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MU and Ivors say they are optimistic of “fairer deal” as Parliament’s streaming inquiry proceeds

By | Published on Thursday 11 February 2021

Houses Of Parliament

MU General Secretary Horace Trubridge and Ivors CEO Graham Davies were among the industry reps questioned by MPs at the latest oral hearing yesterday. Much of their section focused on the good old digital pie debate.

Trubridge obviously presented the case for artists getting a bigger slice of the pie – or, in the case of session musicians, any slice at all. Meanwhile, Davies argued that streaming is a songs economy and it’s therefore unfair that songs are allocated a much smaller slice of the cash than both the recording and the services themselves.

Damian Hinds MP actually began the proceedings by questioning why the streaming services get 30% of the money – double the upper end of the allocation to songs. Trubridge explained that the services were more or less taking the same cut as a record shop would in the CD domain. And while the running costs of a record shop are more obvious than the running costs of a streaming service, Spotify is still a loss-making business, albeit possibly because of its aggressive growth strategy.

Of course, both MU and Ivors would like as much money as possible to flow into the music industry itself. And that’s why artists and songwriters support the wider music industry’s call for safe harbour reform – something discussed elsewhere at yesterday’s proceedings – that would increase the royalties paid by user-upload platforms that exploit music.

However, Trubridge and Davies both said, the pressing issue remains how the money that does flow into the music industry is shared out between labels, publishers, artists and songwriters.

After all, even if streaming services took a smaller cut, or safe harbour reform boosted income from YouTube-type platforms, artists and songwriters still wouldn’t benefit as much from those developments as the record labels.

“We are supporting the rights-owners in the campaign for safe harbour reform”, Trubridge confirmed. “But it can be difficult to provide 100% support when we know that, with any increase in money that achieves, most of it will go the rights-owners and not artists and writers”.

As for the specific demands of the MU and Ivors, Trubridge and Davies mainly summarised what the two organisations have already set out in there respective written submissions to the committee.

Artists should get a bigger cut of the monies allocated to recordings, by labels paying a better rate and/or Performer ER being applied to streams, so that artists – including session musicians – get automatic payments through their collecting societies.

Songs should be allocated a bigger slice of the pie too – an aim which means tackling the issue of the major music firms being both labels and publishers, but getting to keep a much bigger of share of any money that passes through the former compared to the latter. Hence their support for the status quo, to the detriment of songwriters, the Ivors would say.

As with previous sessions in this inquiry, the digital pie debate quickly evolved into a discussion about how we define a stream. Is it a sale, is it a licence, is it a communication to the public, or a rental, or basically a new fangled version of radio?

Of course a stream is a stream, and defining it any more than that is only really relevant because of the possible impact any one definition would have on how the digital pie is sliced.

To what extent law-makers can get involved in that slicing is debatable, though for the MU the introduction of ER on streams would be a good starting point, while for the Ivors better regulation of the major rights owners – and their possible conflicts of interest – is a key request.

Whether any of that will ultimately be recommended by the select committee – and then embraced by government as part of any future copyright reforms – remains to be seen. Though following yesterday’s hearing the MU and Ivors stated that they are now “optimistic about [securing] a fairer deal for musicians and songwriters”.

After the hearing, Ivors Academy Chair Crispin Hunt echoed everything that Davies had told MPs. “Streaming is a song economy”, he said, “with individual songs at the source of streaming’s success. Yet the value of the song is not respected and songwriters are currently at the bottom of the pile”.

Noting some of the other logistical and legal issues also affecting songwriters, he went on: “Music writers are missing millions and millions in earnings as their work is degraded by the music industry, underpaid and exploited by YouTube, lost through poor data that fails to match the song to the songwriter, and treated as a by-product when it is in fact the product. The music industry needs a huge reboot, a shake-up that puts creators at its heart”.

Meanwhile, Trubridge’s colleague at the MU, Naomi Pohl, told reporters: “The key issue with streaming is that major labels are announcing record profits while our members can’t put food on the table or pay their bills. I am feeling very hopeful about the committee’s findings from the inquiry. This could be historic. If we get a fairer deal for musicians as a result of this, it’ll be a huge win”.

As well as the music industry reps being questioned by MPs yesterday, the streaming platforms themselves were finally in the spotlight, with YouTube, SoundCloud and Amazon’s Twitch all answering questions. We’ll summarise their contributions in tomorrow’s CMU Daily.

Meanwhile, you can follow all our full coverage of the inquiry into the economics of streaming via this CMU timeline here.