More Than 700 Indie Labels Unite in 'Fair Digital Deals Declaration'

Beggars Group, Epitaph and Sub Pop among those trying to remedy perceived inequities in how digital stores and streaming services treat indies

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Upwards of 700 independent record labels worldwide – including Beggars Group, Epitaph and Sub Pop, among others – have joined together to sign a "Fair Digital Deals Declaration," which calls for evenhanded accounting for the labels' artists with regard to digital sales and streaming.

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According to the music industry organization Worldwide Independent Network (WIN), the document seeks to fix inequities in music licensing deals that include payouts covering unshared compensation and minimum revenue guarantees. The organization claims that current practices have been causing issues with digital licenses between services and labels. A PDF of the declaration is online.

According to WIN, the labels decided to work together because "a pattern has emerged" in which online music services favor major companies over independents, giving majors either upfront money or a stake in the company beyond licensing music to the service. This declaration details that the independent labels will not take money unrelated to its artists and would share such benefits with them.

Rich Bengloff, president of the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM), told Rolling Stone that the labels had begun drafting the document earlier this year, well before independent labels accused YouTube of paying lower rates to artists who are not on a major label. "This is a call for artists receiving the same fair treatment that we as independent music labels feel we should be receiving as well," he said. "This initiative started over six months ago unrelated to the current YouTube issues but, that said, the YouTube-Merlin dispute is an example of unfair treatment of independent music labels and their artists."

The Declaration seeks to address five specific concerns: transparency in explaining royalty statements, accounting for the upfront money unrelated to music sales, encouraging better standards from digital services with regard to using and monetizing music, supporting artists who oppose unauthorized use of their music and supporting the role of independent labels. It also includes a manifesto that details independent labels' opposition to further consolidation of major labels and that indies will seek to find new commercial opportunities for the music it releases, among other points.

Currently, any independent label is welcome to sign the Declaration, and July 16th was declared Worldwide Declaration Signing Day by WIN, according to Billboard.

"The bedrock of trust between artists and labels is artists receiving a fair share of the revenue that is earned from their work, where labels convey financial terms transparently and comprehensibly to artists," Darius Van Arman, co-founder of the Secretly Group – which includes labels like Secretly Canadian, JagJaguwar and more – said in a statement. "This is how the independents prefer to do business. Our signing of the Labels' Fair Digital Deals Declaration demonstrates our commitment to this ideal and is an invitation to all industry participants to make the same commitment."

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