There’s talk about music streaming in Geneva!
Last March, I had the honor of being invited by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to be part of a panel during which I was able to address the role of collecting societies in relation to music streaming in a context where performers receive nothing – or otherwise, paltry sums – from the streaming of their music.
This panel took place within the framework of an information session that the WIPO decided to dedicate specifically to the MARKET OF STREAMING MUSIC. However, the fact that this international organization decides to devote an information session (intended for its 193 member states) to this subject is not insignificant.
Indeed, the streaming of music has been the subject of many discussions at WIPO and it appears that artists from all over the world are greatly dissatisfied with the income derived from the streaming of their music. It is therefore not only here that artists complain about the situation.
The first to have alerted WIPO of this dramatic situation was The Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC), which had – as early as 2015 – formulated a proposal that copyright in the digital environment should be subjected to further studies.
Since that alarm call, the documentation submitted to WIPO’s Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) includes many studies on music in the digital environment, one of the most recent being the study by Castle and Feijóo.
This study highlights how the performers receive nothing, or paltry sums, from the exploitation of their performances on streaming platforms even though they are creating value for the latter, some of which have recently been listed on the stock exchange.
Despite this injustice, very few countries have put mechanisms in place to remedy this situation, but those who have done so are the envy!
The most cited example is that of Spain which has a scheme in place whereby online music platforms pay a small percentage of their total revenues to the local collecting society AIE which, in turn, distributes these sums only to performers!
This Spanish equitable remuneration is added to the royalties that may be provided for in record deals that performers sign with sound recording producers and is not intended to replace them. It affects neither existing contracts nor producers.
The model is so desirable that in Belgium several thousand artists have signed an online petition made available by Playright (the Belgian collecting society representing performers) entitled #18000EnEspagne (which translates by #18000InSpain). By this petition, the signatories let believe that in the absence of better Belgian legislation ensuring that fairer compensation for the distribution of their music online would be paid to them, they would have no choice but to exile to Spain. The good news is that Belgium has been attentive to artists’ requests and is now another territory where fair remuneration has recently been introduced in connection with streaming.
This is enough to make the artists of Great Britain jealous, whose discontent has caused a lot of ink to flow and has materialized through the Broken Record campaign and a vast consultation process where many people and organizations have testified before British parliament. Despite all this, no legislative changes rebalancing the remuneration received by performers for the streaming of their music have been introduced in Great Britain, for the moment at least…
Around the world, several artists are calling on the authorities to "fix" streaming (#fixstreaming) or to make it fairer (#fairinternetforperformers) and the mobilization is spreading to bring this situation to the attention of the various authorities.
At an event titled “Unfair remuneration of performers in the digital environment: Towards a WIPO remedy” which was held by several international organizations representing the interests of performers (Aepo-Artis, FIM, FILAIE and SCAPR) on the sidelines of WIPO’s work, several speakers expressed their views on the issue of streaming revenues and argued in favor of the establishment of a fairer mode of remuneration which should be administered by the collecting societies of performers.
On the last day of the Standing Committee, and as reported by the Chairman of the said Committee in his summary of the 43rd session, GRULAC proposed that copyright in the digital environment become a standing item on the agenda of said committee and that various activities on music in the digital environment be undertaken. While the proposal might seem easily acceptable, some member states asked for more time to consider it and others expressed reservations. However, for such proposal to make its way to WIPO, consensus is necessary.
A meager victory, if any, is that the Standing Committee will meet again in November 2023 and will devote its third day to various subjects, including copyright in the digital environment. Issues that are at the heart of the concerns of performers and the organizations that represent them can therefore, once again, be put on the table.
And meanwhile, what is the situation of performers in our country?
All complain of meager earnings or lack thereof when their music is streamed online. Some have shown their anger by posting screenshots of their “Spotify wrap” after having redacted their stream stats in protest against the fact that they earn almost nothing out of these streams. But the most worrying thing is that others feel helpless in the face of this injustice and that some have even felt the emergence, not without bitterness, of a feeling of resignation in the face of this blatant injustice.
Artisti, for its part, does not intend to give up and will keep asking that performers be able to receive fair remuneration in connection with all forms of streaming of their music, including interactive or on demand streaming.
There are many ways to achieve this, but they all tend towards the establishment of one form or another of fair or equitable remuneration.
In Canada, nothing seems to move. While we have been able to observe certain advances in connection with the progress of Bill C-11 which may result in more online visibility for Canadian content, these will not allow performers to receive a more equitable remuneration in relation to the streaming of their music. Indeed, to achieve this and ensure that sums that better reflect the value brought to streaming platforms by performers are paid directly to them, changes to the Copyright Act are needed. However, the long-promised review of the Copyright Act has yet to take place…
On January 1, 2024, it will be the hundredth anniversary of the enforcement of this Act. It is high time to rejuvenate it by modernizing it so that it is more suitable for online uses of content and that it allows performers to receive their fair share.
If WIPO was able to conclude the 43rd session of the Standing Committee by anticipating that the item of copyright in the digital environment would be back on the agenda in November, Canada should be able to follow suit by putting the issue of performers’ remuneration in relation to on-demand streaming on the agenda, all in the broader exercise of revising its Copyright Act.