At WIPO Event, Music Creators Tell Of Desperate Economic Times 08/05/2015 by William New, Intellectual Property Watch Leave a Comment Share this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service and depends on subscriptions. To access all of our content, please subscribe here. You may also offer additional support with your subscription, or donate. NEW YORK – Musicians, songwriters, and producers gathered at a World Intellectual Property Organization event here recently and gave a stark depiction of a broken system that is not working for them financially, putting the very future of music-making at risk. The event, Get Up. Stand up; For Music!, was held on 27 April at the United Nations and hosted by the WIPO office in New York. The moderator was Lucinda Longcroft, head of the WIPO New York office, who in her opening remarks highlighted issues related to the broader UN work on post-2015 development goals, and the importance of music to society and economies. We lean on musicians in times of change, and right now, we’re leaning too hard – singer-songwriter Tift Merritt Jamaican Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Shorna-Kay Richards referred to the title of the event, which was derived from a song by Jamaican musician Bob Marley. Marley’s song calls for people to “get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!” which she said has become an international symbol of the fight for human rights. Music, she said, is about one’s experiences and is an inseparable part of our lives. The global digital revolution has led to more music being made than ever before, and yet revenues are down, Richards said. She underscored the cultural significance of music and its importance for innovation. IP rights, particularly copyrights, underscore the value of music, she said, and allow musicians to licence their works, while trademarks underpin an artist’s brand. “The contribution of music to economic development cannot be underestimated,” said Richards. Sales were $15 billion in the United States last year, for instance. Jamaica is at the forefront of world music and the impact of its music and that of its Caribbean neighbours belie their small size. She gave impressive statistics demonstrating the contribution of music to the economy and jobs. There has been increased awareness of copyright, but piracy and counterfeiting are still “rampant,” she said. And the question was posited – should music be free or paid? Best Shot? Panellist Eddie Schwartz is a Canadian composer-songwriter known for many hit songs, for instance penning “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” made famous by Pat Benatar in the 1980s. Schwartz is co-chair of Music Creators North America, and president of the Songwriters Association of Canada. His presence on the panel was facilitated by CISAC, the International Confederation of Authors and Composers Societies, he said. Panellists Michele Woods, Shorna Kay-Richards, Eddie Schwartz and Melvin Gibbs at WIPO IP Day at UN headquarters Schwartz painted a tough picture for people who make music in the digital era, where for the first time in history we have a global platform for delivery, the internet. But, he asked, “What value is access if music itself is worthless, generates no value, and translates into no economic benefit for local communities?” Schwartz compared earnings by music creators in the 20th and 21st centuries. Last century, a million sales equalled about US$ 45,000 to music creators, or about 8.9 cents per unit up to the 1990s. Even then, music creators often did not get rich, and he did not go into the field to make money, he said, adding, “I didn’t expect to make a fortune, but if successful, you could make a decent, reasonable living.” Now, however, a million streams equals US$ 35. The rate is about .000035 cents per stream, paid by streaming services. It is so low, many intermediaries just round to zero. This is “basically a 100 percent drop,” he said, showing an image for emphasis of a platinum record on the left (back then) and a pizza on the right (the value now). In Nashville, Tennessee, known as Music City USA, the number of songwriters is down 80 percent, he said. And yet consumers are paying every day. An internet service provider offering subscriptions to stream music can earn hundreds of millions of dollars per year “for something that is available free,” he said. One million paying consumers, who are then one million chances to data mine, reap hidden search fees, device sales and so forth. Music is one of the best ways to get a profile on someone’s tastes, he noted. For instance, a listener to country music might have a certain taste in fashion. “The idea of ‘free’ is really something we have to question,” said Schwartz. “Musicians are paying for it every day.” And by comparison, CEOs and shareholders are paying themselves huge amounts of money, like millions of dollars in bonuses. Will those who create value get virtually nothing, and those who extract value get virtually everything? This is unsustainable – composer-songwriter Eddie Schwartz The question is, he said, “Will those who create value get virtually nothing, and those who extract value get virtually everything? This is unsustainable.” He offered an idea of a fair, transparent and equitable way to share music: the music chain. Governments can “use copyright and enlightened regulation to rebalance the marketplace,” he said. “We need to revisit the notion of copyright,” updating it for digital era use, the way the notion of “horsepower” was updated for automobiles when they first came into being and replaced the horse. Fair Trade Music All actors in the value chain can work together to establish fair, transparent, sustainable practices, he said. The concept of “fair trade music” may be employed as it is in other items, such as food and clothing. Businesses, streaming services would be certified by a series of best practices, if a reasonable share of revenues flows back to creators. There are 40,000 music creators around the world, he said. “I think at the end of the day this is a human rights issue,” said Schwartz. The remaining years of the 21st century could be a “golden age of creativity,” he said. IP Day and the Global Perspective The panel event was held in conjunction with annual World IP Day. Michele Woods, director of the WIPO Copyright Law Division, talked about World IP Day and said it actually happens over the course of about two weeks. There were approximately 177 events taking place around the world, including 19 in the United States, in 18 different states, she said. World IP Day marks the anniversary of the day the WIPO Convention came into force on 26 April 1970. Woods noted that music permeates our lives and is associated with landmark events. She said treaties form the international top layer for all of these activities, and harmonise national levels. At WIPO, there has been thinking about the legal global digital content market, she said. There has always been transfer of content across borders but now it is happening at lightning speed, ahead of the ability to pay, she noted. Woods said that under the WIPO Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances, musicians’ performances are also protected, not just film actors. She urged ratification of the Beijing Treaty. So far six member states have ratified or acceded to the treaty, and WIPO is working to get the 30 signatures required for it to enter into force, she said. She also said that collective management societies need to work to ensure creators get paid. Melvin Gibbs, a New York composer and producer, said that since the 1990s, the music industry has shrunk by some 50 percent. But that should not lead people to posit that the value of music has fallen as well, he said. But, he asked, “Why is so little of that value being captured by music creators?” The digital era was supposed to mean everything would be transparent, he noted. But in fact, once a musician’s creation is out of their hands, they have no idea what happens, or what revenues it generates. Some companies send a check but give no information on how it was calculated, he said. Gibbs said education will be important for changing this system so that musicians can sustain themselves. Before letting go of their copyrights, musicians have control over the process. Intellectual property gives everybody the ability to create a world-class level, he said. For instance, he said he grew up without resources and became successful through music, but under the current regime that would not happen. He listed a variety of different musical forms that emerged from different places in the world. Music is only supported by individual creators passing on to individual creators, he said, and now they can work with people across the world. If the money goes out of the community, “we won’t have the next reggae,” he warned. Lily Valtchanova of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) said the agency has been working to get culture included in the post-2105 UN development goals, and it is included in nine targets. By comparison, the pre-existing Millennium Development Goals had no mention of culture, she said. Valtchanova mentioned several UNESCO treaties, related to cultural heritage preservation, and to cultural diversity. Also, UNESCO is providing non-financial technical support, she added, and described several projects. ‘Once They Are Gone, They Are Gone’ Tift Merritt, a singer-songwriter, gave a bleak report, saying that over the years she has seen authorship change, and that it is “demoralising” and “depressing”. She said the situation is “almost impossible,” and likened musicians to natural resources: “Once they are gone, they are gone.” “We have to take care of music the way it takes care of us,” said Merritt, who said she would strongly prefer to be working than traveling to the event to speak about musicians’ plight. She said she “used to get by fine” on the mechanical royalty for her work, and had time to practice. Now, however, she “cannot get by for two months” on her mechanical royalty. Merritt will receive publicity for a tour, but she is struggling to make life work. Online music service Spotify, in particular, was singled out by speakers as problematic for paying such extraordinarily small royalties, in the thousands of a cent per stream, despite basing its business on their work. “The industry is being built out of building blocks, and the building blocks are not paid for,” Merritt said. Companies are striking deals with Spotify without ensuring sufficient compensation for the musicians. To express her view the best way she knows, Merritt sang a snippet from one of her upcoming works. Then she said the economy to which she has dedicated her life has decided she will work without pay. She stressed, however, that social and technological change is not the enemy of intellectual property or of musicians. But, as she put it, “We lean on musicians in times of change, and right now, we’re leaning too hard.” And she added, “Please, please help us to keep doing our work.” New Form of Slavery? Audience member Janice Filch, a copyright and licensing librarian at Rutgers University (US), said the copyright system “is not working,” and called it a “new form of slavery.” Gibbs assented to this characterisation. It is imperative to take action right away, said Pilch, adding that for instance, the “safe harbour” provisions of the so-called WIPO internet treaties could be reviewed. Woods said there is a lot of discussion at the international level about the situation. Member states have a lot of flexibility under the internet treaties. It is an extremely complex system, Woods said, and WIPO is planning to bring together all parties in early 2016 to discuss it. 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