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MU and #brokenrecord welcome government’s economics of streaming response, but want more commitment on copyright reforms

By | Published on Thursday 23 September 2021

Houses Of Parliament

The Musicians’ Union and Tom Gray’s #brokenrecord campaign have both welcomed the UK government’s response to the parliamentary inquiry into the economics of streaming, but argue that ministers must “go much further in committing to the implementation of a package of copyright reforms”.

For both the MU and the #brokenrecord campaign, the key ask during the parliamentary review of the streaming business was that the principle of performer equitable remuneration – that currently applies when recordings are broadcast and played in public – also be applied to streams. This would mean that at least some streaming money would flow directly to artists and musicians through the collective licensing system.

Currently what share of streaming monies artists and musicians receive is entirely dependent on the deals they have done with any record labels or music distributors they work with.

Those deals vary hugely across the industry. Artists could receive a majority of the money. Though on a more conventional record deal, they are likely to receive a minority share. On older deals relating to increasingly lucrative catalogue recordings, the artist’s share will usually be even lower. Plus artist royalties will initially be used to pay off some of the costs associated with the release of their records.

Any monies that flowed through an ER system would not be subject to those contract terms, with royalties being shared out at industry standard rates. Some of that money would also go to session musicians, who earn nothing under the current system.

Which all sounds very attractive for artists currently seeing little to no payments when their recordings are streamed, although quite how ER on streams would work in practice is very much up for debate. And while session musicians and artists stuck in less favourable old record deals would almost certainly be better off under that system, artists on newer deals could be worse off.

Nevertheless, in its big report published in July, Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee recommended that an ER system for streaming income should be introduced. And committee member Kevin Brennan MP will make formal proposals to that effect through a private members bill later this year.

Both propose that UK copyright law be rewritten so that a performer ER right applies to the making available element of the sound recording copyright, which is an element of the copyright exploited by on-demand streaming services.

However, in its response to the select committee’s report, the government yesterday stated: “Many testimonies to the inquiry noted that [ER on streams] might not be in the interests of all performers and could result in lower revenues for some. For example, some featured artists may receive better revenue under the current arrangement than they might under an equitable remuneration right. This suggests that changes could have significant impacts which are difficult to predict and must be investigated and better understood”.

That’s not to say the government is definitely opposed to the committee’s ER proposal, just that it reckons more research is needed into the possible impact of such a system being introduced, including in relation to who would be winners and losers within the artist community.

The select committee made other recommendations regarding additional copyright law reforms that could result in artists getting a bigger cut of streaming monies, including the introduction of contract adjustment or reversion rights, as well as measures to force record labels and music publishers to be more transparent about the digital deals they negotiate. As with ER, the government wants further research on all those proposals before making any actual changes to copyright law.

The MU, via its #fixstreaming campaign with the Ivors Academy, and alongside the #brokenrecord campaign, lobbied hard last year for the parliamentary inquiry.

The two campaign groups said yesterday that while they welcomed the government’s response to the select committee’s report, which “recognised the importance of ensuring that the UK’s artists and songwriters are fairly rewarded for their talent and work”, they were nevertheless calling “for firm action now to put the value of music back in the hands of music-makers”.

Noting the government’s commitment to convene a music industry contact group and commission new research to further investigate the issues with streaming, they added: “[We] are keen to see how this research might further illustrate the importance of a right to equitable remuneration. It is essential that the … working groups and further research include creator representation and input to ensure that the interests of the UK’s fantastic artists, musicians and songwriters are not ignored”.

They then stated: “The government must, however, go much further in committing to the implementation of a package of copyright reforms which will ensure UK creators do not fall behind other countries who have measures which enable creators to be protected from bad contracts, unfair payment, lack of transparency with increased ability to undertake contract reversion and adjustment. Reforms such as these would go a long way to transforming the UK into the best place to be a musician, songwriter or composer in the world”.

The other big ask of both the #fixstreaming and #brokenrecord campaigns was that the Competition & Markets Authority investigate the dominance of the major record companies in the music industry, and the select committee also recommended that such an investigation should take place. In its response, the government said that it was for the CMA to identify what investigations it should pursue, but that ministers had nevertheless requested that the competition regulator consider that recommendation.

Commenting on government’s response yesterday, MU General Secretary Horace Trubridge said: “We are pleased that the government has responded positively to the select committee’s report into the economics of music streaming, and has understood why we are seeking equitable remuneration for musicians. While we are disappointed that there isn’t an immediate commitment from the government on this point, we are pleased that the door is open to explore it in more detail”.

“As highlighted by the committee’s report, now is the time for a ‘complete reset’ of the system to ensure that our fantastic musicians are fairly and properly rewarded for their work”, he added. “A private members’ bill will be put before Parliament in December which will present legislative solutions to ensure artists get the rewards from their work which they deserve”.

Meanwhile, Deputy Secretary General Naomi Pohl added: “It is fantastic that the government is willing to further investigate streaming economics with a view to ensuring performers and songwriters get a fairer deal. The government’s response to the DCMS select committee’s report shows a willingness to engage with our key concerns around unfair remuneration and address what the report described as ‘deep concerns’ around the dominance of the major music companies”.

And Gray from the #brokenrecord Campaign said: “The government have accepted that our critique and the inequities facing music-makers are all too real. But the tens of thousands of British musicians, songwriters, producers and artists are not merely ‘stakeholders’. Unlike multinational corporations, we are citizens, constituents and taxpayers. Now is the time to redouble our efforts and challenge our political leaders to truly represent us. Change is possible and should be made real”.

In related news, the UK’s Intellectual Property Office has published the report ‘Music Creators’ Earnings In The Digital Era’, which was referenced by the government in its response to Parliament’s economics of streaming inquiry yesterday.

More on that tomorrow – but you can download a copy here.