Empowering the Freelance Economy

Creative freelancers screwed by AI and streaming: parliament demands fair “revenue rights”

Nile Rogers is the first creator to be awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy for his legacy in the same year as being awarded a Grammy for his new work with Beyoncé on the smash hit "Cuff It".
0 169

Parliamentary committee calls for fair remuneration of creative freelancers following evidence that creative freelancers like songwriters, musicians, writers and actors are not getting the “revenue rights” they deserve since the onset of artificial intelligence and streaming platforms. Famous creators give evidence and tell it like it is

Many successful musicians, actors, writers and visual artists are struggling to make a living due to gaps in copyright protection, a lack of support for freelancers and unpredictable returns from music streaming, MPs have warned in a new report.

The UK’s creative industries, a powerhouse for the economy and cultural identity, are facing a crisis of fair pay for creators, according to a damning report by the House of Commons’ Culture, Media and Sport Committee. The report, titled “Creator Remuneration,” highlights a decline in royalties and residuals for artists, musicians, writers, and other creative professionals in the face of new digital consumption models.

Committee Chair Julian Knight MP stated, “We are deeply concerned by the persistent decline in creators’ incomes. The creative industries are a fundamental part of the UK’s success story, yet many of the individuals who drive this success are struggling to make a living.”

The report criticises the lack of progress on a key issue: ensuring creators have a say and receive fair compensation when their work is used to train artificial intelligence (AI) systems. “We are particularly disappointed,” the report states, “that the Government’s working group on AI and intellectual property has failed to come to an agreement.”

Creators making a fraction of revenues

The rise of streaming services and online platforms has fundamentally changed how creative content is consumed. While these platforms have facilitated wider access to content, creators often receive a fraction of the revenue generated. John Hollingworth, an actor quoted in the report, emphasizes the imbalance: “Freelance actors can spend months working on a production, only to see the majority of the profits go to the streamer.”

The report underlines this shift, highlighting the prevalence of streaming models that prioritise individual songs over full albums. Algorithmic curation and playlisting reign supreme, and statistical analysis show that the quality of songwriting is just as crucial as performing talent in attracting listeners.

Our lawyer told us to be happy with anything, because a fraction of a million was amazing back then. And he was right. We made $100,000 in 1977, a fortune for someone living on the subway. But the real money came from album sales, not the single itself. The single sold for pennies, while the album brought in eight or nine dollars.

Nile Rogers,  Multiple Grammy Award winning songwriter, composer, producer, arranger, and guitarist.

VV Brown and Nile Rodgers, two established music makers, paint a stark picture of the songwriter’s plight in today’s industry. Brown, who is also an activist and founder of the Say Something charity, reflects on her own career trajectory:

“When I released my record through a major publisher back in 2007,” she says, “it provided a living wage. I could afford rent. But in 2023, with a family and a mortgage, it’s simply impossible to sustain myself solely on music. I juggle six jobs, multiple income streams, just to make ends meet”.

Brown’s experience isn’t unique. “I hear it all the time from up-and-coming artists,” she continues. “They tell me how difficult it is to make a living as a songwriter today”.

Nile Rodgers, a prolific record producer, songwriter, musician, composer, arranger, guitarist and co-founder of CHIC offers a historical perspective on creator compensation. He recalls his first royalty deal, a single-digit percentage on a song:

“I was just starting out, homeless even,” Rodgers remembers. “Our lawyer told us to be happy with anything, because a fraction of a million was amazing back then. And he was right. We made $100,000 in 1977, a fortune for someone living on the subway. But the real money came from album sales, not the single itself. The single sold for pennies, while the album brought in eight or nine dollars.”

He then contrasts this with the reality of streaming payouts for today’s creators:

“So, where are we at now?” Rodgers asks the audience. “Can anyone honestly say that songwriters, the very foundation of this industry, are getting anywhere near the same level of compensation as a novice songwriter like I was back then?”

He recounts how his early success was life-changing, “simply because I wrote something that touched people’s hearts.” But even then, he acknowledges, “we were getting cheated every way you could imagine,” referring to unfair contracts that favoured the record label over the songwriters themselves. He further emphasises the disparity by mentioning a recent news story: “Snoop Dogg streamed a billion times. His payout? A mere $45,000.”

Freelancers have “right to revenue share”

The prevalence of freelancing within the creative sector is another concern. While it offers flexibility, it also means creators lack the benefits and protections of traditional employment. “Freelancing has several theoretical advantages,” the report acknowledges, “such as allowing creators to choose projects they pursue,” but it adds, “the reality can be a struggle for financial security.”

The Committee doesn’t shy away from offering solutions. One key recommendation is a “right to revenue share” for creators, ensuring they receive a percentage of the profits generated by their work on streaming platforms. The report also calls for a “strengthened regulatory framework” to improve transparency and fairness in contracts between creators and online platforms.

Reema Selhi, Head of Policy and International at the Design and Artists Copyright Society, is quoted as saying, “A right to revenue share would be a game-changer for creators. It would ensure they benefit from the success of their work, not just the platforms that distribute it.”

The report acknowledges the government’s “Sector Vision” which outlines ambitious goals for growth and inclusivity within the creative industries. However, the Committee argues that achieving these goals requires concrete action on fair remuneration.

“The government must prioritize fair pay for creators,” stated Committee member Kevin Brennan MP. “Without a thriving creative class, the UK’s cultural and economic future is at risk.”

The government aspires to make the creative sector an even greater engine of growth. This ambition cannot be achieved on the backs of underpaid creators. Fair remuneration is not just a moral imperative, it’s essential for a thriving industry.

Committee report statement

The Committee’s report has been welcomed by creator representative organisations. Andrew Harrower, Chief Executive at Directors UK and a highly experienced leader in the field of rights management is quoted as saying, “This report shines a light on the urgent need for reform. We urge the government to act on the Committee’s recommendations and ensure a fair deal for all creators.”

The future of the UK’s creative industries hangs in the balance. The Committee’s report serves as a wake-up call, urging the government to address the issue of creator remuneration and ensure that those who drive the sector’s success are adequately rewarded.

The report doesn’t shy away from criticicing the government’s own “Sector Vision,” a strategy outlining ambitious goals for the creative industries.

“The government aspires to make the creative sector an even greater engine of growth,” stated the committee in the report. “This ambition cannot be achieved on the backs of underpaid creators. Fair remuneration is not just a moral imperative, it’s essential for a thriving industry.”

So, what solutions does the committee propose?

  • Strengthening copyright enforcement measures to combat online piracy
  • Introducing a statutory right to resale royalties for visual artists
  • Reforming the collective licensing system to ensure creators receive a fairer share of royalties
  • Encouraging platforms to adopt transparent revenue-sharing models with creators
  • Investing in skills training and career development programs for creators

“These are not radical demands,” said Knight. “They are simply measures to ensure that creators, the lifeblood of our creative industries, are rewarded fairly for their talent and hard work.”

The response from industry bodies has been positive. John Hollingworth, actor and BECS Member at the British Equity Collecting Society, welcomed the report, stating, “This is a significant step forward in the fight for fair pay in the creative sector.”

The government has yet to formally respond to the committee’s recommendations at the time of writing. However, with the creative industries contributing an estimated £111.7 billion to the UK economy in 2023, pressure is mounting to address the issue of creator remuneration. As the report concludes, “A thriving creative sector requires a fair deal for all its participants. It’s time creators were properly valued.”

Read the full report here.

In the meantime, catch Nile Rodgers’ latest release and star-studded video and catch one of his shows.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.