Paul McCartney Joins Call From Musicians To Change Music Streaming Payments

Over 150 musicians signed an open letter to change the 1988 Copyright Act which prevents many musicians from receiving proper payments for their work on streaming services.

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A handful of British musicians, including Paul McCartney, Kate Bush, and Chris Martin, have signed an open letter to Boris Johnson demanding that the government changes the current economic model put in place for music streaming services and how they pay artists. 

“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,” said the letter, which was signed by 156 artists.

The proposal mainly calls on the government to change the wording of the 1988 Copyright Act so that royalty payments can be more in line with how those in radio are paid; especially considering the act was created before the internet and streaming services were even a conceptual reality. The signatories argue that “the change in law would mean streaming companies would have to make equitable remuneration to artists via a rights collection company, a method already enshrined in British law for music played on the radio.” 

“Multinational corporations are wielding an extraordinary amount of power and songwriters are struggling as a result. We need a regulator to ensure the lawful and fair treatment of music makers.”

Currently, UK radio stations in general purchase a license from a rights collection company to play certain music catalogs. The money made from that purchase is then distributed as royalties to songwriters and performers based on how frequent their songs are played. Streaming services, on the other hand, collect revenue from users which are then pooled by the private companies themselves. 

Companies like Spotify or Apple Music then distribute royalty payments to the rights holders of the music itself; which more times than now is the record label, not the artist, who will then take their own share of the royalties depending on their deal with the artist. Royalty rates are based on streams, and the rates themselves are set by each company. 

According to reports, other signatories include Sting, Gary Barlow, Noel Gallagher, Annie Lennox, Damon Albarn, and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Horace Trubridge, the head of the Musicians’ Union, which is backing the letter with a petition campaign, recently spoke to the press about the importance of this movement for future musicians. 

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“British law 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.”

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Crispin Hunt is the chair of Ivors Academy, a songwriter organization, who recently spoke out against record companies, referring to them as “marketing firms, because without manufacturing and distribution costs, their extraordinary profits ought to be shared more equitably with creators.” These conversations are nothing new also, as the government has recently been inquiring about the economics of streaming and who it really benefits. Guy Garvey, frontman for the band Elbow, recently spoke about how “the system as it is is threatening the future of music.” 

Charlie Hellman, Spotify’s vice president and head of marketplace, told the media it was “constantly testing ways to price its service to maximize revenue, because if we can find the revenue-maximizing price, that’s best for Spotify and it’s best for all artists. When we grow our revenues, artists’ revenues grow. When we make our programming better, more artists can fit in and have a chance to grow an audience.”

Spotify and its rivals, however, are known for adamantly opposing any increase to royalty payments for artists. “After a 2017 US ruling that ordered the percentage of revenue paid to songwriters rise from 10.5% to 15.1%, Spotify, Google, Amazon and Pandora opposed the ruling in a statement that the US National Music Publishers Association called shameful,” according to the Guardian. 

Apple Music and Spotify have refused to respond to the open letter yet.