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EMMA calls on collecting societies to fully consult the wider music community over livestreaming

By | Published on Wednesday 17 February 2021

European Music Managers Alliance (EMMA)

The European Music Managers Alliance has called on collecting societies across Europe to consult with artist representatives before launching any new licensing schemes covering livestreamed shows. This follows criticism of UK society PRS over its new licences for livestreaming.

In a new statement it says: “Due to the ongoing COVID pandemic, most artists and their managers have lost around 80% of their income in the past year. The live music industry has been devastated. In this environment, paid or ticketed livestreaming has emerged to be a lifeline and one of the few ways artists and crew can earn from music performance. We are therefore calling today on all collecting societies across Europe to recognise this situation, and to fully consult with artist representatives when setting new licensing rates for livestreams – especially during the pandemic”.

Livestreaming isn’t new, of course, but during the COVID lockdown ticketed livestreamed concerts have started to gain some momentum, meaning the industry is looking into how to commercialise such activity in a more proactive way. And that includes how songwriters and music publishers are paid for the performances of their songs that appear in any one livestreamed show.

Many of the collecting societies that represent song rights have been investigating how best to provide licences for such shows. One key question is whether, when licensing livestreams, the focus should be on the live bit or the stream bit. That’s important because usually the royalties paid to songwriters and publishers on streams are somewhat higher than the royalties paid on a live show.

There are then also questions around whether societies can issue truly global licences for livestreams, which was is needed to make such ventures viable. And from a songwriter perspective, there’s the debate over how livestream income is split between the so called performing rights and mechanical rights of the song, as that impacts how they get paid.

So, lots to discuss, before you even get to what a fair price is for granting a licence to artists, promoters or venues that are staging ticketed livestreams.

Much of the criticism of PRS from artists, promoters, venues and managers over its proposed new livestream licence – other than people being unhappy with the price – centres on the claim that the society didn’t discuss any of those issues or debate any of those questions with the wider music community before publishing its new rate card.

As a result, it’s argued, the commercial realities of staging high profile livestreamed shows haven’t been properly considered, and it’s not clear to what extent the licence is really global, nor how monies will flow through the system to songwriters. It’s also argued that PRS only agreed to take into account COVID-related challenges – and to offer discounts on shows staged during the pandemic – once criticism started to build.

PRS has now started a series of roundtable discussions to consider the various issues. EMMA – which brings together trade groups representing artist managers in various European markets – is urging all collecting societies to properly consult artists and their representatives before launching any new livestream licences.

Noting predictions that the increased interest in livestreaming shows will outlive the pandemic, EMMA continues: “As representatives of music managers across Europe we support the growth of this format and want to see all those involved remunerated from this activity. Similar to ‘in-person’ live events, we believe a percentage of gross ticket sales from online shows should be paid to [societies] so that songwriters can be fairly compensated”.

“However”, it goes on, “the actions of certain [societies] and major music publishers are threatening the viability of ticketed livestreams across Europe. Rather than licensing these events along similar dynamics to an ‘in person’ show, they have determined – without consultation – that they are more akin to a digital stream, and therefore liable to a much higher audio digital rate”.

“The estimated size of these payments is so high that it would make the majority of livestreams unviable”, it adds. “As most artists taking part in livestreams are paid on the basis of profit shares – rather than minimum guarantees – these increased songwriter payments would come directly from their share of ticket sales after production costs are covered”.

In the short term, EMMA wants societies to treat livestream shows like real world shows, while properly consulting with the wider music community regarding a longer term solution.

“During the pandemic when live music at full capacity is not legally permitted, we call on all of Europe’s collecting societies to apply their standard live tariff to ticketed livestreamed events”, it concludes. “We urge them to start a full consultation with the whole industry – including artists and their representatives – to find an equitable solution that will protect the livelihoods of songwriters and artists while ensuring this valuable new format can develop and thrive”.

EMMA Chair Per Kviman adds: “Everyone wants live shows to return as soon as it’s safe for audiences to come back. In the meantime, livestreaming has provided one of the few alternatives for artists to perform before an audience, build a fanbase, and generate revenues through ticket sales”.

“EMMA is urging [societies] across Europe to be sensitive to these facts, and that the imposition of any new licensing tariffs should involve full and open consultation – including with artists and their representatives”, he goes on. “Get the balance right, and we could nurture a vibrant new format that complements live events and provides artists and songwriters with a valuable source of revenue. But set licensing rates too high, and the costs of producing livestream shows simply won’t stack up”.