EU calls for laws to force greater algorithmic transparency from music-streaming platforms


The European Parliament is calling for new rules to bring more fairness and transparency to music-streaming across the bloc, including proposals for a new bill to force streaming platforms to open up their recommendation algorithms.

The bill would also require Spotify et al to make it clear where a song has been generated by artificial intelligence (AI).

While Europe has been making moves in this direction for a while already, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) today voted to adopt a new resolution by 532 to 61, with 33 parliamentarians abstaining from the vote which — if a bill eventually comes to fruition — will see a wide gamut of changes made to music-streaming in the region.

At the heart of this push is a desire to ensure that European artists are given fairer visibility and prominence on music-streaming platforms, similar to efforts in other markets such as Canada which has passed the Online Streaming Act to support Canadian artists. While final details are far from set in stone, this might eventually include setting quotas to showcase a certain amount of work from European artists.

Building on that, the EU’s new bill could also “oblige” streaming platforms to help prevent unfair practices by making their algorithms and recommendation engine more transparent — this, they say, will help prevent streaming figure manipulation which might be used to reduce artists’ fees.

Moreover, with more music being generated by artificial intelligence systems, including so-called “deep fakes” that seek to mimic established artists, Europe could also mandate that music-streaming platforms correctly label music as such — similar to what France’s Deezer started doing last year.

Revenue distribution

Europe’s plans also include provisions to ensure a wider distribution of streaming revenue to all artists involved in a recording, not just the main “named” artist.

This jibes somewhat with ongoing efforts in Uruguay, where the government introduced a new law that promises “fair and equitable” remuneration for all performers in a streamed piece of work — in that case, Spotify argued that the law would effectively mean that it would have to pay rightsholders twice for the same tracks, leading the music-streaming giant to begin winding down in the country in December. However, the company performed a 180-degree turn when the government gave assurances that music-streaming platforms wouldn’t be expected to cover extra costs resulting from the law.

Similarly, France recently introduced a new tax that will impose a levy of between 1.5 and 1.75% on all music-streaming services to fund a new body set up in 2020 that supports the French music sector. In response, Spotify vowed to cut back its investment in the French market, starting with pulling support for two music festivals.

This latest move by the European Parliament seeks to address similar concerns on a bloc-wide scale — vis à vis, a music-streaming revenue imbalance that “leaves a majority of authors and performers with very low compensation.”

Spanish politician and MEP Iban García del Blanco said that the Parliament is “giving voice to the concerns of European creators.”

“Cultural diversity and ensuring that authors are credited and fairly paid has always been our priority — this is why we ask for rules that ensure algorithms and recommendation tools used by music-streaming services are transparent, as well as in their use of AI tools, placing European authors at the centre,” del Blanco said in a statement.

Digital Music Europe, a trade organization and lobbying group consisting of members such as Spotify, Deezer, and SoundCloud, say that contrary to the general tone of the European Parliament’s findings, music-streaming is “hugely beneficial to the music sector, and leads to more diversity and discovery of music.”

“The success of music streaming with consumers in Europe and around the world is driven by freedom of choice and discovery, a combination of the on-demand nature of our services and relevant recommendations,” Olivia Regnier, Digital Music Europe chair and senior director for European policy at Spotify, said in a statement issued to TechCrunch. “As a result, European music is thriving, because European fans love European and especially local music and consistently choose to listen to it. We therefore strongly question the report’s suggestions that regulation is needed in the field of music streaming, and we urge policymakers to conduct an in-depth analysis of diversity and artistic success in music streaming to obtain objective facts before considering any action.”



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