The UK has emerged as a bellwether country for the debate around the music streaming economy and artists’ earnings. We’ve known since June that Kevin Brennan, one of the MPs on the DCMS committee that held the UK’s inquiry into streaming economics earlier this year, was preparing a ‘private member’s bill’ tackling some of the issues. Today it has been published, meaning we can all see what he’s aiming for.
And? In a nutshell: equitable remuneration (ER); transparency obligations for rightsholders; contract adjustment; and a right of revocation. None of which is a huge surprise, given the contents of the inquiry’s report earlier this year, but now we know the details of what’s being suggested.
ER is a big one: the bill seeks to extend the right to equitable remuneration from broadcast to music that has been “made available to the public” – a key phrase in UK law which covers streaming.
The bill adds that musicians will not be able to transfer this right except to collecting societies (“to avoid performers being coerced into transferring away the right to equitable remuneration on unequal terms in relation to an arrangement where they have unequal bargaining power” as Brennan’s explanatory notes put it).
Applying ER to all streams – not just those that are ‘radio-like’ as has been sometimes suggested – would be a huge move, and needless to say one that labels will push back on as hard as they can. And they will be able to, because the legislative process can see bills amended line by line, by MPs who have been swayed one way or the other by lobbying.
(In that sense, the bill’s suggestion that ER be applied across the board could be seen as an opening position, with the full knowledge that it’s likely to be amended.)
Brennan’s bill also seeks to put in place new transparency obligations on rightsholders – beyond the collecting societies – to provide musicians “on a quarterly basis, up to date, comprehensible, relevant and complete information” on exploitation of their works, including revenues generated and royalties due”
There are also rights to revocation – rights returning to the creator – after 20 years for both songwriters and artists, with a two-year notice period, as well as clauses on contract adjustments where “the remuneration originally agreed is disproportionately low compared to all subsequent revenues derived from the exploitation of the rights”.
That Four Tet / Domino dispute is suddenly looking even more timely. But as we said, a private member’s bill is just the start of the legislative process, and there is lots of scope for measures to be watered down or removed (or, indeed, for others to be added in).
You could describe the bill in its current form as ‘The Broken Record Bill’ as it hews closely to the demands of musician Tom Gray’s increasingly influential campaign. “Oh the beauty of finely tuned legislation!!” tweeted Gray today. “C’mon! Let’s do this.”
But there is still a long road to it becoming law; the British government’s support is not guaranteed; and industry bodies like the BPI and AIM will be redoubling their efforts to head off some of the bill’s provisions.
AIM has already come out swinging. “We think the approach to streaming should be data first, discussion second, and law last,” it said in a statement. “We have expressed our concerns and are open to reviewing and discussing them with all stakeholders to figure out the best way forward. Legislating before this is reckless.”
Rightsholders and policymakers around the world will be keeping a keen eye on the process, it’s fair to say, and of course we will be keeping you updated on developments – and their potential impact beyond the UK.
Update: The BPI has now put out its own statement, which is equally unpulling of the punch.
“This Bill would bind British music in red tape, reduce income for the most entrepreneurial artists, stifle investment and innovation by record labels, and disproportionately harm the independent sector. It would create huge uncertainty and deny many of the next generation of artists their shot to build a career. It completely misunderstands today’s music business, and the value that labels provide in finding and nurturing talent,” said its spokesperson.
“Labels are committed to ensuring artists are rewarded in line with their success from streaming, but just as British music is finally climbing out of its long downturn, this misguided, outdated regulation would be a damaging step backwards, eroding the foundations of the UK’s extraordinary global success in music.”
Meanwhile, the Musicians’ Union and The Ivors Academy have put out more supportive statements of the bill, in keeping with their support for the Broken Record campaign.
“The domination of the major music groups in the streaming market is clear. Musicians and songwriters are not getting a fair enough deal and legislative reform is overdue. Now is the time to address the imbalances in the music industry and in music streaming in particular,” said MU deputy general secretary Naomi Pohl.
“We are calling on the Government to allow a free vote on the Brennan Bill on 3rd December. Members across the House of Commons have already voiced their support for the Bill, showing the depth of bi-partisan commitment to fixing streaming to ensure performers are fairly paid for their streamed music.”
Ivors Academy CEO Graham Davies said: “On behalf of songwriters and composers our thanks go to Kevin Brennan and MPs from all parties who understand that Britain’s place as a cultural powerhouse rests on investing in people that actually make music. The growth of the streaming market has diverted too much wealth to multinational record labels at the expense of music makers. These market distortions must be fixed in order to grow Britain’s enviable music sector.”
The Music Managers Forum (MMF) and Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) put out a joint statement from their bosses Annabella Coldrick and David Martin.
“The MMF and FAC are pleased to see the publication of Kevin Brennan MP’s Private Members’ Bill this morning. We welcome provisions on rights revocation, greater transparency and contract adjustment and hope this proceeds to Report Stage for further debate,” they said.
“We also look forward to further discussion about the remuneration right, including its detail and practical implementation and we will actively support modelling of impacts. It is vital that all artists, songwriters and performers are empowered by greater transparency and flexibility in their contractual agreements, to ensure those agreements are fit for purpose in today’s streaming market and beyond.”