UK opens inquiry into whether music streaming is fair for artists

It could lead to reforms.

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Spotify on an iPhone
Photo by Mildly Useful on Unsplash

Even major artists have long claimed that music streaming services pay them a pittance, and the UK government now wants to look into those complaints. The country’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee is launching an inquiry (via BBC News) this November to determine the “economic impact” streaming has on artists, labels, and the overall health of the music industry. It could lead to policy shifts that make for “more equitable” systems with better pay.

In addition to pay, the committee will look into the effects of algorithms and curated playlists on listening habits. Politicians will also consider ways they can protect music from “knock-on effects” like piracy.

Committee chairman Julian Knight MP wasn’t shy about suggesting that music streaming services might need reform, expressing concern that the current models could “limit the range of artists and music” in the long term. He also noted that algorithmic playlists and suggestions might be helpful for boosting the services’ income, but were a “blunt tool” that risked hurting newer artists.

It’s not certain that the inquiry will lead to any new regulations. However, the very act of starting an inquiry is significant. It could put pressure on services to boost royalties, tighten copy protection or change algorithms to better-expose upcoming artists.

There’s already at least some pressure. Artist have complained that even tens of thousands of listens can generate just a few dollars of income, and that they may take as little as 13 percent of that income where labels and publishers take the rest. That’s rough in normal times, but it can be particularly dangerous during a pandemic when in-person concerts simply aren’t an option. A shake-up might be necessary to make streaming sustainable in the long term, although that could lead to rate hikes for subscribers.

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