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Musicians vs. Streaming platforms

A group of musicians have written to the Prime Minister calling for enforced changes to music streaming and the dissemination of royalties. 

The group, signed by 156 artists including Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox, Sting, Jimmy Page, Noel Gallagher, Kate Bush, and Chris Martin accused streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music, record companies, and other tech firms of “exploiting performers and creators without rewarding them fairly”. They claim to be attempting to “put the value of music back where it belongs – in the hands of the music makers”. 

The rates that which streaming platforms pay artists have been a contentious issue since the rise in popularity of streaming as a way to access music. In 2017, a ruling in the US ordered that the percentage of revenue paid to songwriters from plays on streaming services was to rise from 10.5% to 15.1%. Platforms and their owners such as Google, Amazon, and Spotify immediately contested the ruling, eventually getting a legal victory in 2020 with a court deciding that there was a fault in the methodology used to recalculate the new rates. Rates have been recalculated in favour of the streaming platforms but the case is still ongoing. 

The letter suggests changes to the 1988 Copyright Act in order to bring royalty payments more in line with how they are paid in radio, while acknowledging the differences between radio and on-demand streaming. 

The group argue that changes to the law would mean that streaming companies would make a more “equitable remuneration” to performers and songwriters via a rights collection company, a system already enshrined in UK law for music played over the radio. 

At present, radio stations buy a licence from rights collection companies who then distribute royalties to artists based on how often their songs are played. Currently, revenue from streaming is pooled by each company with payments distributed to the rights holder, who then take a share depending on their deal or contract with the artist. This is calculated on number of plays, along with other algorithms, and rates are set by each individual company. 

The artists are complaining that the current system gives the platforms too much control and there is a need for a regulator to shift the balance of power more equitably. 

However, even if this legal challenge comes to anything, it is sure to be heavily contested by the streaming platforms. Spotify, Apple, and other such companies are constantly under legal pressure to increase payments to artists and are always rebuffing them. Even if a legal definition of “equitable remuneration” is brought into UK law, it is sure to be contested in the strongest possible terms. 

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