As Universal Music Group (UMG) continues dealing with antitrust questions as it tries to close its purchase of EMI, there's a lot of focus on "divestment," or which parts of the combined entity that would have to be sold off. There's even talk of having to sell off the famed Parlophone Records label
(home of Coldplay and Radiohead). That would be a big deal, of course, but an even more interesting proposal has been brought up by the Featured Artists Coalition, a UK-based coalition of musicians, who are saying that if the company has to divest, why not let the artists themselves have the opportunity to buy back their copyrights
at "fair market value."
Divestments in the wake of mergers should first offer copyrights, at market rates, to the artists who created them. To sell them to other corporations, whether large or small, is just a perpetuation of an old business model, which has seen the recorded music business halve in value over 10 years. During that time, the technological revolution has displaced the old music business players. We do not need to repeat the mistakes of the past.
It would be good to have music business people rather than financiers owning and running music companies again. It would be even better to have artists owning their work and entering into partner relationships with service-providing major and independent record companies with all the finance and expertise an artist needs to develop their own business.
That letter is signed by Ed O'Brien of Radiohead and Nick Mason of Pink Floyd. Of course, I imagine that the labels and the artists might disagree about what "market rates" are. Also, given how focused the labels are on fighting copyright termination in the US (allowing artists to take back their copyrights after 35 years), you have to imagine that they'd fight any such plan equally hard. It's no surprise why, though: if the artists who could afford to buy back their rights did so, that would take away many of the "big name" acts, which are pretty much the remaining money makers under the old system. There's no way the labels would agree to this, even if it certainly puts the artists' interests first. Yet another example of how labels' and artists' interests are not aligned at all.