The latest issue of Music & Copyright is now available for subscribers to download. Here are some of the highlights.
Global performance rights distributions set to fall for second consecutive year
Performance-rights distributions to record companies (producers) and performers fell short of registering another record-breaking year in 2019 as total payments slipped back below the $3 billion mark after reaching the milestone for the first time in 2018. Producers’ and performers’ rights have become an important source of income in recent years given the long demise of recorded-music trade revenue. The return to growth through increased consumer interest in streaming and subscriptions has somewhat overshadowed the importance of performance rights, but the revenue source remains a key earnings generator. However, unlike streaming and subscriptions, performance rights are set to suffer a downturn this year from the impact of COVID-19 and the subsequent measures introduced by governments to prevent the spread of the virus shuttering many license-holding businesses.
US Supreme Court asked to reconsider denial of Stairway to Heaven appeal
The legal team acting for the estate of songwriter Randy Wolfe has asked the US Supreme Court to reconsider its October decision not to become involved in the long-running copyright dispute over the track Stairway to Heaven. Earlier this year, the Ninth Circuit ruled that Led Zeppelin and its record company and music publishers should not face a new trial over accusations that the authorship of Stairway to Heaven borrowed from the track Taurus by the band Spirit. Wolfe, better known as Randy California, played guitar for Spirit and was the author of the track. In 2018, the Ninth Circuit decided that deficiencies in jury instructions at a district court hearing two years earlier meant the trial should be repeated. The district court found in favor of Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and the music companies. Following oral arguments in front of a panel of judges, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the original district court decision. The Supreme Court’s pronouncement to not take up the case was thought to have brought an end to proceedings. However, the new application may breathe new life into the plagiarism claim.
Digital gains boost SOCAN collections to new record, but decline expected for 2020
At the beginning of this year, the Canadian performing-rights society SOCAN published preliminary financial results for 2019. The authors’ society said total collections comfortably topped the previous year’s record with growth largely down to a sharp rise in digital income. Also, the total was boosted by the first full year of reproduction rights collections following the authors’ society’s acquisition of SODRAC in mid-2018. SOCAN has now confirmed the preliminary figures in its annual business report. However, despite the new record, the results have been overshadowed by the likely impact on this year’s revenue from the global COVID-19 pandemic. In May, SOCAN presented a depressing picture of likely collections for 2020. That guidance has subsequently been revised, but collections are still set to fall for the first time since 2012.
Italy country report
In addition to the usual set of music industry statistics and news briefs, the latest issue of Music & Copyright includes a detailed Italy music industry report. Italy’s recorded-music sector has experienced an erratic few years, largely due to the lingering dominance of physical formats. However, digital trade sales overtook physical formats in 2018 with a sharp rise in subscription sales more than offsetting falls in CD album sales and vinyl. The pattern of sales continued into 2019 but this year’s performance has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly physical sales, which tumbled in the first half of the year. UMG remains the clear leader in market share terms, ahead of SME and WMG with the largest major increasing its distributor share at the expense of the other two. Total income for the authors’ society SIAE edged up last year, with music collections returning to growth after a dip in 2018 (see Figure 1). However, like recorded-music sales, this year’s total will be heavily affected by the pandemic. Live sales in the country have effectively ground to a halt with no hope of any meaningful return before next year.
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