Online music: music performers denounce industry practices

Per M Herrey - SMF lawyer

Rumbling discontent is on the rise with professional musicians whose recordings are exploited online. Swedish union SMF is preparing legal action. [Photograph: Per M Herrey — SMF lawyer]

Is the Spotify streaming service really the business model for the future? While the number of the Swedish company’s subscribers is growing at a sustained pace, along with the amount of its income, musicians are more than ever excluded from this market.

Even if, for part of the public, “artist” is synonymous with glitter and press people, the reality is quite different for the immense majority of professional musicians who are struggling to live from their trade. The question is now clearly on the table: are the Spotify, Pandora or Deezer business models deliberately devised to deviate performers from the profits they generate?

For FIM and its member unions, the answer is clear. While online operating costs have nothing in common with those of the “material” market, contractual practices are still modelled on the bygone era of vinyl, cassettes and CDs. In financial terms, the result is that artists’ income is 10 times less than that of producers where streaming-​broadcast recordings are concerned – without mentioning the portion for majors who are service shareholders.

Technically speaking, streaming is for the 21st century what radio was for the 20th. It is clear that the interactivity of service constitutes a determining factor, but, for the record industry, interactivity has become an excuse for organised despoilment of artists. It is the level of interactivity which makes it possible to qualify the legal nature of the act and deviate “equitable remuneration”, a mechanism introduced in 1961 at international level which allows a 5050 share between artists and producers of income received from over-​the-​air broadcasting.

In addition to this, there is the question of the total lack of transparency engendered by non-​disclosure clauses in contracts between the industry and services such as Youtube or Grooveshark, which keeps artists totally on the sidelines of agreements and makes impossible any form of control over any payments granted.

While Swedish union SMF is stepping up the pressure by announcing legal action against producers, the European Commission has just taken an initiative which aims to “provide an assessment of different national approaches and mechanisms to ensure remuneration for authors and performers for the exploitation of their works and performances and to determine whether, and to what extent, the differences that exist among the Member States affect levels of remuneration and the functioning of the internal market.”

Beginning at the end of the 90s, the online music revolution is not over and must now provide a global balance from which performers are not excluded. FIM is working actively along these lines.

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