The Copyright Royalty Board in the United States has issued an initial determination and accompanying regulations that raise the amount of royalty available to songwriters for streaming, which will impact services such as Pandora, Spotify, Apple and YouTube. Variety has an excellent article on the impact of the decision, which seems substantial—almost boosting royalties by 50%. Paula Parisi of Variety explains:
The ruling effects only the mechanical license, a term that literally references the rolls mechanically cranked through player pianos – arguably the first mass distribution media for recorded music. Albums, CDs and downloads also fall under the mechanical license (the thought being that like piano rolls, these are “physical copies,” although the idea that a digital stream is concrete by virtue of being stored at various points (on a server, in a buffer) is somewhat specious; analog broadcast signals also collect at various points, and digital radio and TV in practical terms is distributed in the manner of a stream.
But broadcasts – digital or analog – are considered a public performance, and garner what is currently a higher “performance license” rate. Songwriter Rodney Jerkins illustrated the discrepancy in September at the Recording Academy’s District Advocacy Day in Los Angeles by sharing an accounting statement for “As Long As You Love Me,” a top 10 hit for Justin Bieber in 2012. By 2013, Jerkins’ stake in the song generated $146,000 in performance royalties, while streaming revenue from the same period garnered $278 for 38 million Pandora plays and $218 for 34 million YouTube streams. “If I owned 100 of the song I would have made $1,100 from YouTube,” Jerkins said, proclaiming, “Those numbers are criminal.”
The article explains how arguments for the lower rate were justified because of the need to allow the industry to grow. Of course, once the industry grows there are public choice issues associated with an industry’s attempt to maintain benefits or lack of regulation to allow the industry to flourish. Even at a 50% increase, the songwriter will still only receive around $560 for 38 million Pandora plays under Jerkins' example. It looks like we’re still trying to give the streaming business more time to mature.