'Consumers and creators will benefit': PRS CEO Robert Ashcroft on how Article 13 will transform the licensing landscape

'Consumers and creators will benefit': PRS CEO Robert Ashcroft on how Article 13 will transform the licensing landscape

The music industry has been celebrating the passing of the Copyright Directive – including the contentious Article 13 (renamed Article 17) – in the European Parliament. You can read their analysis of what happens next in the latest issue of Music Week.

For outgoing PRS For Music CEO Robert Ashcroft, it’s been a long-running battle on behalf of rights-holders against upload platforms such as YouTube that first started five years ago. Here, Ashcroft takes Music Week inside his vision for a reformed licensing landscape that can help boost revenue and increase competition… 

Why is the Copyright Directive so important and who will benefit?

“Consumers and creators will benefit from this. This clarifies forever that consumers can upload to licensed platforms and they don’t have to declare that they have cleared the copyright. The platform is now liable. Now, let’s be fair, YouTube has actually been licensed since 2009, SoundCloud since 2015 and Facebook since last year. We are gradually making inroads. But now it means they have to be licensed. That means we can sit down, just as you do with Spotify and Amazon Music and all the other guys with fully licensed services, and say what are the terms on which you are going to have our members’ works?”

Will you be having discussions with YouTube?

“We always have. We’ve had a licence with YouTube since 2009 and we’re very pleased that they launched their subscription service. We’ve got a licence with Facebook as of last year, they are moving in the right direction and they are setting up their content management [ID] systems. This clarifies that all of the unlicensed platforms, like Twitter for example, now need to sit down and take out a licence. So it levels the playing field.”

So it’s wider than YouTube?

“Of course it is – it’s any platform that has a substantial amount of copyrighted material uploaded to it. It’s the user upload platforms that have been targeted, the ones that make available large quantities of copyrighted material to their customers.”

I think that this message about the issue has spread around the world

Robert Ashcroft

How is your relationship with Facebook evolving?

“They have now adopted a music strategy, they are still defining it. You will have seen a rapid evolution of the music that’s available on Instagram, for example. They took out licences with all the major rights-holders last year. That was a really big change. They are building their content ID platform, that’s a change and they are determined to do it right. They have done that ahead of the legislation. Had they not done it, then the legislation would have made them do it.”

How would any filtering system for copyrighted material work?

“YouTube have operated with a content ID for years and we work with them. One of the things that we can contribute as a music industry is to sort out our identifiers to create more consistency and authoritative links between sound recordings and the underlying compositions. The technology certainly exists. I will fully admit that on our side of the industry, we’ve got work to do to make this work more smoothly. That’s something I’ve been very open with YouTube about.”

Will independent and DIY acts be in a position to license with YouTube once the legislation is passed?

“If I had a wish for rights-holders it would be that we could replicate what we do here in the UK with PRS, we have the limited online music licence. This is a very simple, low-cost aggregated licence. We’re only able to cover it for the UK, but I would like to see that extended to cover both sound recordings and international territories. Through our ICE joint venture, we’re looking at how to do that for the repertoire we represent. I would love to see that aggregated into a simple blanket licence for small companies. We do it to a maximum number of streams, and then beyond that you have to negotiate separately with the rights holders. That is something that we ought to get together as a music industry and do.”

What’s the international outlook for the spread of similar legislation? 

“I think that this message about the issue has spread around the world – it’s talked about in Korea, it’s talked about in Australia, it’s talked about in China. It’s certainly whispered about in the United States. The Obama and Trump administrations have been a little reticent to take on the platforms. But if you look at some of the latest campaigning on the Democrat side, there is a real determination now to say, ‘Hang on a second, guys, you got too big, we’ve got to break this up, we’ve got to do something about it.’”

Do you see the UK enacting the legislation without any problems?

“I’m confident that Brexit or not, both major parties in this country now understand the value and the necessity of supporting the creative industries. So, I think that they will carry this over willingly from European legislation into UK legislation.”

To read all the Copyright Directive interviews pick up the latest issue of Music Week – or subscribers can click here. To subscribe and never miss a big industry story, click here.

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