Music publishing boss Andrew Jenkins: ‘Copyright should be forever’


“I’m going to say something very controversial now. I don’t think there should be a term of copyright. If I buy a house, I own it forever. It’s my property. If I have intellectual property, I should have it forever.”

Andrew Jenkins has just stepped down as chairman of the board of the ICMP, and is president of Universal Music Publishing Group for Australia and Asia-Pacific.

It’s fair to say his on-stage interview at Midem’s Copyright Summit last week didn’t pull any punches on his views on attempts to reduce the term of copyright.

It shouldn’t be 50 years. It shouldn’t be 25 years. It should be forever. I should be able to pass it on to my family. I don’t understand why we treat one type of property differently,” said Jenkins.

“I can certainly pass on the value of my house to my children, they can pass it on to their children and their children’s children, etc,” he continued. “My wife is a singer and songwriter. She works very very hard to do what she does. Distribution models don’t deserve to benefit off the back of her work. She does.”

Jenkins’ comments were spurred, he said, by moves in Africa and Australia that will potentially reduce the term of copyright to 25 years.

“For governments to even be thinking about this is a really shocking thing. It would mean that some of the great songs of all time would be out of copyright in South Africa,” he said.

“You’ll see the devastating effect on back catalogue that could happen if those laws are enacted, but also the lack of investment that would follow.”

Jenkins was keen to draw the music industry’s attention to potential copyright reform outside the most talked-about continents of North America and Europe.

We see copyright under attack all around the world, from the ‘copyleft’. We see these huge organisations that lobby against copyright, and there are reasons they would rather see copyright devalued,” he said.

“We’re all aware of what’s happening in Europe, where there will be a new copyright directive. We’re aware of what’s happening in the US, with the Department of Justice and the CRB,” he continued.

“We’re probably less aware that in South Africa there’s a draft bill that will make radio stations in [South] Africa play 90% of local music. A terrible thing to bring back these kind of restrictions on the free-flowing of music.”

Jenkins claimed that this will not just be a limit on western music, but also restrict music from other African countries being played in South Africa.

Jenkins returned to the theme of battles over the term of copyright around the world, however.

“We all have to lobby, we have to do whatever we can. There are more lobbyists lobbying for the other sides, for those people who would rather see copyright reduced and devalued,” he said.

“There is something that is thankfully on our side, which is common decency with some governments. You see people actually care about their cultures, and I think that’s fantastic.”

Jenkins also talked about the growth of music-streaming, citing it as “wonderful” in terms of overall music-industry revenues being on the up, which in turn will fuel more investment in music creators.

“There are big differences between the streaming services. Some of them are responsible business partners for the music industry, for musicians and artists and songwriters. And some are less responsible. I probably don’t have to mention names,” he said.

“The ones that are the least responsible are the ones most likely to be lobbying against us, as people in the music industry. And it’s sad when you think that search engines might decide how the future of the industry goes, rather than the most fantastic new talent that we hear, the most brilliant new song or the most wonderful new artist.”

Jenkins was interviewed on-stage by journalist Rhian Jones, who asked him whether governments might prefer to favour the (big-tech) companies that employ more people than the music industry in a country.

“For the most part yes, I do agree with that. There is a problem with governments naturally looking after the economic interests of their country, which means that big employers are very important to them. I fully understand that’s one part of a government’s responsibility to its people: to make sure there are jobs,” he said.

Fortunately, some of the big companies we’re talking about haven’t necessarily been good citizens. They pay taxes not in the countries they work in. Their arrangements are difficult, shall we say? And perhaps there isn’t such sympathy for some of those companies as there would be for other large employers of people.”

“The other thing we have as an advantage – although we’re way smaller: we don’t employ anywhere near the sorts of people that the big corporations employ – what we do give is a certain amount of cultural weight to government.”

Earlier in the interview, Jones asked Jenkins what he thinks will be the next big markets for music and the music-publishing sector.

“There are lots of key music markets. I don’t think there are ‘next’ ones necessarily. They’re all there, they all exist, and it’s only a question of when economies become more robust and successful, that we see that translating necessarily into revenues for the business,” he said.

“But the clear one – it’s already there – is China. When you look at Asia and look at the IFPI numbers recently, you see that in 2016 Korea moved in to the top 10 countries in the world in terms of music revenues, and that China was at number 12. I’ve no doubt that China will be in the top 10 next year.”

“That will give us an interesting situation, because for the first time ever we’ll see Asia making up the same number of places in the top 10 as Europe. That’s an extraordinary development: it shows you the speed of the business and the way the business is changing in Asia.”

Jenkins also pointed to Africa: “The most musical continent in the world, and in terms of our business, very poorly represented”. He predicted that for all its problems, Africa offers huge opportunity. “And India too: an amazing music market.”

Among his concerns about these emerging markets: collecting societies. Jenkins suggested that societies in some of those markets are “not as good” and that “the correct people are not necessarily being paid for the use of their works”.

Jenkins also talked about the disruptions he sees coming to the music industry over the next decade.

“I do think the business is pretty robust at the moment, and we’re seeing a return to investment and confidence in new talent,” he said. “As many disruptions as there are going to be, we’re probably going to see the business survive and become stronger in the next 10 years. I’m feeling pretty confident.”

Written by: Stuart Dredge