The British music industry will be clearing some diary time next Tuesday (19 January) for the next sessions in the UK parliamentary inquiry into the economics of music streaming. The second session will see the three major labels’ UK bosses – UMG’s David Joseph, Sony Music’s Jason Iley and WMG’s Tony Harlow – giving evidence together.

What kind of reception will they be getting from the committee of MPs? Judging by the way the session was described by the committee’s own announcement yesterday, there could be fireworks. “MPs are expected to focus on the benefit to market-dominant labels from the production and licensing of streamed music, addressing underlying issues which have led to calls for a review of the distribution of streaming revenues in a more equitable way.”

It’s a sign of how the artists and songwriters giving evidence in previous sessions appear to have successfully set the tone and direction of the inquiry. While Joseph, Iley and Harlow will be keen to talk about the positive role their labels play in helping artists to build their careers, the framing in the committee’s announcement suggests they may be playing defence a lot too.

Amid the anticipation for what parliamentary-inquiries tradition dictates we should describe as a ‘grilling’, the other session next Tuesday should not be ignored. PRS for Music and PPL bosses Andrea Martin and Peter Leathem will be giving evidence on collective licensing. The announcement notes that PPL’s mandate “covers recording copyright for TV, radio and online broadcast but not streamed music”.

That’s a simple statement of fact, but it’s another pointer to the direction that the inquiry is taking. It’s clear that earlier sessions have successfully planted the seed of ‘equitable remuneration’ in the committee’s mind. That’s the idea that at least a portion of streaming royalties – likely those from the most radio-like listening methods: playlists and personal radio features – should be paid to PPL and split 50/50 between labels and artists.

It will be fascinating to hear what PPL think of that idea, and we strongly suspect the three label bosses will also be asked why equitable remuneration shouldn’t be introduced. Remember, politicians in this kind of inquiry love to come out of the process with One Big Thing They Can Do To Change Things For The Better. After Tuesday’s session, we’ll know if ‘ER’ remains in pole position to be that One Big Thing from this inquiry.

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Stuart Dredge

Music Ally's Head of Insight

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