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U.K. Government Must Address ‘Pitiful’ Streaming Returns for Songwriters, Says Parliament Committee

A U.K. Parliament committee has issued fresh calls for a “fundamental reform” of music streaming to address what it describes as “pitiful returns” for songwriters and publishing rights holders.

A report from the Culture, Media and Sport (CMS) Committee published Wednesday (April 10) calls upon the British government to “do more to make sure music makers are paid fairly” and to press ahead with a package of sweeping copyright reforms.

Those reforms include changing the revenue split between recording and publishing rights from music streaming, currently set at around 55% for recording and 15% for publishing. That weighting “does not reflect the importance of songwriters, composers and publishers in the music streaming process,” says the committee. Its members want government ministers to bring forward a consultation with fans, creators and industry stakeholders to “incentivise an optimal rate” for publishing rights that will “fairly remunerate creators for their work.”

Other recommendations in the CMS report include the introduction of a statutory “private copying” levy like what exists in other European countries such as France, Germany and Italy. That would require a small tax to be charged on the purchase of electronic devices and blank media that can be used to store songs, which is then paid out to artists and songwriters via collecting societies. The introduction of such a scheme would generate between £250 million ($313 million) and £300 million ($376 million) a year, claims the CMS committee, and safeguard reciprocal payments from other markets where private copying mechanisms exist.

“Not only does a lack of such a scheme in the U.K. prevent British creators from receiving payments from the domestic market, but it has also put their payments from abroad under threat,” says the report, calling for the introduction of a private copying levy within the next 12 months. 

On the subject of artificial intelligence, the CMS committee echoed its previous demands for stronger enforcement of creators’ rights against AI developers using copyright-protected works for training purposes without consent or fair compensation.

“We are concerned that the status quo simply favours AI developers, given creators’ concerns that their IP is already being used in AI development without licence or any practical means of recourse,” states the report, which criticizes the government’s lack of progress on establishing a code of practice around the use of AI and intellectual property.

More support also needs to be given to freelancer staff and the self-employed working in creative industries, such as the music business, in response to long-held complaints around contracts and working conditions, say committee members. 

The CMS report is the latest chapter in a long and ongoing series of government-led interventions into the U.K. music industry fueled by artist discontent over low payments from streaming, beginning with a 2020 Parliamentary inquiry into the music streaming business. That probe wrapped the following year by calling into question the major record labels’ dominance of the industry and declaring that the music streaming business “needs a complete reset.”

Numerous government-led working groups, investigations and initiatives followed, including studies looking at “equitable remuneration” and the impact of AI on the music industry. A working group focused on creator remuneration is due to meet for the first time this month.

Despite the progress that has been made, CMS committee chair Dame Caroline Dinenage MP said the U.K. government “needs to move further and faster to ensure music makers really are properly rewarded for their work.”

“If creators are no longer to be the poor relations, the government needs to play catch up by plugging the gaps in outdated copyright and intellectual property regulations,” said Dinenage in a statement accompanying Wednesday’s report.

In response, Jo Twist, chief executive of British labels’ trade body BPI, said the committee was right to highlight creators’ concerns around generative AI, which she called “unquestionably the most significant issue facing the creative industries today,” but said the report fails to recognize that, “with the support of their labels, more U.K. artists are succeeding in the streaming economy than ever before.”  

“In an increasingly competitive global industry, their approach risks limiting investment and harming the U.K. talent of the future,” said Twist in a statement.

Umbrella trade group the Council of Music Makers, whose members include the Musicians’ Union and Music Managers Forum, was more positive about the committee’s findings. In a statement, the organization said the report provides a good summary of the issues and some of the proposed solutions to improve creators’ remuneration, but cautioned that for real progress to be made, “we need stakeholders from across the music industry to stop denying reality and to, instead, come to the table with solutions, whether that’s the copyright reforms proposed by MPs or a negotiated agreement.”

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