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Dissecting the Digital Dollar – Extract 6 – Safe Harbours

31 March 2017

The Music Managers Forum has long campaigned for a fairer, more transparent music industry that operates in the interest of artists and fans.  We published Dissecting the Digital Dollar parts 1 and 2 to further that aim regarding streaming. Both are available here. These bite-sized extracts summarise each issue and propose practical courses of action for managers and artists. This final extract will look at safe harbours.


Safe harbour legislation was introduced to protect the newly arrived internet platforms from infringement lawsuits. These protections that enable opt-out streaming services like YouTube and Soundcloud to exist are seen as outdated. Reforming safe harbours might force licensed opt-out services to agree to terms more in line with those accepted by opt-in services like Spotify and Apple Music. However framing new legislation is complex.

Most participants in the roundtables shared these concerns about safe harbours and the way opt-out streaming services are licensed though some managers were pessimistic about achieving tangible reform. The European Commission has published its draft Copyright Directive in which Article 13 sets out to tackle this issue. Though even those lobbying on safe harbours, while welcoming this development, have generally called it a “first step” and it is as yet unclear exactly what new obligations the Article as written would place on a YouTube type service.

Some managers also pointed out the benefits YouTube in particular delivers as a marketing channel (a perpetual music business conundrum) and micro-licensing platform.

And some managers also stressed that transparency issues made it hard for them to truly assess the merits, or not, of ad-funded YouTube compared to subscription services like Spotify and Apple Music.

 Actions for Managers/Artists:

  1. Artists and managers continue to support the wider music industry’s campaign on safe harbours – including further lobbying efforts around Article 13 of the proposed European Copyright Directive – and also  continue to stress that a deal on transparency throughout the value chain is essential in reaching an agreement for the whole of the music industry. The recent failure of “Code of Conduct” negotiations over transparency demonstrate the difficulties in this area.
  2. Managers may also want to take the lead and consider possible ‘Plan B’ initiatives, including wider discussions on how content is monetised and value is shared, and possible PR and technology solutions that could drive consumers to those services that offer the best deal for the music community, and/or pressure opt-out streaming services to agree to a better deal. To do this managers need transparency and information.
  3. Managers should continue to discuss the issues with rights holders to whom their artists are contracted and support the MMF in pushing for safe harbor reformation.

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