In recent blog entries I have been taking a look at the recording and publishing industries, as well as at mechanical and performing rights. Mechanical rights, which are also known as reproduction rights, incorporate the right to copy a work and the right to issue copies of a work to the public. Performing rights encompass the right to perform to work in public and the right to communicate the work to the public, which includes broadcasting.
In ‘Adding Up the Publishing and Recording Industries 2014’ I stressed the monetary importance of performing right for both songwriters and recording artists. Under PRS for Music rules, songwriters are automatically entitled to 50% of income whenever their song is licensed for performance, whether this be in a live setting or via a broadcast. Similarly, under the ‘equitable remuneration’ rules operated by PPL, recording artists are entitled to 50% of income whenever their recordings are played in public premises or are broadcast on radio or TV. In both cases these royalties are safeguarded: they cannot be recouped from advances.
In ‘Broadcast Y’Self Fitter’ I stressed the difference between classifying digital income as a performance or a mechanical right. If it is regarded as the former, being considered more akin to broadcasting, then artists as well as songwriters can be entitled to as much as 50% of the royalties. If it is regarded as the latter, being instead associated with physical recordings, the recording artist’s royalty rate can drop to something like 15%.
I’m not alone in having this interest. Since uploading my last blog entry, the Music Managers Forum has published Dissecting the Digital Dollar: How Streaming Services are Licensed and the Challenges Artists Now Face. It is an important document, providing a detailed and lucid account of copyright and royalties in the digital age. It also provides further detail for the case that I have been making.
One of the best ways to highlight injustices and inconsistencies in respect of royalties is to compare the activities of the collection societies, publishers and record labels. Publishers’ collection societies view the broadcasting of songs as involving both a mechanical and a performance right. In Britain, both the Performing Right Society (PRS) and the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) have collected income for radio broadcasts. The performing and mechanical rights are present for online licensing as well, whether this is for online radio, downloads or streams. Consequently, the umbrella society, PRS for Music, operates joint licences to capture both of these forms of copyright.
There are differences in the way that income is divided, however. Perhaps understandably, as the format has an affinity with the sales of records in record shops, downloads are regarded as being more mechanical: 75% of royalties collected under the relevant joint licensing scheme go to MCPS and 25% to PRS. Online radio witnesses the reverse: 75% of income goes to PRS and 25% to MCPS. Again, this is understandable, as radio leans more towards the communication right that is enshrined in PRS activity, than it does towards the right to copy, which is patrolled by MCPS. Streaming sits in between: here the money from joint licensing is divided 50/50 between MCPS and PRS. These splits have implications for songwriters. They might receive similar overall shares in each area: for example, both the mechanical and performance income could be divided 75/25 between artists and publishers. As stated above, however, it is only the performance income that is safeguarded against advances: 50% goes directly to the songwriter and cannot be recouped.
If the recording world were to have parity with music publishing, streaming would be regarded as having an equal split between mechanical and performing rights. It would then follow that record companies would collect the 50% of the streaming royalty that relates to the mechanical right themselves. From this income, they would pay their recording artists a similar royalty to their income for physical sales: this would result in a new recording artist receiving an approximate 15% share. The recording artist should do better when it comes to the performing right. 50% of streaming income would be collected by the relevant performing right society, which in the UK is Phonographic Performance Ltd (PPL). This income would itself then be split 50/50, with half going to the record company and half to the recording artist.
But this doesn’t happen. Record companies collect the whole of the streaming income. According to PPL’s own literature, the labels regard both downloading and streaming as involving the mechanical right only. Their 2011 Annual Report states:
PPL’s online revenues remain limited as the majority of online sound recording licensing is carried out directly by rights owners. This reflects the prevailing view of record companies that downloading and on-demand streaming is analogous to the distribution of sound recordings, a traditional record company function.
Running somewhat counter to this argument, the record companies’ also claim that recording artists are not entitled to ‘equitable remuneration’ when it comes to downloading and streaming because this is an area in which performing rights operate differently.
Here they refer to the ‘making available’ right, which was formulated during World Intellectual Property Organisation treaties of 1996 and enshrined in EU law in 2001. Dissecting the Digital Dollar outlines the origins of this right:
the communication control, where defined in copyright law, traditionally related to conventional broadcasting which, while easily extended to webcasting, might not apply to other kinds of digital transmission. To ensure digital communication of this kind would still be restricted by copyright, and perhaps to distinguish it from the existing controls that covered broadcasting, some rights owners lobbied to have a separate control added to copyright law called ‘making available’.
The activity controlled by this law is ‘electronic transmission in such a way that members of the public may access the recording from a place and at a time individually chosen by them’. As such, it clearly encompasses downloading, but does not encompass online radio (as a result online income in this area is collected by PPL). The record companies believe that the ‘making available’ right encompasses streaming as well. However, as the MMF report states, ‘not all artists agree’ with this point of view. As illustrated by the way that the publishing sector deals with streaming income, this activity can be regarded as akin to both broadcasting and to record sales.
Why does any of this matter? ‘Making available’ is the only area of sound recording performance rights that is exempt from ‘equitable remuneration’. Consequently, artists are not guaranteed 50% of this income. Instead, it can be collected by record companies directly and some artists will therefore be on a standard royalty rate as low as 15%. What is more, any royalties collected can be recouped from advances.
Dissecting the Digital Dollar includes a survey conducted with artist managers. Their responses to two questions are particularly telling. 78% of respondents believed that equitable remuneration should exist for all digital services, including both downloads and streams. However, when asked if they know how collection societies proportion streaming income according to the mechanical right and the performing right, only 3% replied in the affirmative.