Apr 25, 2024 3 min read

Indie publishers criticise digital platforms that “do not pay fair value for the music” in Global Music View

IMPF, the global trade group for independent publishers, has launched its annual market review, reporting that indies accounted for 26.7% of publishing sector revenues in 2022. It also sets out some key priorities and grievances for the publishers, including around AI, digital platforms and buy-outs

Indie publishers criticise digital platforms that “do not pay fair value for the music” in Global Music View

Independent music publishers accounted for 26.7% of publishing sector revenues in 2022. That’s slightly down on 2021, even though total revenues were up 16.8% to €2.43 billion. It also means the indies together are bigger than any one of the majors. 

This is according to the latest report from the Independent Music Publishers International Forum - or IMPF - which also sets out an agenda of five key priorities for independent publishers: AI, fair-pay, buyouts, tax breaks, and reviewing the operations of US mechanical rights collecting society MLC

“It’s a pleasure to show the continued growth of our sector and the ongoing dominance of the independent music publishing community in terms of market share”, says IMPF President Annette Barrett of Reservoir Music. “It is, however, also important to acknowledge independent music publishers’ as the early champions of emerging creators, and as their first professional affiliates”. 

“Wherever we operate”, she adds, “we are usually the strongest supporters of local talent covering a wide range of musical genres, including those at the fringes that don’t necessarily make the headlines or the big numbers. Our latest ‘Global Market View’ shines a light on all these facets of our thriving community”. 

The IMPF 'Global Market View' collates stats from various sources - including CISAC, Music & Copyright and the economist Will Page - in order to assess the performance of indie publishers. 

For the purposes of the study, an independent is defined as any company with a global market share below 5%, which excludes the Sony, Universal and Warner publishing companies, as well as BMG and Kobalt. The €2.43 billion figure is the money that flows through the publishers, so doesn’t include writer’s share income that is paid directly to writers by collecting societies. 

Although the report is focused on 2022, it also notes that “estimates for 2023 suggest that the growth rate of the publishing sector is going to be at minimum 8-12% and may be more depending on the state of the sync market after the Hollywood strikes”. 

In terms of priority issues, it's no surprise that the IMPF is talking about AI, it being at the top of the lobbying agenda for much of the music rights industry. The big dispute relates to the copyright obligations of businesses training generative AI models with existing music, with the industry adamant that permission is required, but many AI companies disagreeing. 

IMPF, like the rest of the sector, is urging governments and lawmakers to clarify the obligations of AI companies, in particular welcoming the recent EU AI Act. “The organisation believes that AI, if applied responsibly and with respect for songwriters and rightsholders, can bring many appreciable opportunities to the creative community”, it adds. 

Interestingly, when it comes to digital platforms more generally, the report doesn't discuss how streaming income is shared between the recording rights and the song rights. Songwriters, and some publishers, have become increasingly vocal in recent years in calling for a higher portion of streaming money to be allocated to the song, which would most likely result in the recording getting less. 

Instead, the IMPF focuses on those digital platforms which “do not pay fair value for the music”, which likely means user-generated content and social media platforms that allow users to insert music into their videos. Some of those platforms don't have any licensing deals with the music industry at all, X being the big one. And it is no secret that many in the industry believe that the platforms that do have licences should still be paying more. 

After noting changes to European law in 2019 that arguably removed one of the legal loopholes that some platforms exploited to get away with paying less, the IMPF report says, “getting the platforms to 'pay fair' for the music content they are generating big profits from remains at the core of what music publishers and their songwriters demand”. 

As for the other priorities, there is criticism of production music platforms and media companies that seek to buy out all the rights from the songwriters they work with; a call for the kinds of tax breaks that are offered to record labels in some countries to be extended to publishers; and the indies say they will be following the first five year review of US mechanical rights society the MLC, which was created following the 2018 Music Modernization Act.

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