Justice for American Music Artists in the United Kingdom

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By Peter Karafotas

May 16, 2024 – When pop icons Miley Cyrus and Dua Lipa collaborated to release “Prisoner” in 2020, the hit song immediately topped the charts in their respective homelands of the United States and the United Kingdom. But when the song is played on AM/FM radio in the U.K., Dua Lipa receives royalties for her performance and Miley Cyrus does not. The U.K. calls that “reciprocity” – employing a form of tit-for-tat because the U.S. does not require broadcasters to pay performance royalties for terrestrial radio play. So because neither artists receives an American performance royalty for radio plays, the U.K. won’t pay Miley Cyrus. While the U.K. may call it reciprocity, it’s really discrimination.

Countries set their own laws, but they are bound to equally apply them regardless of a person’s nationality. For example, unlike in the U.K., a person born in the U.S. is automatically given citizenship. Imagine if the U.S. started denying citizenship to British babies born in the U.S. as retaliation for not extending the same privilege to American babies born in the U.K. Or if the U.S. didn’t provide fair trials to Iranian citizens because Iran doesn’t have due process.

The so-called reciprocity for AM/FM performance royalties is used as an excuse for the U.K., France, and other countries to seize an estimated $300 million a year in royalties due to American artists.

Fortunately, the U.K. may finally be willing to end this discrimination. The U.K.’s Intellectual Property Office recently asked for views on granting royalties to U.S. performers and other foreign artists that face discrimination. This comes on the heels of a European court decision rejecting the principle that artists can be treated differently based on their nationality.

The U.K. has floated three different options:

  • Provide the same level of protection to foreign nationals (including Americans) that they provide to U.K. nationals, which is known as “national treatment.”
  • Limit protection for record companies to the same “like for like” treatment that applies to U.S. performers (“reciprocity”).
  • Extend so-called national treatment for current and past recordings, but apply reciprocity (the tit-for-tat approach) to future recordings.

For SoundExchange, which works globally to get music creators paid for their work, the answer is clear: discrimination based on nationality is unacceptable. And it’s not just SoundExchange that says so. International treaties signed by the United Kingdom, including the Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers and WIPO Performance and Phonograms Treaty, clearly state that countries should treat foreign nationals the same way they treat their own citizens. 

So, if Dua Lipa gets royalties for AM/FM radio plays in the U.K., so should Miley Cyrus.

Ending music royalty discrimination isn’t just about protecting American artists. It also benefits British artists. It would remove an economic incentive for U.K. radio stations to give more airplay to popular American artists that they don’t have to pay versus British artists who are granted royalties.

But in the end, this is not just about dollars and pounds. It’s about doing what’s right. 

And of all countries, the U.K. – the first country to codify protections for artists – should not be on the wrong side of history when it comes to paying artists for their work regardless of their nationality.

When Miley Cyrus and Dua Lipa released “Prisoner,” a commentator called it “a dark song that captures what it’s like to be trapped in an unhealthy, manipulative relationship.” That is an apt description of the current relationship U.S. artists have with U.K. radio. It’s time to change it.

Peter Karafotas is SoundExchange’s SVP, Government Relations & Public Policy.