The Sway of Artist’s Rights
November 30, 2015
The atmosphere within the music industry is arguably as convoluted as ever. The industry is infamous for “ripping off” an artist by using their work as content, while paying little to no royalties out. This story is as old as the dawn of the 18th century when player piano companies were not paying royalties to artists when they programmed an artist’s piano piece into the piano. At the time, Congress declared that only music that could be read by the human eye (read: sheet music) would be protected by copyright. That decision was later appealed in favor of requiring a copyright for each mechanically reproduced song.
One could say that the wheel turns, but nothing ever changes. However, such is not the case here. Today’s playing field is vastly different in that the technologies used are infinitely more advanced and an artist’s work is infinitely more widely spread. As soon as any song is uploaded to a single website, it has the capacity to permeate thousands of websites, webpages, streaming services, etc. by the next day. Thus, royalties today are not nearly as simple as a player piano company copying down a song into their machine. It is a matter of defining who is responsible for an artist’s royalties, what portion of royalties is distributed to the artist themselves versus the others involved, and how ethical current practices are in the face of plummeting album sales for most artists in the industry.
Some people have speculated whether or not the few major artists’ decisions to pull or keep their albums from streaming services is a trend. However, it is important to note that there is a big difference between the power held by the “big guys” and the “little guys” in the industry. The highly influential artists like Adele, Taylor Swift, and Beyoncé have enough clout to hold back albums and actually make so much of a difference that they can directly influence stock prices. They stand to lose enough that pulling an album is a viable option. For instance, the year Taylor Swift pulled her album 1989 from Spotify, she was on track to make $6 million from the streaming service. Contrast that to the fact that Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On a Prayer” streamed 6.5 million times within the course of a year, and only brought in $110 in royalties for the artist and his two co-writers. However, the industry has very few of these artists. The rest of the crowd is made up of less influential bands everywhere in notoriety from Maroon 5 to St. Lucia. These bands don’t have the power to pull their albums from streaming service, so the “trend” created by the big artists are little more than individual choices. The following video is from ABC News and helps one to fully grasp the numbers involved with these artist’s choices.
Although the country star has “shaken off” spotify, the real trend here is still barreling toward streaming services. . . Unsurprisingly, artist’s rights are still being mauled in the process. The hope of streaming services “[making] music cheap — or free — for consumers while assuring that the artists who created the songs would be fairly compensated,” as quoted from Rolling Stones, is just not coming into fruition.
My forecast at this point in time is that, in the near future, artists will feel enough pressure from streaming service’s drain on their profits. They will migrate to a new breed of content-sharing: direct-to-peer platforms. In this way, they will share their content directly to fans without the third party that is SoundCloud and iTunes. Most often, changes in the industry has come when artist’s rights have been infringed upon so substantially that millions of dollars are being lost because copyrights aren’t being applied to their work in some capacity. Largely, that has been due to new technologies.