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The Telegraph

Paul McCartney and Chris Martin lead 150 artists demanding reform to music streaming laws

Sir Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox and Chris Martin have joined forces with 150 other major artists to demand the Prime Minister reform the law on royalties paid from music streaming. The musicians have written to Boris Johnson calling for regulations that protect performer and songwriter revenues when their music is played on the radio to be extended to streaming platforms. They point out that “songwriters earn 50 per cent of radio revenues, but only 15 per cent in streaming”, while session musicians receive nothing at all from streams. Artists can receive as little as £0.002 per stream, which means they could receive just £2,000 for a million streams. Copyright legislation, which came into force almost two decades before the birth of streaming platform Spotify, has failed to keep pace with technological advances and listening habits, the musicians argue. They note that streaming has soared by 22 per cent during the pandemic and that streaming giants have seen revenues rise. The industry brings in revenue of £1billion a year in the UK. In their letter, they suggest that only two words – “otherwise than” – need to be removed from a section in the 1988 Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, “so that today’s performers receive a share of revenues, just like they enjoy in radio”. The 153 signatories, including Paloma Faith, Noel Gallagher, Bob Geldof and Kate Bush, state: “There is evidence of multinational corporations wielding extraordinary power and songwriters struggling as a result.” A new regulator should be created “to ensure the lawful and fair treatment of music makers” and the industry should be investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority, they say. The letter is backed by the Musicians’ Union and the Ivors Academy, collectively representing tens of thousands of UK performers, composers and songwriters. Their intervention comes amid an inquiry by MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee into the economics of music streaming, which is set to report within weeks. The Commons committee, which has taken evidence from acts including music giant Nile Rodgers and Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien, has heard how successful pop artists have struggled to afford their rent and have driven Ubers to stay afloat. The UK heads of a series of record labels, including Warner Music and Sony Music, defended the streaming industry in evidence to the MPs, but admitted that some artists have been left behind. Horace Trubridge, general secretary of the Musicians’ Union, said: “By tightening up the law so that streaming pays 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.” Tom Gray of the band Gomez, who last year founded the #BrokenRecord campaign that calls for structural reform of the music industry, said: “Billions go to a few foreign corporations while, commonly, musicians and songwriters are experiencing financial difficulty. This letter is fundamentally about preserving a professional class of music-maker into the future.” ‘This small change would mean so much to so many’ By Ed Barker In 1917, US Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said: “if music did not pay, it would be given up.” This is exactly what we are risking with today’s music streaming market. Today we all listen less and less to radio, and we stream more and more music. And the pace of this change has quickened during lockdown, with streaming soaring by 22 per cent as the whole world moved online during the pandemic. One reason I’m both a professional musician and a Conservative is my strong philosophical commitment to property rights, understanding how they can foster enterprise, creativity and growth. Streaming has created huge opportunities for musicians and is replacing radio as the main form of communication, but because the law has not kept up with technology, musicians aren’t receiving the income from it. The Copyright Act was passed in 1988, 18 years before Spotify was born and when streaming was a thing of the future. Whilst it protects musicians when their work is played on radio, it doesn’t do the same for streaming, meaning that musicians only get a tiny fraction of the royalties – around a tenth of a US cent per stream on Spotify, for example. Streaming needs to be classified so that it pays like radio too. The listener has exactly the same experience whether the music arrives via the airwaves or optic cables, yet this difference means that artists receive much less for their output. This, of course, matters to musicians – it’s their livelihoods. But it should matter to listeners too. If we allow this market failure to continue, musicians won’t invest their time, talent and energy into creating music any more. 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 the artists. And these multinational giants have done very well out of the pandemic. YouTube’s yearly revenue went up in 2020 by £2.8billion by around a fifth, Spotify’s gross revenue went up by around 15 per cent, and Sony and Universal’s recorded music streaming revenues went up by around a fifth.

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