News | Sunday, 12 April 2009


With reference to the article ‘Are Maltese artists being royally shafted?’ published on Sunday 12 April, a few of the facts and statistics require clarification. Winter Moods is not represented by Jagged House, as inadvertently suggested in the article, but by Deborah Grech. Any inconvenience caused by this misunderstanding is sincerely regretted. Elsewhere, the article stated that “€180,000 in royalties were owed by PRS (UK) to Jagged House artists.” This was a misinterpretation: it is by admission from PRS (UK) that around €500,000 are collected each year by PRS (UK) from Malta. It must be clarified, however, that a share of the total collection belongs to all the local PRS members, respective to their activity in that year, including airplay and licensed performances. Therefore, all local artists who are members of PRS are owed a local share from the global sum of €500,000 collected, and not only the artists mentioned in the article. By way of further clarification, there are about 9,400 establishments (not “venues”) which might be considered to pay a yearly licence. Some of these establishments are already paying, some are not eligible and/or exempt, whilst others are refusing to pay.

Are Maltese artists being royally shafted?

Maltese music is enjoying a revival on radio and in bars and clubs; but are local artists getting the royalties they are owed? RAPHAEL VASSALLO on a right royal copyright confusion

Beyond the glitz and glamour of show business, it is an open secret that life as a performing artist in Malta is no walk in the park.
Local artists face an uphill struggle to get their material recorded and played on air: and even if successful, their remuneration options are at best limited, in a country where the very most an original CD can expect to sell is a few hundred copies.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Despite the financial difficulties, the number of local bands to record their own original material has skyrocketed in recent years. XFM’s DJ Arthur Caruana, who has been in the business over a decade, confirms that local music now gets more airtime than ever before.
“In the past, there would be the odd two tracks by local artists, and back then we would play them over and over almost out of sympathy, to help the local scene...”
Today, Caruana explains that the situation is different. “There is now a broad selection of local material: so much, in fact, that we have become choosy. It’s no longer the case that we play tracks just because they’re local. We will now play them if we consider them to be good. This is after all how competition works...”
It seems that much of the available material meets the XFM quality test: Caruana confirms that on a typical day, his radio station would play “a very minimum of two songs an hour.”
Maltese music, it seems, is finally getting the recognition it feels it deserves. But is also it reaping its just financial reward?

Royal confusion
Theoretically, this increase in airtime for local bands should correspond to greater financial remuneration for the copyright owners, who are owed a sum of money each time their original material is played.
For this reason, radio and television stations – as well as bars, clubs, discotheques, restaurants and other venues which play live or recorded music – have to pay an annual fee to a licensed collecting society, which in turn takes responsibility for distributing this money among the copyright owners.
But Malta is among the very few countries in the world which has no local collecting society of its own. Instead, the company responsible for local collection and distribution is The Performing Rights Society (PRS): based in London, and represented in Malta by a local agent.
PRS is supposed to monitor all music played on the island, with a view to quantifying the airtime given to copyrighted audio material, and pay out royalties accordingly.
But in practice, the system appears to have hit a snag. Local manager and producer Howard Keith Debono – whose company Jagged Home Productions represents Ira Losco, Winter Moods and other local artists – explains that in Malta there are currently 9,400 venues, paying between them an average of €500,000 a year in fees to PRS.
But Debono openly doubts whether local artists are getting their full due in royalties.
“Judging by the amount of Number 1 hits played on the radio over the past year, Jagged House artists should have received around €180,000 in royalties between them for 2008,” he points out. “But the amount we have actually been paid is nowhere near that.”
According to Howard Keith, a proper monitoring structure has yet to be put into place. “There needs to be more accountability, a supervisory board and also a monitoring board to determine how much local music is being played,” he says, echoing a common complaint among local artists.
In fact, this newspaper’s efforts to establish whether local artists are being paid their full dues have to date been thwarted by a near total lack of transparency. Up until 1993, the amount of money collected from Malta was published annually as a global figure – at that time, averaging £200,000 a year.
After that date, however, an administrative change resulted in Malta being grouped together with other countries, and the total amount for Malta alone – now expected to be higher, considering the increase in local radio airplay – is no longer made public.
MaltaToday this week contacted PRS in London and asked three specific questions: how much money was collected from Malta last year; how much local music was played on Maltese radio stations compared to previous years; and how much was paid out in royalties to local artists.
But because of this week’s bank holiday, no replies were forthcoming by the time we went to print.
The situation, it seems, has meanwhile been brought to the government’s attention. Michelle Bonello, from the Industrial Property Registrations Directorate within the Finance Ministry, confirms that the matter is currently being examined “at policy level”.
“As a result of research commissioned by the Malta Arts Council, certain issues regarding transparency in the collection and distribution of royalties under the present scenario have come to light,” Bonello told MaltaToday, adding that it was premature to go into detail about the commissioned report, and what it reveals about the amount paid in royalties to local artists.
“It is something we are looking into at the moment,” she added.


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