IASPM 2014: The condititions of musical creativity and diversity


John Street, Dave Laing & Simone Schroff, University of East Anglia

STIM are looking out for european songwriters’ income (but giving 12% of it to other songwriters). A good thing for culture?

CREATe Panel on ‘Music & Copyright’

ABSTRACT: The recently adopted European Directive on collective management organisations and online crossborder music licensing is the first pan-European legislation to regulate the activities of national authors’ societies, the voluntary bodies that collect royalties from broadcasters, online services and promoters, and distribute the money to songwriters and publishers. It also marks the end of an era when these societies enjoyed national monopolies on such activities by granting blanket licences, and were able to give additional support to music making in even the smallest European countries.

Pressures from the European Commission and major music users have led in the 21st century to the formation of new hybrid licensing bodies owned by mega publishers and the authors’ societies of large nations to offer pan-European licences for limited repertoires, notably Anglophone songs. While the new Directive aims to offer some support for the music creators of smaller nations, there are fears that cultural diversity will be negatively affected by the new licensing regime it envisages. This paper examines the situation through a close look at the position of some larger national societies (UK, Germany and France) and of some smaller ones (Ireland, Croatia, Wales).

John is asking how might we approach the (possibly hopeless) task of understanding cultural systems and creativity. He begins with a quote from a recent Billboard article:

Currently, a song’s worth is determined by a single federal judge, who isn’t required to look at and apply free-market negotiations as benchmarks for what songwriters should be paid. This must be changed, so let’s begin by checking whether the FMC supports a requirement that any rate-setting process under the decrees must consider free-market, bilaterally agreed upon royalty rates as evidence to determine fair, reasonable licensing rates. Doing so would considerably raise songwriters’ compensation.

This and other quotes (including Feargal Sharkey’s view on the special nature of songs in IP terms) lead us to a question ‘what is the point of music policy’ and the contrast between copyright principles and UK Music policy. John, Dave Laing and Simone are working on CREATe Regulating the Collecting Societies, and notes their neglect in the academic literature [JB comment – I infer, due to many academics’ lack of knowledge of how the CSocs work, given the historical background of the field of study i.e. popular music studies comes from Cultural Studies originally].

So how do we evaluate cultural policy? What do we want to measure, whose interests does it serve, and what methods should we use? The answers might benefit fans, the industry or artists disproportionately. We might look at key case studies and look for definitions of creativity and newness from key stakeholders. We could look at prizes and awards. Or we could look at [the relationship between] markets, intermediaries and innovation. These are now broken down with reference to the literature. John has an exhaustive table of this which I won’t summaris ehere but I hope he publishes it soon.

John observes that there are limitations in using only market data to identify levels of innovation, noting various constraints, including the limitations of a single country approach [I infer due to different policy and legal frameworks]. We now see SACEM, GEMA, PRS and STIM (European CMOs) and then ASCAP (USA) is added to the graph. Interestingly, STIM and PRS are noted for increasing their proportion of online income more successfully than others in recent years. John notes that others – SACEM and GEMA particularly – have higher administrative costs as a percentage, implying [I think] that this is a significant correlation with the speed of response to Digital. But he also notes that SACEM and GEMA give away 6-12% of their income to social and cultural studies.

He concludes by flying the flag for the usefulness of comparing cultural policy and CMOs’ activities across borders. There are limits to the comparisons, and the risks associated with this are observed. Does this approach offer a way forward – or is there an alternative methodology that might achieve the same macro goals of promoting creativity and cultural diversity through the actions of CMOs?

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