Speech on renumeration for songwriters and composers


Songwriters and Composers: Remuneration (7th December 2022)

Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I know that he is a bit of a musician himself. I am not going to go into lengthy detail about that issue this morning. However, suffice to say, the recent Competition and Markets Authority report into competition issues in the music industry, and, in particular, into the cross ownership of both publishing and recording rights of the major record companies, did not decide to proceed to a full market investigation. In a way, it threw the ball back to the Government, by saying that it

“is not to say that we think the market gets a ‘clean bill of health’ or cannot be improved further… We think it is a matter for the Government and policymakers to determine whether the current split is appropriate and fair, and to explore whether wider policy interventions are required, for example those relating to the copyright framework and how music streaming licensing rates are set.”

I note that in France, for example, a form of equitable remuneration—to use the technical term—which is a guaranteed payment when music is streamed, was successfully introduced recently. The research into equitable remuneration from the Intellectual Property Office research programme is over three months late already. Will the Minister update us on what is happening in those groups that were set up in the Intellectual Property Office? What is happening in relation to the research?

I also put this to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, yesterday at the DCMS Committee, but can the Minister take a closer interest and put some ministerial input into driving that work further forward and bringing it to a conclusion? There has been some turmoil and changes in Government since we discussed this a year ago, but I know he had hoped it would have been done by last September, and for a number of reasons—not entirely his fault, and because the work is complex—the work is still incomplete. Some ministerial input is what I am calling for.

When we discussed this a year ago, the preference was that the industry should come to an agreement. That is what it has done in France to improve remuneration for songwriters and performers. If the industry did not do that, the Government were prepared to consider action. I remind the Minister of that, and ask him to respond today as to where he and the Government stand now.

The CMA concluded that it does not have the power to determine whether the current split is appropriate and fair. In the United States, things are done differently—it has a copyright court that determines those things. The judge there described some of the assumptions that the Competition and Markets Authority made about the problems that might be caused if the split was changed, and how that might disadvantage songwriters or other artists, as “heroic” assumptions. I was surprised to see that in the CMA report. But if the CMA does not have the power to do it, and it is instead a policy issue for the Government to resolve, what avenues are the Government pursuing and exploring to resolve the issue?

The second point I will mention is the issue of buy-outs. Parliament has determined, over many decades, that songwriters and composers should be entitled to a royalty when their work is performed or recorded. It did so because it recognises that the creative act involves the creation of intellectual property. That is extremely important, and many people do not understand that it is a key source of income for songwriters and composers.

This is nothing new; throughout history, people have wanted to get their hands on composers’ and songwriters’ money and get a piece of the pie, whether it is Colonel Tom Parker with Elvis Presley or whoever else. In recent years a particularly pernicious practice has emerged among some media companies of demanding up front, when they commission a piece of music—perhaps for a TV series or film—that the composer or songwriter signs a contract that waives their right to royalties, which they have a right to for their lifetime and beyond. It was Parliament’s intention that that should be the case.

Some might say, “Well, that’s their choice. They don’t have to sign the contract. A contract is something entered into equally by two parties,” but the power dynamic is weighted towards the powerful media companies. Composers know that they will end up on a blacklist of some sort if they do not agree to sign away some or all of their rights. They are often prepared to do some of that, but they are increasingly being asked to completely give up their rights to royalties when they are commissioned. Some composers got in touch with me before this debate and described the practices of one particular media company called Moonbug. When it commissions works from composers, it demands that they give up 100% of their royalties.

The Government might say, “This is a private matter. It is a contractual matter,” but there is room for Government leadership. They should support a code of conduct for the industry to make sure media companies are not routinely able to get away with this pernicious practice, which is becoming more and more common.

The third thing I want to talk about is artificial intelligence and the potential threat to our songwriters and composers from a decision that the Government announced earlier in the year—I understand they are now reviewing it. I have spoken to the Minister about this privately, and I have expressed my concerns. I know other Members have done so too, as have stakeholders in the music industry.

Christina Rees Labour/Co-operative, Neath
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this very important debate and on his superb leadership of the APPG on music. Does he agree that the proposed text and data-mining exception to promote AI would remove the need for a licence to reproduce copies of original works, so would remove any opportunity for performers and creators to be remunerated for their talent and work? Furthermore, because there is not an opt-out for performers and creators, it will have a severe detrimental effect on their creative personality, because in the future it will be done by a computer.

Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West
The hon. Lady has made part of my speech for me, so I thank her for that. She emphasises the point that I wish to make. To be clear, if the Government’s original position on this matter were to be maintained, any tech company could freely data mine creative output, including musical works, to produce, using artificial intelligence, not an exact copy of that music but a kind of facsimile, in order to commercially exploit it. The composer would not have any ability to give permission for that and rights holders would not be able to license it. It seemed strange for a Conservative Government to trample over property rights in that way. I hope it was a decision taken in some of the turmoil that has been going on recently in government, and that they will actively reconsider it.

I spoke to the Secretary of State at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee yesterday, and she indicated that the matter is under review. I pressed her on the Government’s likely direction of travel and whether it would go back towards allowing reasonable exemptions, perhaps for academic purposes, as long as it really is for that reason and is negotiated properly with rights holders and the industry, but not allowing free access for people to exploit other people’s work and, in a sense, be able to pickpocket their intellectual property, then reproduce it in a slightly different format using artificial intelligence. The implications of that for songwriters and composers and their ability to make a living is quite considerable in future.

I hope the Minister can tell us a bit more about the review and why the Government came to such a conclusion originally. I understand why he might want to promote tech. We all want to see innovation using technology, but it cannot be done at the expense of people’s creative rights and intellectual property. When he responds, perhaps he will tell us about the timeline for the review and about who he is listening to on this subject, and perhaps he can lean into what the direction of travel is.