With the row between YouTube and indie label bodies WIN and Impala still rumbling, WIN is keeping up the pressure on Google’s video service with something it’s calling The Fair Digital Deals Declaration.
What’s that? “A statement of commitment made by independent record labels to treat their artists fairly in agreements relating to digital exploitation of artists’ work in recorded music agreements with third parties”.
Actually, as you can probably tell from that wording, the declaration is aimed as much at the major labels, which WIN has been targeting as part of its battle with YouTube over the transparency of its dealmaking.
The declaration – already signed by labels including Beggars Group, Cooking Vinyl, Domino Recordings, Hospital Records, Ninja Tune, Glassnote and Warp Records – focuses on five key points: clear explanations of how download and streaming revenues are shared with artist within their contracts and royalty statements; the promise of a “good-faith pro-rata share” of advance payments and other lump sums from digital services; a push for “better standards of information” from those digital services on how music is being played and monetised; support for artists who publicly criticise unauthorised use of their work; and continued support for indies as a collective industry sector.
Little to argue with there: these are changes needed across the industry, and while it’s a canny move for independent labels to stake their claim as the provider of fairer deals for artists, pressure from those artists and their managers is bringing more transparency and (at least) scrutiny of the advance payments issue to majors too.
But watch the indies seize this moment to rally under the fairness banner: “Why wouldn’t we treat artists fairly? It seems so obvious that we shouldn’t have to say it, but let’s say it, loud and proud,” said Martin Mills of Beggars Group. “The only way to create a long lasting relationship between artists and labels is to apply total transparency with regards to our deals with the distribution platforms,” added Emmanuel de Buretel of Because Group.
But back to YouTube: if the big message of WIN’s new declaration is that indies treat artists fairly, its secondary aim is to highlight the question of whether digital services treat those labels (and thus, their artists) fairly in return.
Total transparency in distribution deals on a wider level is one of WIN’s key complaints about YouTube’s approach to licensing its upcoming subscription service. Independent labels’ desire for fair deals from digital music services is entirely understandable, but it will also direct more attention onto the role of licensing agency Merlin, and its ability to secure those deals.
Its track record – even with services initially focused on majors over indies – is good, but striking a deal with YouTube that satisfies all parties would really cement its value.