Copyright (Rights and Remuneration of Musicians, Etc.) Bill debated in UK Parliament

As previously discussed, the Copyright (Rights and Remuneration of Musicians, Etc.) Bill proposed new laws for equitable remuneration for streaming, contract adjustment, right of revocation and transparency. The Bill was debated in the UK Parliament on Friday 3rd December. Here's what happened [aside from a whole load of completely unnecessary and tedious oversharing from several MPs about their life stories, or having once looked at a musical instrument *eye roll*].

The Bill certainly helped achieve this goal
for the #Brokenrecord campaign

Kevin Brennan MP, sponsoring the Bill, set out how the DCMS Select Committee Inquiry identified clear issues in the music industry, in particular the unfair distribution of wealth from streaming income for artists and performers, and how the rights provided by his Bill sought to remedy these issues. [With its provisions on equitable remuneration for streaming, contract adjustment, right of revocation and transparency, explained here.] 

This bill is not about anarchy in the UK... it's about equity in the UK.

Chris Bryant MP explained that the need for contract adjustment, provided by the Bill, is required because there is an imbalance in bargaining power between labels and emerging artists, which can lead to artists signing unfair deals. Julie Elliot MP, who was also on the DCMS Select Committee, which she said had highlighted "the absolute unfairness of streaming economics;" and that the Bill would benefit musicians who are starting out, coming through and at middle level, and are currently struggling to pay their bills. 

There seems to be broad agreement in the house today that remuneration is not fair as it currently stands.

Seema Malhotra MP reiterated that the Bill was about addressing imbalances in power since, as she said, most streaming income ends up in the pockets of major corporations and digital giants. She argued that the current system is unfair and therefore copyright needs to be updated to address this, stating that "it is the duty of this house to challenge and keep copyright up to date... to modernise the law so it reflects the reality of the music industry." She concluded that the "reforms to copyright law will create a fairer system for musicians and for new talent to be paid fairly. Legislation is needed urgently."

While there was largely a consensus on the existence of the issues highlighted by the Inquiry, in the debate, disagreement arose as to whether the provisions of the Bill were able to provide solutions to those issues. John Whittingdale MP, whose son works for a major record label, largely echoed the rhetoric of the BPI and AIM, who had released statements of concern around the impact of the Bill on the business models of the record labels that they represent. The words 'unintended consequences' were uttered several times in relation to the labels having to share streaming revenue, or indeed information and rights, with the performers and artists. This seems rather peculiar, since the goal of the Bill was, in fact, exactly that; to rebalance the inequity in power and more fairly distribute the wealth from streaming. 

Whittingdale claimed that the Bill failed to recognise the value of the record labels, and threatened their ability to invest in new talent. In particular, he used the example of Red Cherry Records, which reportedly said that they would struggle to sign new artists. [Not a very compelling example, as this is a label known for mainly operating in the reissue market.] He boldly congratulated Lucian Grainge, CEO of Universal Music for earning £150 Million, which we know from the UK IPO study, is more than all UK songwriters earned from streaming and sales in 2019. When Julie Elliott MP raised the point that Grainge pays taxes in America and so the British economy does not benefit in that sense, Whittingdale reassured us that whilst that may be true, Grainge's heart remained in the UK... [What?!] 

Colum Eastwood MP also challenged this point, by reminding Whittingdale that Grainge's business relies on the talent of artists who have suffered financial hardship this year. Whittingdale retorted that the CEO of Universal deserved the reward for discovering and investing in bands, such as Take That. Brennan was quick to mention that one of the band members of Take That, Gary Barlow, had indeed signed the letter to the Prime Minister supporting the Bill. To which, Whittingdale seemed to suggest that the matters of Bill were perhaps too complex and confusing for the likes of Gary Barlow.  

Andy Carter MP also quoted the statements of BPI and AIM, that the Bill, if passed, would create uncertainty for labels. This is because they would not know if they had the rights to the sound recordings for 70 years, or if the artist would revoke those rights after 20 years. The explanatory notes to the Bill, explained that the rationale for this provision, which requires notice within 2 years, is to allow creators to renegotiate unfavourable contracts entered into, due to inequality in bargaining power, and to allow creators to be released from agreements, where their work is not being exploited. In effect, the revocation provision aims to encourage labels to continue to promote their artists, because otherwise the artist can take their rights and seek alternative exploitation. That might seem like something you would expect a label to already do, but the impact of the power imbalance was demonstrated by Brennan, referring to an ongoing case between an artist, Four Tet, and their record label, Domino. After Four Tet raised a dispute over their royalty payments, Domino removed three Four Tet albums from the streaming services. [Which, in this Kat's view, is almost certainly a restraint of trade that a revocation provision in copyright law could remedy.]

The Government's view and the outcome of the debate

George Freeman MP (Minister for Science, Research and Innovation) delivered the Government's views on the Bill. Continuing the theme of personal anecdotes, which littered the debate, Freeman talked about his lodger, who is apparently content using streaming services to make a digital footprint, providing, he argued, the benefit of exposure. [This seems like a very tenuous argument in the context of a debate centred on inequality of artist revenues from streaming...!]

Nevertheless, Freeman went on to explain that the Government understood that the Bill was well-intended and it recognised the problems raised by the Inquiry. However, its view was that it wanted to first encourage industry-led solutions, through the industry groups that have already been set up, informed by further research, that has already been commissioned following the Inquiry. That said, Freeman made it clear that if industry led solutions could not be found, then the Government would not hesitate in legislating to solve these problems. In doing so, he stated that the Government would set out its proposals within a matter of months, but by no later than September 2022.

We will do the work, within a matter of weeks, if the work suggests that we do need legislative changes, that we would. We have not ruled out legislative interventions.

On some level, all sides will be content with the outcome of the debate. AIM and BPI will be satisfied that the Bill did not pass. On the other hand, those in favour of the Bill will no doubt be pleased that the campaign around the Bill raised awareness of the issues. By engaging MPs in the debate, it has paved the way for reform, particularly given the Government's promised timetable for action to resolve the issues that the Bill sought to resolve. 

Copyright (Rights and Remuneration of Musicians, Etc.) Bill debated in UK Parliament Copyright (Rights and Remuneration of Musicians, Etc.) Bill debated in UK Parliament Reviewed by Hayleigh Bosher on Sunday, December 05, 2021 Rating: 5

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