Songwriters on the march as US royalties hearing kicks off


The issue of streaming royalties for songwriters has been almost constantly in the news over the past couple of years, but this week it’s really seizing the spotlight thanks to the start of a crucial court hearing to decide publishing rates through to 2022.

Besides reopening the long-running debate about whether publishers deserve a bigger slice of streaming royalties (and, thus, labels a smaller cut), the hearing will also provide a new insight into the backroom battles being waged between the two biggest streaming services: Spotify and Apple Music.

Both companies as well as Google, Amazon and Pandora will be among the firms providing evidence and opinion to the Copyright Royalty Board in the hope of influencing its rates decision.

Meanwhile, the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) has launched a petition on behalf of songwriters, addressed to those five companies in particular.

“Currently you are fighting to pay us as little as possible in the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) proceedings. This is alarming not only because it threatens our livelihoods and ability to continue our craft, but also because it tells us that instead of being our business partners, you choose to be our adversaries,” claimed the petition.

“The future of music will go one of two ways. We can work together to create an industry ecosystem that grows not just tech companies’ valuations, but also the diversity and quality of music. Or, you can work to reduce the rates paid to songwriters so much that you have nothing left to deliver the fans who subscribe to your services.”

Part of the CRB’s decision – which doesn’t have to be reached until mid-December – will involve passing judgement on Apple’s suggestion that it pay a flat rate to publishers of 9.1 cents for every 100 streams on Apple Music.

Publishers want more, while the move has also been seen as an aggressive attempt to ramp up the costs of rival Spotify. Neither company should be relishing the dynamic of being seen to drive down royalties for songwriters, however.

Stuart Dredge

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