The Picture is Yours Unpaid royalties and under valuation

The under valuation of our services is an issue shared by the whole of the media industry, not just those in TV and film. One particular issue is that of unpaid royalties. For example, in 2014, Musician Marcus O'Neil has won a legal case against one of the music royalties industry giants over underpaid royalties. He says that other independent artists might not always be getting their due. The problem doesn’t just apply to record companies, as musicians and performers are constantly being undervalued for their work on online services such as iTunes and Spotify.

These sites pay artists royalties per download or play. However, these payments are sometimes tiny – fractions of cents – and only after an astronomical volume of plays can the artist secure his or her earnings.

Let’s begin with one of the biggest and well-known companies dealing with download, iTunes. Originally called SoundJam MP by creator Bill Kincaid, it was re-baptized iTunes after being bought by Apple in 2001. The iTunes application, available across all Apple platforms and as a standalone player on most PCs, allows users to pay for and download a diverse range of online files, from music to apps to movies to podcasts. Though the royalty rates are still quite small, iTunes is not as bad as other sites. A song download is 99c on iTunes, and a third of the money goes to Apple. After net and wholesale rates, the artist receives around $0.09-$0.10 per stream. Though the royalties are bite-sized, relative to the other download sites, iTunes is a better option in the long run. The popularity of the platform makes it a good place to get your music noticed, too; a reported 75% of all songs on iTunes have been downloaded at least once and 90% of customers are regulars.

In contrast, Spotify is one of the worst for the undervaluation of services. Ever since its launching in Sweden, in October 2008, Spotify has accumulated about 120 million users of which a quarter are registered, paying users - free users can stream content when connected to the internet, but if you want to have offline access to your favourite tunes and you want to avoid interruption through ads, you can pay about $15 per month for a premium service. Songs usually generate between $0.006 and $0.0084 per stream. The usual splits between the label and the artist average about $0.0016 for the label and $0.00029, but that payout is only guaranteed after the song has gained about 4 million plays in a month. Though Spotify claims that the payouts add up eventually, they fail to mention that their figures are likely skewed by earnings of already-popular artists.

The problem of undervaluation spans across the whole of the creative industry. One notable example comes from the BBC. During the London Olympic games in 2012, the BBC “offered” independent film makers a chance to screen their content. As stated on their website; “The partnership does not commission any content we simply provide a platform for film makers who wish to showcase their work many of whom have no other outlet to showcase their creative talent.” The BBC were trawling for film material that they can use for free. Made by you and me, at our expense. To be paid on council owned screens, curated by the BBC.