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UK Artists Urge PM To Fix Streaming Income For Musicians

The Rolling Stones, Pet Shop Boys, Emeli Sandé, Barry Gibb, Van Morrison, Sir Tom Jones and the Estates of John Lennon and Joe Strummer have written to the UK Prime Minister “on behalf of today’s generation of artists, musicians and songwriters here in the UK”.

All the modern British recording artists named by Boris Johnson in his Desert Island Discs are now represented on the letter (below).

In an unprecedented show of solidarity, they have added their names to a joint letter with artists such as Annie Lennox, Paloma Faith, Kano, Joan Armatrading, Chris Martin, Gary Barlow, Paul McCartney, Melanie C, Jimmy Page, Boy George, Noel Gallagher and Kate Bush, calling on the PM to update UK law to “put the value of music back where it belongs – in the hands of music makers”.

This renewed call comes on the back of a report last week by The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) which said this is a "systemic problem [that] cries out for a systemic solution” and concluded that streaming should start to pay more like radio:

"The more global revenues surge, the harder it is for performers to understand why the imbalance is fair – because it is not...streaming remuneration likely should be considered for a communication to the public right."

More and more people are streaming music – heightened by the pandemic – but, as the artists point out, “the law has not kept up with the pace of technological change and, as a result, performers and songwriters do not enjoy the same protections as they do in radio,” with most featured artists receiving tiny fractions of a US cent per stream” and session musicians receiving nothing at all.

The letter suggests that “only two words need to change in the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act…so that today’s performers receive a share of revenues, just like they enjoy in radio” – a change which “won’t cost the taxpayer a penny but will put more money in the pockets of UK taxpayers and raise revenues for public services like the NHS” and which will contribute to the “levelling-up agenda as we kickstart the post-Covid economic recovery.”

The 234 signatories do not want streaming to be recognised as radio. Instead, they want streaming to share some of radio’s remuneration model so that they are paid more fairly.

Legislation, despite recognising that streaming is replacing sales, is yet to recognise that the technology is on its way to replacing radio too.

The letter is backed by the Musicians’ Union, the Ivors Academy and the Music Producer’s Guild, collectively representing tens of thousands of UK performers, composers and songwriters and producers, brought together in partnership with the #BrokenRecord campaign led by artist and songwriter, Tom Gray.

Listeners would be horrified to learn how little artists and musicians earn from streaming when they pay their subscriptions.

The Commons DCMS Committee has been examining this issue with its Economics of music streaming inquiry, expected to report by the end of this month, but it is understood that this issue falls between the remits of both the DCMS and BEIS departments, which is why the artists have chosen to address it to the Prime Minister.

The letter also recommends “an immediate government referral to the Competition and Markets Authority” because of “evidence of multinational corporations wielding extraordinary power” over the marketplace and the creation of an industry regulator.

They write that these changes “will make the UK the best place in the world to be a musician or a songwriter, allow recording studios and the UK session scene to thrive once again, strengthen our world leading cultural sector, allow the market for recorded music to flourish for listeners and creators, and unearth a new generation of talent.”

Tom Gray, Founder of the #BrokenRecord Campaign, said:

"It is amazing and timely that the World Intellectual Property Organisation, who create the global treaties that underpin UK law, are now reporting that we are right. This is the moment for the UK to lead the way. British music makers are suffering needlessly. There is an extraordinary amount of money in music streaming. It is a success story for a few foreign multinationals, but rarely for the British citizens who make the music"

“This letter is fundamentally about preserving a professional class of music-maker into the future. Most musicians don’t expect to be rich and famous or even be particularly comfortable, they just want to earn a crust.”

Horace Trubridge, General Secretary of the Musicians’ Union, said:

“I’m delighted to see so many artists, performers and songwriters backing our call. Streaming is replacing radio so musicians should get the same protection when their work is played on streaming platforms as they get when it’s played on radio.

“As the whole world has moved online during the pandemic, musicians who write, record and perform for a living have been let down by a law that simply hasn’t kept up with the pace of technological change. Listeners would be horrified to learn how little artists and musicians earn from streaming when they pay their subscriptions.

“By tightening up the law so that streaming pays more like radio, we will put streaming income back where it belongs - in the hands of artists. It’s their music so the income generated from it should go into their hands.”

Graham Davies, Chief Executive of the Ivors Academy, said:

"Paying music creators properly, which is what so many incredible artists have spoken up to ask for on behalf of present and future musicians and songwriters, will drive the streaming industry and sustain the UK creative economy. Music should and could be a major national asset, but its potential value is currently stripped by overseas interests.

“We need to keep the value of British music in our nation by supporting, nurturing and investing in our creators, whilst ensuring the handful of foreign multinational corporations which dominate the music industry and have little interest in preserving British cultural heritage, contribute more value back into the UK. These easy steps will achieve exactly that."

Crispin Hunt, Chair of the Ivors Academy, said:

"Major Music labels delude themselves that they are the sole providers of the music economy. They are not; the musicians, producers and composers who signed this letter are the true providers of the music economy; without them, no employment in music could exist.

"Britain's Music Creators should be the primary beneficiaries of the value their creativity drives. The record companies are now glorified marketing firms, without manufacturing and distribution costs. Their extraordinary profits ought to be shared more equitably with creators. In streaming the song is king, yet songwriters are streaming’s serfs.


"British Music Creators want nothing more than a reasonable partnership with the companies that market and distribute our work. But a reasonable partnership should be based on shared rewards and responsibilities, not unilateral takings.

“With this letter, Britain’s greatest Music Creators say Music must reform, Government can and should help us fix it.”

The law has not kept up with the pace of technological change and, as a result, performers and songwriters do not enjoy the same protections as they do in radio.

Copyright Act

Back in 1988 the Copyright Act was born – a landmark piece of legislation giving creators of musical (and other) artistic works the right to control the ways in which their material could be used. But this law came about a full 18 years before Spotify was born - and nobody could foresee the sea-change in the way we now listen to music.

Streaming is not radio, it is a new form of communication, but today we are listening less and less to radio, and streaming more and more. The pace of this change has quickened during lockdown, with streaming soaring by 22% as the whole world moved online during the pandemic.

The vast bulk of the money generated by music streaming ends up in the pockets of record labels, streaming platforms and digital giants – huge multinational corporations - rather than in the hands of musicians.

And these multinational giants have done very well out of the pandemic. YouTube’s yearly revenue went up in 2020 by £2.8bn – by around a fifth, and Spotify’s gross revenue went up by around 15 per cent.

The three major rights groups, Universal, Sony and Warner earned £6-7 billion from streaming in 2020. Musicians, meanwhile, earn an average salary of £23,000 during normal times.

Rather than saying streaming is broadcasting, artists, performers and songwriters are asking that the rights they enjoy in radio and their valuation be applied to streaming which presently is remunerated through the ‘making available to the public’ right.

The suggested change to the 1988 Copyright Act: We can make streaming pay in exactly the same way as radio by changing two words in clause 182D of the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act:

Present wording:

Where a commercially published sound recording of the whole or any substantial part of a qualifying performance is played in public, or is communicated to the public otherwise than by its being made available to the public in the way mentioned in section 182CA (1), the performer is entitled to equitable remuneration from the owner of the copyright in the sound recording.

New wording:

Where a commercially published sound recording of the whole or any substantial part of a qualifying performance is played in public, or is communicated to the public, or by its being made available to the public in the way mentioned in section 182CA (1), the performer is entitled to equitable remuneration from the owner of the copyright in the sound recording.

They believe that songwriters do not receive a fair share of the pie because of uncompetitive behaviour. They would ultimately like an adjudicator or ombudsman to protect the lawful and fair treatment of all music makers.

Most musicians don’t expect to be rich and famous or even be particularly comfortable, they just want to earn a crust. Tom Gray, Founder of the #BrokenRecord Campaign

Full text of the letter:

Dear Prime Minister,

We write to you on behalf of today’s generation of artists, musicians and songwriters here in the UK.

For too long, streaming platforms, record labels and other internet giants have exploited performers and creators without rewarding them fairly. We must put the value of music back where it belongs – in the hands of music makers.

Streaming is quickly replacing radio as our main means of music communication. However, the law has not kept up with the pace of technological change and, as a result, performers and songwriters do not enjoy the same protections as they do in radio.

Today’s musicians receive very little income from their performances – most featured artists receive tiny fractions of a US cent per stream and session musicians receive nothing at all.

To remedy this, only two words need to change in the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. This will modernise the law so that today’s performers receive a share of revenues, just like they enjoy in radio. It won’t cost the taxpayer a penny but will put more money in the pockets of UK taxpayers and raise revenues for public services like the NHS.

There is evidence of multinational corporations wielding extraordinary power and songwriters struggling as a result. An immediate government referral to the Competition and Markets Authority is the first step to address this. Songwriters earn 50% of radio revenues, but only 15% in streaming. We believe that in a truly free market the song will achieve greater value.

Ultimately though, we need a regulator to ensure the lawful and fair treatment of music makers. The UK has a proud history of protecting its producers, entrepreneurs and inventors. We believe British creators deserve the same protections as other industries whose work is devalued when exploited as a loss-leader.

By addressing these problems, we will make the UK the best place in the world to be a musician or a songwriter, allow recording studios and the UK session scene to thrive once again, strengthen our world leading cultural sector, allow the market for recorded music to flourish for listeners and creators, and unearth a new generation of talent.

We urge you to take these forward and ensure the music industry is part of your levelling-up agenda as we kickstart the post-Covid economic recovery.

For the full text of the Musicians’ Union petition, click here.