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Horace Trubridge: A Fair Share Of The Digital Pie


The Musicians’ Union (MU) aims to ensure that musicians receive a fairer share from the digital exploitation of their talent. MU General Secretary Horace Trubridge looks at the issues and how the MU is fighting for its members.

The efforts of the Fair Internet for Performers’ (FIFP) campaign lobbyists and their advocates in Brussels to achieve a change in performers’ rights – so that musicians and actors get a fairer share from the digital exploitation of their talent – continue unabated.

Without going into too much of the technical stuff, FIFP is seeking a change in the rights regime so that the Making Available right – which is currently an exclusive right assigned to the record company either through a recording contract or an MU/BPI consent form – becomes both an Exclusive right and an Equitable Remuneration (ER) right.

The beauty of the ER right is that it cannot be assigned to a record company and so if the FIFP campaign succeeds it will mean that featured artists will receive more money than they do currently for streaming and downloads.

Of equal importance, session musicians would enjoy a brand-new income stream (akin to that that PPL administers in respect of radio play) when their recorded performance is downloaded or streamed.

Lobbying hard

Needless to say, the record companies and the streaming services are not keen to see this change and have been lobbying hard against the FIFP campaign in Brussels.

In the short term, the only real chance that we have of achieving this change in the rights regime is for the European Parliament to agree to inserting this new provision in the Directive on Copyright in a Digital Single Market, which is currently making its way through the Brussels machinery. We keep our fingers firmly crossed although I fear that we live in hope rather than expectation.

In the event that we are unsuccessful with the FIFP campaign we will have to find other ways of improving the performer’s share from digital. To that end the MU has been reaching out to members asking them to provide examples of where the contracts that they signed in a predigital era allow the record companies to pay a way below market value royalty rate on digital.

We have been approached by many members who are in this position. Some have contracts that pay less than a 10% royalty at a time when new artists are able to negotiate a 30% royalty rate on digital.

Pre-digital royalty rates

This is clearly unacceptable and we have been discussing this problem with the BPI. The latest from the BPI is that their members have said that any artist with a record contract signed in a pre-digital era, with correspondingly low royalty rates, can approach their record company and request a renegotiation. Such a request not to be unreasonably withheld.

Hmm, we’ll see.

If you are one of those heritage artists on a very low royalty, contact your record label and request a renegotiation. If the label refuses, let us know and we will get involved.

Of course, even if the BPI member record companies are sincere in their assertion that they will agree to renegotiate, it will only be the featured artists that benefit. Unless and until the FIFP campaign is successful, the session musicians will continue to receive no additional payments when their recorded performances are streamed and/or downloaded. That is a travesty that must be put right one way or another.

This post was originally published in the summer edition of the MU’s award-winning journal The Musician.

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Published: 25/06/2018
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