels and distributors to provide the ISWC as part of a recording’s metadata when it is supplied to streaming services. In the long-term, MMF would also like streaming services to refuse recordings that do not have an attached ISWC and give distributors who provide incorrect ISWCs a lower ranking, as happens with other forms of incomplete or incorrect metadata.

3. Provision of work ownership data to the services as standard
Publishers and collecting societies should provide a real time data feed (by ISWC) identifying every work in which they have an interest – including what percentage the licensor controls of each of the mechanical and performing rights, and in which countries the licensor controls those rights.

“Having revealed the serious structural problems with song royalty chains three years ago, we return to The Great Escape to present our three-step vision for change”, says MMF chief exec Annabella Coldrick. “Songwriters and composers are being failed by outmoded processes that drastically delay and reduce their streaming royalties. Each year, obscene amounts of money are being lost or mis-allocated. On the back of the important work being undertaken within the UK’s Intellectual Property Office, it’s imperative that the entire industry comes together to devise a permanent solution. We need to build better systems and instil greater transparency. We need a glass box, not a black box”.

Chief Catalogue Officer of Hipgnosis Song, Amy Thomson, also supports the manifesto, adding: “This manifesto is essential. Anyone representing a songwriter or using their work to make money can accept nothing less. In an age of data revolution and blockchain, the journey of the 15% of song revenue received by writers for streaming being hacked apart by a lack of care in its data from day one is no longer acceptable. The song has rights, the songwriter has rights, and it’s time everyone who uses the work of a composer attaches every piece of code required to get them paid”.

“Black boxes are not acceptable”, she goes on. “Anything which seems unclear, inexplicable and hidden in an age of data speed and accuracy like we have never seen needs to be smashed. Profits being made by monies not reaching the correct recipient because the system let them down, a system they had no part in designing, has to end”.

And PRS Songwriter Director Crispin Hunt also comments: “I wholeheartedly support the goals of the MMF’s manifesto. Thanks to concerted campaigning across the creator community, there is now undeniable momentum to reform the mechanics of music streaming. However, as well as ensuring a fairer share of revenue to writers, performers and producers, it is equally vital that the industry’s business structures and distribution systems are made efficient, transparent and fit for purpose”.

You can download the full manifesto here.