Discovering media buyouts
Recent events in the commissioning of music for screen, and what they mean for music creators
Composers for screen have been struggling with increasingly unfair commissioning practices. The Ivors Academy launched a survey on the issue last autumn, the results of which shed light on so-called buyouts becoming more and more common. Lately, commissioners have been requiring composers to relinquish all their share of publishing rights, including performing rights. Such a request was put forward in a statement by Discovery Inc. at the end of 2019, where they announced that composers wishing to sign a deal with them would have had to give up all future royalties in exchange of an upfront fee, under penalty of seeing the retroactive removal of all their music present in Discovery programmes, should they not take the deal. Discovery’s was an unacceptable ask, as it failed to recognise the importance of the composers’ contribution, and with it the value of their work. What’s more, one-off fees are becoming progressively lower, which suggests that this is simply an unviable solution even if one should embrace the evolving market practice.
The position recently adopted by Discovery is symptomatic of a wider trend that poses a threat to the sustainability of media composing in the UK and beyond. While UK composers who are members of PRS for Music have been able to exclusively assign their performing rights, this safeguard is now also under threat, as UK composers pitch their work to multinational broadcasters and platforms in a global competitive market.
Faced with the prospect of this cul-de-sac, composers, and The Ivors Academy with them, spoke out against Discovery’s statement. Still no word from Discovery, but the PMA (Production Music Association) has since stated that Discovery has gone back on the decision to acquire performing rights, which is undoubtedly encouraging news for the composing community, and a demonstration of the ability of this community to affect change when it comes together. That said, there is still a lot of work to do to foster a viable commissioning ecosystem for all parties, and The Ivors Academy is committed to achieving this goal. We are planning a follow-up event to the one we held at the end of November, where once again we will invite composers and representatives of the different parties involved to continue this important discussion. Stay tuned for further details.
Artificial Intelligence on the (musical) horizon
A framework for thinking about the impact of AI on the music industry
Artificial Intelligence is set to become a central policy issue for the music industry at large and creators specifically. First of all, it is worth noting that AI in its current form is what is commonly known as weak AI, i.e. largely driven by machine learning and related procedures, and designed to perform a ‘single’ task or solve a specific problem. It is not a self-conscious and self-expanding system similar to a human being that can adapt to different sets of problems. Nonetheless, weak AI gives rise to many nuanced questions, and arguably will affect the music industry in three different macro-areas.
First, there is a question as to how AI will interact with intellectual property law. AI-generated works represent something of a first, hence begging the question of where they slot in within the legislative framework. In order to adapt, where needed, current legislation to account for AI technology in music creation, we must reflect at the very minimum upon what the concepts of originality and authorship represent, on where the value of a work lies, and with it the right to monetary compensation.
Second, AI can pose a threat to cultural diversity when a platform suggests new music based on a consumer’s listening history. Cultural diversity can be impacted (primarily) in two ways: first, auto-recommendation algorithms inevitably carry an element of self-reference and circularity, inhibiting wanders into unknown musical genres and eras; second, there is a question surrounding the platform’s involvement in the creation and promotion of playlists, and the possibility that a certain repertoire be favoured over another, depending also on the configuration of the algorithm.
Third, AI could potentially enhance the efficiency of rights management. This is one for the CMOs: at an operational level, it is possible that AI may be used to streamline certain processes, by making them quicker, more exact and/or more user-friendly.
The debate is open and there are many questions which need answering at a much deeper level than the one merely outlined above. However, we believe this to be the framework within which to start the conversation. As a first step, The Ivors Academy, in alignment with UK Music, will respond to a call for comments by WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation) on artificial intelligence and intellectual property, which can be found here.
User-centric steaming licensing – friend or foe?
Pros and cons of the most debated topic in the industry
Streaming has grown to be the predominant way of accessing music, and is by far the main source of income for most music creators. Yet, the majority of creators struggle to make a living from it. Something needs to change in streaming revenues and/or their distribution so that music creators are compensated adequately for the value of the exploitation of their work.
User-centric licensing is gaining more and more traction in the discourse on streaming. In ‘user-centric’ licensing, the royalties from a streaming subscription only go to the artists whom a subscriber listens to. Setting aside the streaming platform’s share (ca. 30%), someone’s subscription fee is divided between all the artists the subscriber listens to each month, proportionally to each artist’s number of streams (the more artists you listen to, the less each gets paid). No streaming platform uses this system yet, although Deezer have announced that they wish to implement it in France. In the current system, known as ‘pro rata’, the streaming platform collects all subscription fees into a pool which is then split by overall share of all the streams on the platform, and pays artists their share of the pool accordingly. So a move to user-centric licensing would redistribute streaming income, but would leave the respective shares of rightsholders on a track/song unchanged, e.g. the ratio of publishing income to recording income for each work.
From the (scarce) evidence available, it appears that following a switch to the user-centric model, some money would trickle down from the very top earners. Assuming that we can agree that small and niche music creators ought to earn more from streaming, this is welcome news. However, it also seems that this revenue would be redistributed unpredictably, so that some creators would gain and some would lose. For this reason, further research in the form of a thorough impact analysis is needed to find out if user-centric licensing delivers on its promise satisfactorily.
On the other hand, user-centric licensing would seem to ensure at least two wins. First, it has the merit of enhancing the fan-artist relationship, by making the fan feel like she is contributing to the artist’s success more directly. Second, it seems to be better suited to tackling the issues of streaming fraud and subscribers gaming the system. Such phenomena could possibly exist also under user-centric licensing, but would arguably be significantly less impactful or far-reaching, which in itself is an impressive result.
News from across the web this month