France Seeks to Tackle Music's Digital Future, Provide Artists a Minimum Wage

REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Landov
French Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin attends a ceremony in Paris, France, September 24, 2015.   

The same day (Oct. 2) that tech thought leaders met at Berklee's Boston campus to identify and discuss some structural and technological problems slowing (some would argue preventing) the music industry's full digitization, the French Minister of Culture, Fleur Pellerin, presented to her country's parliament a voluntary agreement that looks to address many of those same issues from the top down.

In light of the digitization of the industry through streaming and its converse contraction through the past 15 years, the Ministry's agreement echoes an increasingly common refrain, that "the challenge is to make [the industry] more transparent and more equitable, sharing revenues between stakeholders and ensuring that it includes a fair return for the artists."

Perhaps most notably, and progressively, the agreement would provide artists with a minimum wage. Industry stakeholders "in particular agree to share with all artists income received from online music services and to guarantee them a minimum wage, in return for the digital use of their recordings." On that point, the document reads:

Phonogram producers will undertake individual and collective negotiations on the remuneration of performers, to give them a guaranteed minimum remuneration for digital exploitation of their records. This guarantee may take different forms, such as a minimum wage or a minimum proportional advance. The modalities and level of this minimum guaranteed remuneration will be fixed by collective agreement, who shall take into account the diversity of situations in the sector.

In addition to the above call for fair remuneration, the agreement has six overall initiatives: 1. Support the development of legal music offerings; 2. Establish greater economic transparency; 3. Improve the exposure cultural diversity of music; 4. Establish 'good practices' on industry contracts; 5. Ensure artists receive fair remuneration; 6. Mobilize resources to facilitate stakeholders' transition to digital; 7. Ensure effective, sustainable implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding. The memorandum requires signatories to abide by its provisions for a period of three years. A vote on the voluntary bill will be held tomorrow (Oct. 6). The agreement has 18 signatories, including several of France's music industry trade bodies including SACEM, SPPF, SCPP, SNEP, SFA and the ESML.

The agreement is the result of Pellerin's appointment of Marc Schwartz, who has significant experience consulting with and between French media and government, in March of this year to lead discussions between various music industry stakeholders, eventually arriving at an adaption of the 'Fair Digital Deals Declaration' first introduced by the Worldwide Independent Network last year with the support of over 700 independent labels.

Alison Wenham, current chair of WIN and CEO of the U.K.'s Association of Independent Music, and Paul Pacifico, president of the International Artist Organisation, both expressed support for the measure. "The French music industry has shown great vision in embracing this initiative and I applaud them for it," writes Wenham in a statement. "The constructive and fruitful discussions between artists and the industry mediated by Marc Schwartz and the office of Fleur Pellerin are a shining example for others to follow.”

“It is extremely positive to see the French government lead an initiative to foster the sense of partnership and trust between all parts of the music industry that the WIN Fair Digital Deals Declaration pioneered between Independent labels and artists," writes Pacifico.

Both were part of an on-stage discussion two weeks ago at Hamburg's Reeperbahn Festival in which the panelsts addressed many of the same issues as the Fair Digital Deals Declaration.

The agreement comes at a time when royalty rates stateside are drawing serious criticism from the independent sector. It was learned this past Friday (Oct. 2) that the U.S. Copyright Royalty Board, a governmental panel responsible for reviewing and updating the rates paid by services like Pandora and Spotify, is considering setting those rates based on marketshare, potentially leaving independent labels and trade bodies at a significant economic disadvantage in the streaming economy. On that point, Wenham told the audience in Hamburg two weeks ago that indies were "over-indexing massively on the premium services."