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Musicians invited to speak out on copyright

by Jane Litchfield

The topic of musicians’ livelihood was on the table when a number of musicians met with Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield on September 5 at Guelph Arts Council’s space.

Longfield invited the musicians, including Guelph-born fiddler-singer Miranda Mulholland and Guelph singer-songwriter James Gordon, to give him their thoughts so he could take them to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology he sits on, which is currently reviewing the Copyright Act.

Longfield said the goal is to protect musicians’ intellectual property and also to help create a successful living for performing artists. He continues to welcome feedback at  mplongfield.ca.

Mulholland, who does advocacy work for artists’ rights, spoke about the Music Canada report on the “value gap” – the difference between the value of creative content that consumers enjoy and the revenues that are returned to the creators. In other words: music usage is up, but musicians’ revenues are down. She agreed with Longfield that the music marketplace is not functioning and emphasized that musicians are small businesses who need a working marketplace like any other. She said the need for action is urgent.

Mulholland also pointed out that today’s artists need to work to educate consumers on how to support them. (See tips below.) She says she got into the industry in 1998-99, right when it changed. She noticed that musicians before her could own a house, yet she could not, despite being a multiple award winner. She wondered “What am I doing wrong?”

Mulholland, who owns her own record label, says with so many ways to consume music now, the “middlemen have multiplied” and creators must now be data clerks as well. When it comes to funding, they now need to hire a grant writer, which also costs money.

Gordon, who has been in the music business for 40 years, says “we need a huge cultural shift.” He has also lobbied on copyright and says the irony is that artists are drawn to this work because they want to have a voice, but they don’t have a voice on this issue. He says people are surprised to find out how little musicians make from Spotify (about $0.004 per play; YouTube pays much less).

End safe harbours for tech giants

The group agrees that safe harbours for online service providers is a major issue. Longfield notes that the rules and regulations must change to address this issue, because in many cases the companies are following existing rules.

Other comments at the table:

  • After legislative changes in 2012, the marketplace went from bad to worse
  • Musicians are reluctant to complain publicly about giants such as Google Play, Spotify and YouTube
  • YouTube uses musicians to collect data on people
  • The Top 10 albums are 99% of what gets played, eliminating non-mainstream ideas
  • Re TV show and film royalties, composers get paid but performers don’t
  • Radio royalty exemptions need to change now
  • Many creators now handle their own booking, marketing and design as well
  • Arts organizations need artists on their boards: “Nothing about me without me”
  • Should a non-profit incubator for artists, such as Silence Guelph, have to pay licensing fees?
  • Consumers need to find ways to support touring and recording artists
  • Micro-granting would help launch small artists
  • Canada does not place enough value on artists compared to countries like Germany
  • Artists are told they need to adapt, but the policies need to adapt, too
  • Musicians feel their industry is at crisis stage and the need for action is urgent

Your feedback requested

The industry committee expects its copyright review to run into next year, with the hope of completing the hearings by early 2019.

Longfield says it is helpful if he can go back to his committee and say he has feedback from artists. In addition to this roundtable, he is interested in hearing from songwriters, performers, publishers, and broadcaster on topics including the 2012 changes to collective exception to broadcasters; interactions with CRTC and others; reimbursement/royalty models; reproduction and retransmission (online, streaming, hard copies, sound tracks).

**Submit comments for MP Lloyd Longfield at mplongfield.ca

More news and resources

You can find news on recent changes to copyright regulations in the U.S. and E.U. at musiccanada.com,  along with testimony by Graham Henderson, president and CEO of Music Canada before the standing committee on Canadian Heritage. Mulholland also appeared before the committee on September 20 and Music Canada tweeted her testimony @Music_Canada.

Mulholland refers concerned people to the Focus on Creators website. Focus on Creators is “a coalition of Canadian musicians, authors, songwriters, and other members of the creative class, which was created to bring focus to the artists’ perspective in light of some major federal cultural policy activities.” They have prepared a joint letter to Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez, which Canadian creators can sign.

Also, see our recent articles on 5 Resource Organizations for Musicians and How Do Artists Make Money?

Whether you are an artist, consumer, or in government, you can also find tips on how to improve Canada’s music ecosystem at mirandamulholland.ca under Advocacy.  

Mulholland’s tips on how fans can help:

  • Follow artists on social media
  • Sign up for artists’ newsletters
  • If on YouTube, sign up for their channel
  • On Spotify, share songs using the share tool
  • Write reviews and rate
  • Buy online albums on the release date

Meanwhile, as Mulholland suggests, if you love an album or a book, buy it – and buy one to give to a friend.

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