What would change for musicians in Scotland in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote in September? This was the key question put to discussion on the 11th of April in Glasgow at an event organised by the Musicians’ Union (MU) on the Future of Music in Scotland.
The event was organised primarily for the members of the MU, although there were also a number of other attendees, including representatives from PRS for Music, UK Music and academics. The agenda included three keynote speeches by Members of Parliament and three panels covering important areas of the music business: live performance and subsidised arts, copyright and broadcasting. The day concluded with a discussion on the implications of Scottish independence for the MU.
As a member of the copyright panel, I discussed some of the challenges and opportunities that an independent Scotland would face in both matters of law and practicality. A practical question of significant importance to music performers pertains to the administration of their right to equitable remuneration for the public performance of sound recordings. Who would manage this right if Scotland were to become independent? Would performers still mandate PPL? This would be a reasonable option, especially if performers’ primary sources of income stem from the BBC. Would performers decide to vest the administration of their rights in private commercial agents? Or, alternatively, would Scotland decide to create its own network of collecting societies? If so, would it emulate the UK model and develop numerous collecting societies, administering different rights fragments, as in the case of PRS for Music, MCPS, PPL and VPL? A rather ambitious initiative would be the creation of a genuine one-stop-shop for content users through a bundled administration of the various copyright fragments. I say ambitious as Scotland would effectively be setting a precedent in Europe, if not worldwide, for such complex administration.
The matters of law, i.e. the opportunities which would present themselves in drafting a new Scottish Copyright Act, are where there is genuine scope for improvement of the status quo, especially when it comes to creators’ rights. In previous posts, I have commented on the weaknesses of UK Copyright law as identified in recent studies on authors’ contractual dealings. A Scottish Copyright Act could address these weaknesses, starting with the creation of a stronger framework for authors’ moral rights, without the requirement of assertion or the possibility of waivers.
An interesting question from the floor was whether, in the event of a ‘No’ vote, intellectual property matters could be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. To me this seems to be an improbable outcome. Nevertheless, this point did stir my thoughts on whether at least the creation of an administrative body for Scotland, assuming some of the tasks of the Intellectual Property Office, could be an option that policy makers in Scotland would pursue. Such an institution would, of course, need to liaise with the IPO but would nevertheless provide for more local involvement in IP policies in Scotland.
Another important point which came up during the open discussion was that an independent Scotland would also have the prerogative of legislating in other areas of law, including labour law. Considering the high regulation of trade unions in the UK, the General Secretary of the MU John Smith indicated that a new law regulating trade unions and labour relations could perhaps also create an opportunity for the arts sector in Scotland.
Yet, from my perspective, it was important to highlight that all changes, especially changes to the law, would create costs for the actors affected by that law. It would therefore be one of Scotland’s many challenges to manage these costs sensibly so that they do not ultimately disadvantage musicians by driving away their contracting partners into arenas with more favourable legal frameworks.
Overall, the day offered considerable food for thought and a number of arguments for both a status quo and an independent Scotland. Particularly during the panel discussion on live performance and subsidised arts, opinions diverged as to whether Scotland is better off as being part of a bigger picture or whether it should be able to promote Scottish arts worldwide exclusively. Scotland currently benefits from funds by the PRS for Music Foundation, what is more, Scottish musicians can participate in a wider pool of competitions and grants available to all UK musicians – two valid points raised, particularly when taken in conjunction with a statement from a musician among the audience that music is made with a commercial impetus.
From the day’s event I was left with the impression that Scottish musicians want to maintain the status quo when it comes to the organisations involved in the music industry. Musicians still want to remain members of PRS for Music and PPL, they want to be represented by the Musicians’ Union and, ideally, they want access to the funding currently available. At the same time, they want change, more control and influence over the content being broadcast, more promotion of Scottish artists and a Scottish music identity. I wonder, can an independent Scotland have the best of both worlds?