Penny Campaign for Streaming Justice

Penny Campaign

It is time for a global campaign to call the vulture capitalists in Stockholm what they are, and demand streaming justice. #streamingjustice

A Penny A Play

As the dominant global vulture capitalist streaming platform, Spotify, expands its catalog, the payout per song streamed is continually decreasing, recent research of this very opaque, even downright secretive Stockholm-based corporation indicates. As does Spotify, so do the other platforms — that’s how competition works. This race to the bottom must stop, or else only the biggest stars among the musicians of the world stand any chance of financial survival. It won’t stop by itself, and we can’t count on Big Tech, Big Music, or deregulation-obsessed, bought-off governments of the world to save us.

Why A Penny?

It’s only somewhat arbitrary. More than anything, it’s a place to start. There must be a clear, simple, floor — a minimum wage for streams, measured per stream, not through some mysterious algorithm. The small fraction of a cent artists get from Spotify is an insult. We, the undersigned, would rather return to the age of music piracy than suffer this death by a thousand streams.

Why Not Start A New Platform?

Yes, and why not start a social media alternative to Facebook while you’re at it? It’s been done. It’s not working. The multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure has been laid out for us by Spotify and their vulture capitalist backers. Forming a new platform is like inviting people to walk in the dark on the cow paths instead of cruising down the well-lit, well-paved highways. People will tend to take the path of least resistance. If there’s a highway and there are no bike lanes, people will drive cars. If your cell phone comes bundled with Spotify and you can find all the world’s music on it for free, you will do so. It cannot be left up to consumer choice, whether musicians live or die, and it should not be up to faceless vulture capitalists pretending to be hip lovers of music and freedom. There must be an even playing field that can be clearly understood — a penny a play, no exceptions, no confusion.

But Won’t This Destroy Their Streaming Model?

The well-paid financial wizards of Big Tech, while raking in trillions, while running the world’s biggest and most profitable corporations, can play their shell games and pretend to be losing money. They’re not. In fact, Big Tech is directly responsible for the greatest stratification of wealth in the history of humanity, along with the servile governments that actively facilitate this process.

We are clear that what is good for Big Tech or Big Music — the three massive record labels that dominate the global corporate music business — is not what is good for independent musicians around the globe. The model they have created was broken to begin with, and it’s getting more broken by the year. Whatever business model for a streaming platform that any corporation wants to employ should begin with the idea of fair compensation at its core, not as a hypothetical, eventual side-effect. The trillions that Big Tech has already made off of independently-created content would seem to indicate the possibility that, if under sufficient pressure, they can find a less starvation-oriented business model.

Who Do You Think You Are?

I’m David Rovics, the initiator of this campaign. I have no ambition to become a full-time campaigner, but I’m going to do what I can to try to move this from an idea for a campaign to an actual campaign. I’ve been making a living as a touring musician since the Nineties, so I’ve experienced a lot of seismic changes in how everything works, or doesn’t work. I am a big supporter of Creative Commons, and I have been freely giving away my music online since the invention of the MP3. At the time, it was a great way to challenge the domination of Big Music over the ears of the world. But in the age of corporate streaming platforms run by vulture capitalists, it’s a whole different situation. The battle lines have changed, and we must change our strategies with them. This does not mean we are embracing Trump’s intellectual property agenda or Big Pharma’s drug patents or anything like that — this is more a campaign of contract workers against their employers. Even if no one considers us to be contract workers, and Spotify certainly doesn’t consider itself to be our employer.

Why Do You Call Them Vulture Capitalists?

Vulture capitalism is a term usually reserved for big financial types who buy the debts of countries that have defaulted on their debts, so that they can then threaten and bully and otherwise try to force them to pay their debts that they can’t afford to pay. If the vulture capitalists are successful, they make a lot of money, because they bought these debts at pennies on the dollar.

Similarly, you would need a million streams a month on Spotify for a year just to pay for making a high-quality studio recording. To then actually make any profit beyond expenses on the recording, you’d need to get millions more streams per month. Some few stars and viral sensations win this lottery and get such attention. The overwhelming majority of working musicians get streams more in the thousands or tens of thousands. For us, the difference between 1/10th of a cent and one cent per stream is the difference between paying the rent and not paying the rent. And it’s certainly far from what would be needed to finance the recording in the first place. That’s making money off of someone else’s debt — vulture capitalism.

What Can We Do?

A lot. The history of massive global corporations is full of both successful and unsuccessful campaigns for change. Organized movements, and sometimes even just widespread memes, can move mountains. At what point our campaign becomes international law or widespread practice by other means is unknowable, but if we don’t resist, this will not move things forward.

Right now, this is a beta campaign — a call for a campaign. I need your input. I need collaborators — other musicians, activists, artists, meme-spreaders and other forms of involvement. For the time being, here’s what I seek:

  • Become a signatory — contact me with your name and how you identify yourself professionally
  • Contact me with ideas, suggestions, concerns, etc.
  • Write songs, make art, etc., supporting the campaign, and share it with me

As we are gathering ideas and assessing the situation, the tactical possibilities are limitless. Certainly meme-spreading, flash mobs, and other such actions, but also civil disobedience, street festivals, and much more…

We, the undersigned, agree:

All corporate streaming platforms should immediately start paying at least one cent per song streamed to the rights owners of the songs played. If they are unable to comply, they should shut down their operations immediately and stop stealing our work. We are not seeking to withdraw from any platforms or create a new platform with this demand. We are seeking nothing less than an even playing field on all corporate streaming platforms, the global abolition of corporate thievery from independent artists. We demand streaming justice now.

David Rovics
Member, Industrial Workers of the World

Audio Version, with Bumper Music