The Brennan Bill: What is it and why does it matter to musicians?

You might have read our blog back in July about a new and highly anticipated report from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, the result of the UK government taking a vested interest in the distribution of royalties to songwriters and performers for the first time. 

If you haven’t read that blog, you can check it out here for a bit of background as to what was in the report and why it matters so much. 

Some big news came this week on the back of the report. A new bill is being put before parliament that could lead to new legislation that ensures musicians are properly compensated for streams of their music. The bill, officially called the ‘Copyright (Rights and Remuneration of Musicians) Private Member’s Bill has become known as the ‘Brennan Bill’ after it’s presenter, MP Kevin Brennan, and aims to ensure “performers and composers are properly remunerated by placing the treatment of revenue gained from music streaming services onto a common footing with the treatment of revenue gained from other sources.” 

The above quote is a pretty complicated way of wording a simple idea. At the moment, payment amounts for song streams depend entirely on the deal the artist made with the label or distributor they are working with. The amount that the artist makes could vary wildly from 5% of the stream revenues to 100%. The issue is that most current deals sit at around 20-25% with some older record deals paying less than that, and some musicians don’t receive any payments at all. 

The Brennan bill is looking to change that by bringing payments in line with music that is broadcast or played in public, which is paid at a standard rate across the industry and collected via agencies such as PRS. The new system would ensure that if you create a piece of music that is streamed, you will receive a guaranteed minimum share of the income. 

This guaranteed amount should create a fairer system of musicians and could change the future of streaming in a huge way. 

Not everyone in the industry is excited about the possibility of legislation change, however. The BPI (British Phonographic Industry), the recorded music industry’s trade association, has said that the passing of the Brennan Bill could result in a stifling of ‘investment and innovation by record labels’ (Music Week, 2021). They’re concerned that equitable royalty rates could result in record labels taking fewer risks on investing in artists who may not be able to match the label’s investment in them through sales. Labels can more easily make back what they invest in artists through maintaining a higher share of the resulting revenue, and getting back what they put in could become harder if the artist and label have to sell more to combat the balancing of royalty payments. 

The Brennan Bill has support from MPs, musicians and industry organisations including The Musician’s Union and Sex Pistols Bassist Glen Matlock. The thing to watch for now is what happens when the bill is read in parliament on December 3rd. Bills put to the government go through a number of stages that take time and can stop the bill from becoming law. 

Whichever way this goes, it’s going to be one to watch as the future of streaming music, arguably one of the industry’s main sources of consumer and revenue, could change forever. What this means for musicians and their ability to earn a fair share of the income from their art is still up for debate.