digital music transparency debated in Parliament

Remember when we had to #SaveNelly?

Someone calculated the number of times you would have had to stream “Hot in Herre” on Spotify to pay off his US federal tax liability. You might have noticed something in the fine print of those numbers: we don’t actually know specifically how much artists make from digital music streaming.

This opacity is mildly concerning for consumers, but it’s a huge issue for artists who are often kept in the dark as much as we are when it comes to how exactly digital music services and labels work out the payment structure.

The issue has become so severe that it has attracted the attention of Her Majesty’s Government. The British Parliament recently debated a wide range of intellectual property issues, but focused particularly on the music industry.

The biggest issue at hand is the lack of transparency that many creators see in the digital licensing of their music on streaming platforms and how the resulting share of their revenue is calculated and distributed.

Music Managers Forum director Andy Edwards had been coordinating an effort to create a voluntary industry code of conduct for everyone in the UK, from record labels to musicians to managers, to follow as a means of fostering transparency when creating and distributing music.

This transparency wouldn’t necessarily just be a favor to artists as well. It could stand to benefit the streaming platforms themselves. Many UK artists currently choose to entirely withhold their catalogues from streaming services because of the lack of transparency about payment structures. Not only would greater digital music transparency benefit artists by giving them clarity about their incomes and give them access to the broad audience of the platform, but the platforms would be strengthened by having more comprehensive libraries and a potentially broader consumer base.

The efforts in Parliament to create more digital music transparency are also guided by similar actions being taken elsewhere, in particular the European Copyright Directive. Although the directive is a generally mild step, it is some movement in trying to provide payment structure clarity that UK politicians are trying to follow, especially if there is followthrough with Brexit, and the existing directive is no longer applicable in the UK.

Advocates of action towards digital music transparency in Parliament hope to turn the UK into a destination for IP rights and protections, encouraging artists to come to the UK and contribute to the UK economy. However, efforts could be hamstrung by the rapidly changing nature of digital music, and the fact that much of the debate in Parliament is still built on and centers around existing IP and copyright laws, many of which are ill-suited to the challenges of the digital age.

Nevertheless, some kind of action is good. Hopefully it will eventually get where it needs to be. Until then, UK consumers will just have to guess how many streams it takes to #SaveNelly.