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U.K. music icons call for legal reforms to streaming services to help "exploited" artists

Over 150 musicians in the U.K., including Paul McCartney, Kate Bush, and Annie Lennox, have written to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson asking for reforms to the laws governing digital services' rights to stream music.

"For too long, streaming platforms, record labels and other internet giants have exploited performers and creators without rewarding them fairly," the artists wrote in an open letter published on Tuesday. "We must put the value of music back where it belongs — in the hands of music makers."

The letter, also signed by Boy George, Noel Gallagher, Lily Allen and Chris Martin, says that most musicians receive much less from streams than they do from radio plays, and that session musicians receive nothing at all. 

According to the BBC, whereas royalties from radio plays are split between the artist/songwriter and the record label, with backup performers and session musicians receiving a small proportion, for streams, record labels keep the majority of revenue. Artists only get about 13% on average, and backup musicians receive nothing.

"Streaming is quickly replacing radio as our main means of music communication. However, the law has not kept up with the pace of technological change and, as a result, performers and songwriters do not enjoy the same protections as they do in radio," the letter says.

The letter asks the British government to refer "evidence of multinational corporations wielding extraordinary power and songwriters struggling as a result" to the U.K.'s Competitions and Markets Authority. It also says a regulator is needed to "ensure the lawful and fair treatment of music makers."

The British Parliament has been looking into the streaming industry and how the money it generates is distributed. As part of evidence gathered for that review, high-profile singer-songwriter Nadine Shah said late last year that despite her music's commercial and critical success, she was forced to move back in with her parents.

"I am in a position as an artist with a substantial profile, a substantial fanbase, critically acclaimed, but I don't make enough money from streaming. I am in a position now where I am struggling to pay my rent," she told members of Parliament.

"I am embarrassed to talk about these issues publicly. I am embarrassed to talk about them for many reasons, because money to an extent is an indication of success," said Shah. "But here, that is not really the case with me, because I am a successful musician. I am just not being paid fairly for the work that I make."

The letter was backed by the Musicians' Union and the Ivors Academy, which together represent tens of thousands of British performers.

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