Big tech ‘cynically pedalling propaganda’ ahead of crucial copyright vote, says UK Music

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UK Music’s Michael Dugher writes about the ‘desperate and dishonest’ propaganda being pedalled ahead of the crucial European vote on copyright.

Some absolute rubbish has been written about the EU’s proposed changes on copyright rules.

Amongst the ludicrous suggestions from the likes of Google is the claim that the shake-up will mean the end of memes, remixes and other user-generated content. Some have said that it will mean ‘censorship’ and even wildly predicted it will result in the ‘death of the internet’.

This is desperate and dishonest. Whilst some of the myths are repeated by people who remain blissfully untroubled by the technical but crucially important details of the proposed EU changes, in the worst cases this propaganda is being cynically pedalled by big tech like Google’s YouTube with a huge vested and multi-million-pound interest in this battle.

The aims of the EU Copyright Directive are simple – to protect rightsholders in the digital age, in particular by rebalancing the recent transfer of value from those who create music to tech firms.

To put it bluntly, we in the music industry want to stop firms like Google-owned YouTube ripping off creators and fairly reward them for the use of their work.

Next Thursday, European MPs in Strasbourg will have the chance to vote for sensible proposals that could address the transfer of value issue.

The UK music industry is united on this crucial issue and I made clear just how important it is to our £4.4bn industry when I led a delegation to Brussels this week to talk to European MPs about why we must get this change though.

Some online platforms have achieved parasitic growth at the expense of creators and those who invest in them because of the failing of the existing legal framework which is not fit for purpose or relevant to the digital landscape.

The current framework allows some platforms which are hosting and making available music uploaded by their users to avoid obtaining a licence, or in some cases pay significantly less than the market rate for the music they use.

This translates into a considerable mismatch between the amount received from ad-supported or subscription audio streaming platforms (such as Spotify and Apple Music) and the amount received from online video services (such as YouTube).

Around 85 percent of YouTube users visit the site for music each month. The service is the number one source for music consumption and accounts for 84 percent of all music streaming on online video services.

According to figures from the International Federation of the Phonographic industry (IFPI), audio streaming platforms attracted 272 million users in total in 2017, while 1.3 billion music-using users turned to online video services.

Despite having one-fifth of users, audio streaming platforms pay substantially more for the use of music. These services paid around $5.6bn (£4.3bn, or £15 per user) which contrasts significantly with the $856m (£650m, or 50p per user) returned to the industry by the likes of YouTube.

That services such as YouTube pay only a fraction of the royalties of other music services despite being the most popular source of music consumption by far is of great concern.

The existence of a value gap significantly reduces the amount of money composers and performers receive for their creativity.

On almost every economic indicator, this is an industry that outperforms the national average. Except on one thing: average earnings are below that of the rest of the economy – and that’s just one of the reasons why we need fair rewards for musicians, creators and investors.

According to the latest calculations, artists and other content creators only receive $0.0007 per video play on YouTube.

The value gap also creates a fundamental distortion in the development of the online content market with services competing on unequal terms. The lack of a level playing field in the current digital music market deprives creators and rightsholders the opportunity to properly participate in the value created by their content.

Article 13 in the proposed Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market represents a proportionate step towards developing a fair digital market.

It recognises that online video services engage in copyright protected activity and require a licence. It forces online content sharing platform providers to engage in licensing discussions with rightsholders and places ultimate discretion as to whether to grant a licence with them.

So this very definitely is not the end of memes. The scope of Article 13 is very clearly defined, expressly excluding non-commercial services and only applying to a specific kind of digital platform to ensure that they pay the composer and performer for using their creativity rather than them being able to refuse or reduce payment.

The list of myths linked to these proposed EU copyright changes are brilliantly exposed by John Mottram, PRS for Music’s head of policy and public affairs, here.

Far from the rubbish about ‘breaking the internet’, these proposed copyright changes will make it a fairer place where creators and investors behind the music loved by millions across the globe are finally fairly rewarded for their work.

Michael Dugher is chief executive of UK Music