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Irish artists are battling to force tech giants to pay royalties for creative work published on the internet says Eleanor McEvoy
Eleanor McEvoy of IMRO Pic: Cian Redmond

11 Sep 2018 / Facebook Print

Singing for no supper

Twenty-first century artists embrace technology but the giant tech companies which fail to pay for creative content are doing damage to us all.

That’s the position of singer-songwriter Eleanor McEvoy, who wears another hat as chair of the 12,000-member Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO). 

As the face of the Irish music industry, Eleanor is leading the campaign to urge tech companies to properly reimburse creative artists for the content used on digital platforms.

She is campaigning hard against the “transfer of value” from creator to platform, a fight which she believes affects the whole creative and cultural industry.

Rich content

A smartphone isn’t “smart” without its content, Eleanor points out, it’s just a piece of hardware. And we browse the internet largely for the rich content we find there – whether that is in music, words or pictures.

But in this fast-evolving digital age, musicians are finding it increasingly hard to earn a living as they push up against a mentality that content should be ‘free’.

“I make my music to share it. I want my music online but I want to be paid for it!” 

“The digital world is great, but it shouldn’t mean that every law of copyright is thrown in the bin,” says Eleanor. “I think we have forgotten the value of music in the digital age.”

“Because the tech companies avail of what’s called the ‘safe harbour’ loophole, they can get out of paying creators for their works and this is a terrible thing,” Eleanor explains.

Copyright

The ‘safe harbour’ rule was originally intended to protect internet companies from being sued by rights owners when the internet companies’ customers infringed copyright. A rights owner could sue the individual customer for copyright infringement, but not the internet company whose services they use. 

Artists worldwide now claim that this ‘safe harbour’ is a loophole that is now being exploited, and it was never intended for the mass distribution of original, creative work free of charge. 

And she points out that this is unfair to the industry players who do pay artists, such as streaming service Spotify, which operates a subscription financial model with the musician getting an admittedly small cut per stream.

Unfair

“It’s very unfair to the good guys who are trying to do it right. Spotify isn’t operating on a level playing field because of the YouTubes and Facebooks of the world.”

She is concerned that the music industry doesn’t have the same political influence or ‘sway’ as the big the players. And this is why Ireland needs a national music strategy, IMRO believes.

“A national music strategy would be cost-neutral. We could get a huge advantage in the music industry by taking away things that are blocking our way. We need more education and training. We are lacking expertise in the area of music management.”

“Access to credit is a huge thing for musicians. Every time I make an album, as an indie artist, my cash flow is strapped,” Eleanor explains.

The old model of an ‘advance’ on a creative production is dead. And while money trickles in eventually, costly upfront outlays could be avoided if musicians had access to credit.  

In response to this fast-changing online environment, IMRO has teamed up with the Law Society education department to create an associate chair on the topic of intellectual property. It will be launched this autumn. 

The hope is that this legal grounding will entice a new generation of lawyers into the music industry.

As Eleanor says “lawyers have it all” – and can make an immense contribution to creative industries. But at the moment, the money isn’t there to be made in music.

Eleanor wants to encourage the next generation of Paul McGuinness- and Louis Walsh-type music moguls to emerge. She believes lawyers have the perfect skillset for the industry.

And, as Eleanor points out, in the music industry, everything starts with the song. 

“All the ancillary industries are based on the song. You don’t have a lighting company, a staging company, a sound company, photographers, music accountants, music lawyers, without somebody who sat in their attic and wrote the song.” 

“If you don’t look after creators, you suffer as a society. That’s why we are angry.”

One of IMRO’s directors is media and entertainment lawyer James Hickey, who serves on the Law Society’s intellectual property law committee.

IMRO has commissioned a Deloitte report which shows that the music industry contributes upwards of €700 million annually to the Irish economy, and employs over 13,000 people.

Irish pysche

As well as being an essential part of the Irish psyche and national identity, music is also a vital economic driver, both directly and indirectly.

And that’s the backdrop to IMRO’s push for a national music strategy, to support this essential work of feeding the soul.

But musicians are angry that the digital platforms are getting rich on the back of their unpaid artistic endeavour.

The IMRO position is that the tech companies should pay royalties in the same way that radio stations do. Their music content is what brings traffic to these platforms.

“People want music and art and they are going to platforms such as YouTube and Facebook to get it,” says Eleanor.

“But the money, instead of going to the creators, is now going to the tech firms. And that’s the issue and that’s why it’s called the transfer of value from the creator to the tech firm.”

“If you don’t pay the creators, society will suffer, especially in terms of mental health.”

“People with dementia, who wouldn’t recognise their own children, can sing a song and remember every lyric including the middle. It’s incredibly beneficial. Music is a great outlet to express emotion.”

And Eleanor firmly believes that the elevation intrinsic to music leads to less self-harm and less destructive behaviour in teenagers, because it helps regulate and manage emotions.

Eleanor’s song Sophie is used throughout the world in treatment centres for Anorexia Nervosa.

“It’s a slightly cold look at anorexia. I was very aware of how anorexia affects the family. I get messages from every sector of society about that song. But music helps. Music takes people out of comas. It can go past the intellect and straight to the emotions.”

And the song illustrates the digital revenue gap. Despite huge Spotify streaming numbers for Sophie it still hasn’t earned anything like the revenue for A Woman’s Heart, brought out in 1992.

The EU Copyright Directive, and specifically Article 13, aims to harmonise copyright law across Europe. It closes the ‘safe harbour’ loophole whereby the tech firms escape their duty to pay copyright fees. Naturally, a powerful PR and lobbying machine is opposed to it.

“Google spent €31 million fighting this,” Eleanor explains. “We’re up against the most powerful people on the planet.” 

“But if you add up all the tech jobs in Ireland, you still don’t come near the amount of people employed by the music industry in all its aspects.”

“The tech companies will leave Ireland if the tax regime changes. Our guys aren’t going anywhere.”

 

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland