Music industry takes aim at ‘Fortnite’ online game over song royalties
- Changes to European copyright laws have potentially opened the door for online gaming to be a source of music royalty revenue for the first time
The global phenomenon Fortnite recently attracted millions of fans to a virtual gig by the real-world DJ Marshmello and now songwriters and composers are trying to use new copyright laws to receive their cut of royalties from music featured in the booming world of online gaming.
PRS for Music, the body that makes sure 140,000 songwriters, composers and publishers in the UK are paid when their music is used across the globe, has revealed that music royalties rose 4.4 per cent to a record £746 million (US$963 million) last year.
The body collected royalties from 11.2 trillion “performances” of music, including streaming, downloads, plays on the radio or in television broadcasts, as well as from music played in business premises or live gigs. It was a 70 per cent increase on 2017.
With the spread of music usage across social media platforms commonplace, last year the music body brought in its first revenues from licensing deals with giants Facebook and Instagram.
Robert Ashcroft, the chief executive of PRS for Music, says he is looking at whether licensing deals should be struck for the use of music in what is referred to as massively multiplayer online games, such as the wildly popular phenomenon that is Fortnite, which has more than 250 million registered users worldwide.
In February almost 11 million Fortnite players had their in-game avatars attend a virtual concert by Marshmello staged in the virtual world.
Ashcroft says last month’s vote to approve the biggest change to European copyright law in nearly two decades has potentially opened the door for online gaming to be a source of music royalty revenue for the first time.
The new laws, bitterly opposed by Silicon Valley giants Google and Facebook, mean tech giants will have to seek licences from press publishers and the music industry to host and exploit their content online.
“We currently license a lot of digital services, like YouTube music, already anyway,” Ashcroft said. “It is really important for us to have a level playing field for these services that we don’t yet have licences, such as music used in the massive multiplayer online gaming market, like Fortnite. That is one of the areas we will be looking at. Does that fall within the new provisions of the law? Is that an opportunity [for licensing revenues]? [The new law] clarifies the liability of key technology platforms to pay for their use of copyright material.”
The digital revolution has proved to be of as much of a boon for music creators as it has been for fans, with royalty revenue from songs played on services such as Spotify and Apple Music climbing almost a fifth to £145.7 million.
Global chart successes and major live world tours from PRS members including Ed Sheehan, U2 and the Rolling Stones helped fuel a 9 per cent rise in international royalty income to £280.6 million last year. International royalty income, the largest revenue stream for PRS for Music, has grown by 43 per cent over the past three years as British music continues to prove immensely popular overseas.
“Royalties from international and digital continue to underpin our growth,” Ashcroft said.
Income from music usage by broadcasters including the BBC, Sky and radio groups such as Global Radio, which owns networks including Capital, Heart and Radio X, fell 5 per cent to £128 million. This was primarily because of the decline in traditional television viewing, meaning less royalty income a result.
Store closures and the general malaise on the high street led to a small drop in royalty income from general business music usage, such as music played in stores, to £192 million.