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UK government formally announces music metadata agreement and music-maker remuneration working group

By | Published on Wednesday 31 May 2023

The UK government’s Intellectual Property Office has published a new music industry agreement around metadata which seeks to begin tackling some of the data issues that routinely impact on the crediting and payment of music-makers. It follows the confirmation yesterday that the UK government is convening a working group to discuss music-maker remuneration from streaming.

All of this is part of work that was initiated by the government in response to the culture select committee inquiry in Parliament that called for a “complete reset” of the streaming music business. The IPO organised that economics of music streaming work into three strands focused on remuneration, transparency and data.

In terms of data, a working group was convened to discuss the various issues around the provision of data that identifies what specific songs are contained in any one recording, and what artists, musicians, songwriters and producers were involved in the creation of any one track.

At the moment a lot of that data is not provided as standard when recordings are delivered to the streaming services. Which means many of the music-makers involved in the creation of a track are not crediting on the streaming platforms.

And when it comes to the songs side of the music industry, the bad data causes delays, increases admin costs and reduces accuracy when it comes to getting songwriters paid.

The music industry has been discussing these data issues for years if not decades. Solving the problem requires the involvement of record labels, music distributors, music publishers, collecting societies and streaming services, as well as artists, musicians songwriters, producers and their managers. So a big part of the challenge is getting all those people to work in unison.

The new metadata agreement – negotiated through the metadata working group – sees each of those stakeholders commit to raise their game. A little.

The undertakings in themselves are not massive, but if everyone in the UK industry truly embraces the code, it should be a step in the right direction. One ultimate aim being that the unique identifier for each song – the ISWC – is issued quickly and included in the metadata alongside each new recording.

To date the government-led work around remuneration has focused on three pieces of research, each investigating a copyright reform that was proposed by the select committee in the report it published following its inquiry.

Those included the introduction of a reversion right allowing music-makers to reclaim rights previously assigned via a record or publishing deal; a contract adjustment right allowing music-makers to renegotiate old deals in the context of the modern industry; and a new remuneration right that would see artists and session musicians receive at least a portion of the money generated by the streaming of their recordings through the collective licensing system.

The issues around music-maker remuneration – ie how artists, musicians, songwriters and producers share in the streaming money their music generates – are different for each group of music-makers. The proposed copyright reforms would benefit most those artists stuck in old record deals that pay lower royalties than are now the norm and session musicians who currently don’t share in streaming income at all.

The label community is always keen to point out that artists seeking business partners to work with on their recordings today have much more choice than in the past and can choose to work with a label or distributor in a way that gets them the majority of the money their music generates. Which is true. But that doesn’t help the artists stuck in old record deals or the session musicians.

The majors are also keen to stress that they do now pay through streaming royalties to heritage artists that never recouped advances or other costs back in the day, something that never happened until very recently. And there have been talks between record industry trade group BPI and the Musicians’ Union about evolving the industry’s standard session musician agreement, although those seem to have stalled.

The music-maker community argues that while paying through royalties to unrecouped artists is a good step in the right direction, if those artists are being paid CD-era royalty rates on streaming income, that is still unfair. Some indies – most notably the Beggars Group – pay a minimum royalty to all the artists in the catalogue, as well as having paid through royalties to unrecouped artists for a number of years.

So, while both the majors and the indies are generally not supportive of the proposed copyright reforms, there is some support in the indie community for other non-legislative solutions that would address some of the music-maker concerns. Including applying a modern royalty rate to all artists – just like Beggars already does – and possibly launching some sort of fund to benefit session musicians whose music is streamed.

All of that is likely to be discussed within the new music-maker remuneration working group, the convening of which was confirmed by the culture select committee yesterday and the by the IPO this morning.

It remains to be seen how the different stakeholders choose to participate in those discussions, with the indies possibly more willing than the majors to seek a voluntary solution that would benefit more artists. The majors are also keen to avoid copyright reforms, of course, but seem more likely to resist other solutions too.

Responding to the convening of the working group, the Association Of Independent Music urged that a collaborative approach be taken that ensures all voices in the wider music community are heard. Whereas the BPI expressed concern about the discussions ahead, reckoning that “numerous studies have demonstrated that streaming has benefited consumers and artists alike, with record labels paying more to artists than ever before”.

Unsurprisingly, groups representing music-makers were much more positive about the new working group, with the Council Of Music Makers saying that its members “look forward to now getting to work”.

Commenting on the new data code and remuneration working group, the government’s Intellectual Property Minister Jonathan Berry says: “I am delighted to announce the publication today of the UK industry agreement on music streaming metadata, and the establishment of a further working group on creator remuneration. This has been a fantastic collaboration between industry experts and the Intellectual Property Office”.

“Good quality metadata benefits everyone who creates and enjoys music”, he goes on. “The agreement on metadata is a positive commitment by the music industry to improve the quality of metadata in the UK. I am very pleased to see the wide range of organisations which are signatories to the agreement, and I look forward to seeing the further progress that industry makes on metadata over the next two years”.

And John Whittingdale, Minister For The Creative Industries, adds: “The UK is a hotbed for world-beating musical talent but as technology advances we need our thriving music industry to continue to offer viable career opportunities”.

“This landmark agreement on streaming metadata is a step towards ensuring UK musicians in the digital age are fairly credited and compensated for their contributions and creativity”, he continues. “Alongside the IPO I’m pleased to be bringing the industry together so we can explore wider issues around music creator remuneration more generally”.