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UK Music Companies Agree to Streaming Guidelines That Would Make ‘Artist-Centric’ More Than a Buzzword

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LONDON — Record labels, publishers and streaming services in the United Kingdom have signed up to a voluntary code of good practice that requires them to provide clear and transparent information to artists and creators about how their streaming royalties are calculated.

“The UK Code of Good Practice on Transparency in Music Streaming” was published  Wednesday (Jan. 31) by the U.K. government’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO).

It obliges key players in the British music industry to supply musicians, songwriters, composers and producers with “timely, accurate and clear royalty accounting information,” as well as detail any deductions that have been applied. 

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Signatories include representatives of major and independent record labels, publishers, creators, collecting societies and streaming services.

Trade bodes BPI — which represents more than 500 labels, including the U.K. arms of Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group — and the Association of Independent Music (AIM), which acts on behalf of U.K. independent record labels and music companies, are among the music groups backing the pledge.

The U.K. government says the agreement forms a “significant point” in improving transparency around licensing deals and music streaming royalties that will build greater trust between record labels, streaming services and creators.  

“This pioneering code, designed by the music industry with Government backing, has trust at its core,” said Viscount Camrose, minister for AI and Intellectual Property, in a statement.

The cross-industry pact, said Camrose, will “help ensure artists get the royalties and protections they deserve when their music is played on streaming platforms.”

Wednesday’s transparency agreement is the latest in an ongoing series of government-led interventions into the U.K. music industry fuelled by artist discontent over low payments from streaming.

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In 2021, a Parliamentary inquiry into the music streaming business called into question the major record labels’ dominance of the industry and branded the global streaming model as unsustainable in its current form, saying it “needs a complete reset.”

Numerous government-led working groups, investigations and initiatives spun out of the eight-month-long Parliamentary probe, including last year’s industry-wide pledge – also made at the behest and overseen by the IPO – to improve the digital metadata for song recordings.

The new transparency agreement further increases the obligations on rights holders and digital services to address long-standing issues in music streaming, but it does not constitute a regulatory change and it is not clear what, if any, repercussions a record label or DSP would face for breaching its terms.

Rather, the voluntary code is intended as a stimulus for music companies to lift standards and deliver more accurate returns to artists by following a number of agreed principles.

They include labels, publishers and managers making it clear to artists the terms of their contracts, licence deals and remuneration terms, including any recoupable costs.

Streaming services are required to provide to all relevant rights holders accurate and timely usage data. The code also states that artists and creators should have a contractual right to audit financial information, including royalty payments, from labels, publishers, distributors, collecting societies and, in the case of self-releasing artists, streaming services that they hold contracts with.

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Other music groups backing the transparency code include the Digital Entertainment and Retail Association (ERA), whose members include streaming services; the Music Publishers Association (MPA); Musicians’ Union (MU); Featured Artists Coalition (The FAC); Music Managers Forum (MMF); Music Producers Guild (MPG) and U.K. collecting societies PRS for Music and Phonographic Performance Limited (PPL).

The code will come into force on July 31 with the IPO set to carry out a first review of its implementation early next year.

In the meantime, several other government initiatives looking into the digital music business will continue to operate in the background, including a new working group –made up of industry stakeholders — looking into artist remuneration from music streaming.

Details on membership of the remuneration working group, which was first announced last May, will be published shortly, said the government. A report into equitable remuneration commissioned by the IPO is due to be published in the coming months

Commenting on the new transparency requirements, BPI chief executive Jo Twist said the “landmark agreement… builds meaningfully on the recent progress around metadata and other significant measures addressing creator concerns around music streaming.”

U.K. trade group The Council Of Music Makers said that while the commitments contained in the code “are modest, it provides a framework that can be used to start tackling the “systemic lack of transparency” in music streaming. The organization said it will be launching a complaints mechanism when the code comes into force for artists and their managers to report non-compliance with its terms.

“The big music and streaming companies need to stop using ‘artist-centric’ as a hollow buzzword and actually put artists and other music-makers at the centre of their businesses,” said a Council Of Music Makers spokesperson.

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