Online only; updated 06/12/21

Copyright justice for musicians!

A BILL IN the UK Parliament seeks to get a fairer deal for musicians. Though it's a "Private Members' Bill and these rarely make it into law, these can be an important campaigning precursor to action. And, indeed, this one produced a promise from government.

The Bill was introduced by Kevin Brennan, Labour MP for Cardiff West. It is supported by 10 other MPs, including Labour, Conservatives and Scottish National Party members.

The Musicians' Union called for you to write to your MP asking them to support the Brennan Bill. It had its Second Reading in the House of Commons on Friday 3 December. The Freelance asked you to do so in solidarity with musicians.

The main provisions of the Bill are:

  • A right to "equitable remuneration" for performers - including performers who have "assigned" the right to make their work available (for example online);
  • A right to seek adjustment of contracts "in the event that the remuneration originally agreed is disproportionately low compared to all subsequent revenues derived from the exploitation of the rights"; and
  • Obligations on those exploiting musicians' work to report transparently on what they make from it.

These are some of the changes that the Creators' Rights Alliance, of which the National Union of Journalists is a member, is seeking all authors and performers through its Fair Terms for Creators initiative. We are approaching the Bill's proposer about amendments.

5 December 2021

The Bill was debated at 9:47pm on 3 December, continued after an interruption at here. Kevin Brennan, moving, noted that "the chairman and chief executive officer of one of the three major corporations that dominate the market of recorded music [are] set to receive more income this year - £153 million, according to industry press reports - than every songwriter and composer in the UK combined, including the rich ones, will receive from the streaming of their music in this country.

A key part of the problem for musicians, he explained, is the replacement of radio by online streaming services such as Spotify. When music is played on UK radio stations, performers are entitled to equitable remuneration, paid through collecting societies. Record executives insist that streaming is equivalent to record sales - so payment depends on the terms of contracts, many written before streaming existed and (almost) all "negotiated" between parties with vastly unequal power.

He mentioned the case of rap artist Four Tet, who challenged his streaming payments. His label simply dis-authorised streaming of his work. Esther McVey (Conservative, Taunton) mentioned the record industry's practice of charging for "breakages" on streaming as if there were shellac discs involved.

George Freeman (Conservative, Mid Norfolk) is the junior minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy - and thus Minister for copyright and intellectual property - mentioned his lodger, a "digital music entrepreneur", having "used the streaming sector to create a footprint for himself", promoting the sale of music on cassettes. "Exposure" strikes again. He quoted the British Phonographic Industry, which represents the record labels, saying the Bill was "premature".

Nevertheless, George Freeman responded for the government:

My commitment, on behalf of the Government, is that we will take this moment... to do what many in the House have urged us to do, which is to look quickly - not to delay, but to look quickly - at all of the issues and the impacts, and make sure that we frame a Government response that does not just deal with the immediate issue today, but means that our successors in this House in 10 or 20 years’ time say that this Parliament got it right and tackled it in the right way...

We aim to come back with a substantive response in the summer - certainly no later than September... if we can avoid legislation and solve the problem in some other way, that will be our first instinct... the Government do not rule out legislation; we are just not prepared to rush to adopt a private Member’s Bill without working with all stakeholders...

George Freeman went on to list things that this government has done for "the creative sector", and against copyright "piracy". He mentioned a list of research projects that the Intellectual Property Office is commissioning.

Further debate appears to be scheduled for Friday 10 December.

  • 11 February 2022 We belatedly note that on 10 December the Bill was formally scheduled to be debated after other Private Members' Bills, but ran out of time - as is the fate of all PMBs to which the government does not allocate Parliamentary time.