International Federation of Musicians Statement on Streaming Royalties (Or lack thereof)

Since the 2000s, the development of download platforms, then streaming services, has both contracted and expanded the music market. However, despite recently accelerating growth, the value thus created is not shared fairly. Indeed, the performers whose music creates this value receive little or no revenue when their recordings are used online with relatively few exceptions.

The implementation of the fundamental principles set out below is essential to, at last, guarantee the payment of a fair remuneration to music performers for the value transfer from their work. Such implementation must, in particular, rely on the proven mechanisms of collective management or collective bargaining.

1. Right to a fair remuneration

All music performers, whether featured or non-featured, should receive fair remuneration for each online use of their recordings, regardless of the technology used to access or distribute them.

Any act that does not meet the conditions for a download (choice of track + choice of time + choice of location) should not be covered by the right of Article 10

2. Scope of the right of making available on demand

The right of making available on-demand (article 10 of the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty) provides performers with “the exclusive right of authorizing the making available to the public of their performances fixed in phonograms, by wire or wireless means, in such a way that members of the public may access them from a place and at a time individually chosen by them”.

This right was formulated at the time of the transition from physical to digital distribution by download. The technological evolution that has allowed the development of streaming offers since 2008 was in no way anticipated when the WPPT was adopted in 1996. Article 10 could never have been the subject of a consensus if the community of performers had measured the risk of its erroneous application to all the uses offered by streaming platforms.

The right of making available on-demand is designed for cases where end-users choose what music they want to listen to, when to listen to it and where to listen to it. Thus, any act that does not meet the conditions for a download (choice of track + choice of time + choice of location) should not be covered by the right of Article 10.

In particular, it should not apply when a selection of tracks made by a third party (a natural person or an algorithm) is offered for listening to the consumer, following a personalization based on the choice of a style, an atmosphere, an artist or any other criterion leading to a limited and pre-established “playlist”.

3. Adaptation of remuneration schemes

Performers’ economic precariousness – highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic – demonstrates that the exclusive right of making available on-demand (art. 10 of the WPPT), which can be assigned individually without any real compensation, is in itself unfit for embracing the current technological environment. The unilateral choice of platforms and the phonographic industry to apply this right to all forms of streaming, regardless of their level of interactivity or personalization, obviously serves the interests of these industries.

Non-featured performers generally receive a one-time, often purely symbolic, lump-sum payment in return for the transfer of their exclusive rights to the producer. Such unfair practices deprives them of a fair share of the revenue and value generated by their creative contribution. This structurally unbalanced contractual relationship can be corrected by resorting to collective bargaining.

More generally, collective bargaining constitutes a legitimate and effective means of improving the conditions for the transfer of a performer’s exclusive rights and their remuneration once assigned to the producer.

As grassroots protests by performers illustrate, the status quo is untenable. The streaming economy must switch paradigms to ensure fair remuneration for all performers and all types of online uses. Concerning non-interactive or partially interactive uses (playlists), the right to remuneration under Article 15, WPPT, which leads to an equal split of the equitable remuneration received from broadcasters and other users, constitutes a relevant reference model and precedent.

4. Transparency and access to information

All performers must receive and be able to access detailed information concerning the use of their recordings and the payments to which they are entitled. Payment of sums due to the artist must occur on the dates specified, must be subject to a compliance examination of platforms by performers to help assure correct payments, and must be accounted for regardless of the amount and without payment thresholds. National laws must include provisions guaranteeing the exercise of these rights.

5. Value of Music

Price competition between platforms and the priority they give to enterprise market valuation (as reflected in share price) over revenue may induce a devaluation of music in a race to the bottom on royalty payments while share price is booming. Access to a repertoire through output licenses set to grow endlessly for a flat-rate subscription – which has remained at the essentially same price point for more than ten years – does not seem capable of providing long-term sustainability for the creative sector given the dominant pro-rata royalty model.

6. User-centric model

In the vast number of cases, the pro-rata distribution of streaming revenues does not remunerate the featured artists’ right of making available, even when their contract provides (after the transfer of this right) for the payment of royalties. Instead, it creates a hyper-efficient market share distribution of revenue. This is not acceptable. It is also not acceptable for end-users to pay for music that they do not listen to, or that the music they listen to does not generate commensurate income for the artists concerned. This lack of direct correlation between listening and payment is a fundamental problem. Only the universal adoption of the “user-centric” distribution model can redress this injustice to both the fan and the performers. By allowing “niche” recordings, works or styles to generate remuneration, it also supports diversity and promotes local cultures. It should therefore be implemented, and the economic models adapted accordingly.

7. Duration of reference for the count of plays

The length of the tracks varies considerably according to the genre of music. Durations can range from less than two minutes for a variety track to several tens of minutes for a jazz or classical music track. The count of plays entitled to payment should take these differences into account by introducing a dose of proportionality. A longer track should trigger several payments as listening reaches certain thresholds to be negotiated.

By limiting the economic return on very short tracks, such an adaptation would avoid an excessively uniform offer. It would also positively affect diversity by partly redirecting payments towards less popular musical genres such as jazz or classical music. More generally, artistic creativity could be expressed more freely, without time constraints motivated by profitability objectives.

The Rolling Stones and Sir Tom Jones call on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to fix streaming income for musicians and to put the value of music back “in the hands of music makers”

The Rolling Stones, Pet Shop Boys, Emeli Sandé, Barry Gibb, Van Morrison, Sir Tom Jones and the Estates of John Lennon and Joe Strummer have written to the Prime Minister “on behalf of today’s generation of artists, musicians and songwriters here in the UK”. 

All the modern British recording artists named by Boris Johnson in his Desert Island Discs are now represented on the letter. 

In an unprecedented show of solidarity, they have added their names to a joint letter with artists such as Annie Lennox, Paloma Faith, Kano, Joan Armatrading, Chris Martin, Gary Barlow, Paul McCartney, Melanie C, Jimmy Page, Boy George, Noel Gallagher and Kate Bush, calling on the PM to update UK law to “put the value of music back where it belongs – in the hands of music makers.”

This renewed call comes on the back of a report last week by The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) which said this is a “systemic problem [that] cries out for a systemic solution” and concluded that streaming should start to pay more like radio: “The more global revenues surge, the harder it is for performers to understand why the imbalance is fair—because it is not…streaming remuneration likely should be considered for a communication to the public right.”

More and more people are streaming music – heightened by the pandemic – but, as the artists point out, “the law has not kept up with the pace of technological change and, as a result, performers and songwriters do not enjoy the same protections as they do in radio,” with most featured artists receiving tiny fractions of a US cent per stream” and session musicians receiving nothing at all.  

The letter suggests that “only two words need to change in the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act…so that today’s performers receive a share of revenues, just like they enjoy in radio” – a change which “won’t cost the taxpayer a penny but will put more money in the pockets of UK taxpayers and raise revenues for public services like the NHS” and which will contribute to the “levelling-up agenda as we kickstart the post-Covid economic recovery.”

The 234 signatories do not want streaming to be recognised as radio. Instead, they want streaming to share some of radio’s remuneration model so that they are paid more fairly. Legislation, despite recognising that streaming is replacing sales, is yet to recognise that the technology is on its way to replacing radio too. 

The letter is backed by the Musicians’ Union, the Ivors Academy and the Music Producer’s Guild collectively representing tens of thousands of UK performers, composers and songwriters and producers, brought together in partnership with the #BrokenRecord campaign led by artist and songwriter, Tom Gray.

The Commons DCMS Committee has been examining this issue with its Economics of music streaming inquiry, expected to report by the end of this month, but it is understood that this issue falls between the remits of both the DCMS and BEIS departments, which is why the artists have chosen to address it to the Prime Minister.  

The letter also recommends “an immediate government referral to the Competition and Markets Authority” because of “evidence of multinational corporations wielding extraordinary power” over the marketplace and the creation of an industry regulator. 

They write that these changes “will make the UK the best place in the world to be a musician or a songwriter, allow recording studios and the UK session scene to thrive once again, strengthen our world leading cultural sector, allow the market for recorded music to flourish for listeners and creators, and unearth a new generation of talent.”

Tom Gray, Founder of the #BrokenRecord Campaign, said:

“It is amazing and timely that the World Intellectual Property Organisation, who create the global treaties that underpin UK law, are now reporting that we are right. This is the moment for the UK to lead the way. British music makers are suffering needlessly. There is an extraordinary amount of money in music streaming. It is a success story for a few foreign multinationals, but rarely for the British citizens who make the music”

“This letter is fundamentally about preserving a professional class of music-maker into the future. Most musicians don’t expect to be rich and famous or even be particularly comfortable, they just want to earn a crust.”

Horace Trubridge, General Secretary of the Musicians’ Union, said:

“I’m delighted to see so many artists, performers and songwriters backing our call.  Streaming is replacing radio so musicians should get the same protection when their work is played on streaming platforms as they get when it’s played on radio.

“As the whole world has moved online during the pandemic, musicians who write, record and perform for a living have been let down by a law that simply hasn’t kept up with the pace of technological change.  Listeners would be horrified to learn how little artists and musicians earn from streaming when they pay their subscriptions.

“By tightening up the law so that streaming pays more like radio, we will put streaming income back where it belongs – in the hands of artists.  It’s their music so the income generated from it should go into their hands.”

Graham Davies, Chief Executive of the Ivors Academy, said:

“Paying music creators properly, which is what so many incredible artists have spoken up to ask for on behalf of present and future musicians and songwriters, will drive the streaming industry and sustain the UK creative economy. Music should and could be a major national asset, but its potential value is currently stripped by overseas interests.

We need to keep the value of British music in our nation by supporting, nurturing and investing in our creators, whilst ensuring the handful of foreign multinational corporations which dominate the music industry and have little interest in preserving British cultural heritage, contribute more value back into the UK. These easy steps will achieve exactly that.”

Crispin Hunt, Chair of the Ivors Academy, said:

“Major Music labels delude themselves that they are the sole providers of the music economy. They are not; the musicians, producers and composers who signed this letter are the true providers of the music economy; without them, no employment in music could exist.

“Britains Music Creators should be the primary beneficiaries of the value their creativity drives.  The record companies are now glorified marketing firms, without manufacturing and distribution costs. Their extraordinary profits ought to be shared more equitably with creators. In streaming the song is king, yet songwriters are streaming’s serfs.

“British Music Creators want nothing more than a reasonable partnership with the companies that market and distribute our work. But a reasonable partnership should be based on shared rewards and responsibilities, not unilateral takings.

“With this letter, Britain’s greatest Music Creators say Music must reform, Government can and should help us fix it.”

@unite4copyright: Celebrate World IP Day/Week 2021

On April 26, 2021, the Copyright Alliance will once again celebrate World IP Day (WIPD). WIPD is recognized on the same day in April of each year to remind everyone of the critical role that intellectual property plays in encouraging creativity and innovation. And from April 26-30, the Copyright Alliance will celebrate WIPD by joining our members, partners, and countless creators and organizations around the world to mark the occasion by amplifying blogs and videos, hosting virtual events, and much more—all designed to celebrate the fact that IP helps the global arts scene to flourish and enables the innovation that drives human progress.

Read the post on Copyright Alliance