Billboard is reporting that more than 700 independent music labels from around the world have signed the Fair Digital Deals Declaration, a new initiative organized by the World Independent Network. The new plan is meant to increase transparency on digital revenues with fair and honest explanations, accountability, and assistance to artists and music companies. Giants (relatively speaking) from across the world like Domino, 4AD, Warp, XL, Matador, Saddle Creek, Rough Trade and Sub Pop have signed on, plus Canadian labels like Constellation, Paper Bag, Six Shooter and Last Gang; you can read the full list here.
Here are the five key points of the declaration. By signing, each pledge is offering a "statement of commitment":
1. We will ensure that artists’ share of download and streaming revenues is clearly explained in recording agreements and royalty statements in reasonable summary form.
2. We will account to artists a good-faith pro-rata share of any revenues and other compensation from digital services that stem from the monetization of recordings but are not attributed to specific recordings or performances.
3. We will encourage better standards of information from digital services on the usage and monetisation of music.
4. We will support artists who choose to oppose, including publicly, unauthorized uses of their music.
5. We will support the collective position of the global independent record company sector as outlined in the Global Independent Manifesto.
If followed, both the agreement and the manifesto will be an important step for transparency and fair artist compensation, from both the independent labels' own streaming services and the existing platforms refusing to play fair. In addition, WIN have published a Global Independent Manifesto. which states in part that indies "...support initiatives which confront market abuse." Down the road, this could spur a challenge to low streaming payouts from services, imposed by the government or privately.
Billboard notes that the Declaration's second point is particularly important: streaming services compensate large music rights holders and some major labels with guaranteed payment amounts or equity shares. These are "hidden income" payments which aren't passed on to the artists based on individual streams. By signing, each label is promising to push a new system of proportional compensation. Of course, the language allows each label to individually determine what a "fair" and "proportional" number is.
This is why it's important to note that this is not a legal agreement, just a set of principles. It remains unclear what - if any - mechanisms are in place to make sure the labels keep to the pledge (an email to WIN was not immediately returned). It's a start, but it's up to artists, journalists and fans to make sure that labels are living up to the spirit and the letter of the Declaration.