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Composers, songwriters feel squeeze from disappearing CD

While miserable tight-fisted internet giants won't pay up

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Composers and songwriters are feeling the pinch as the CD disappears from the High Street, and tight-fisted internet giants refused to pay for music.

Music royalty collection society the PRS, or as it styles itself after a spell in the Strategy Boutique, "PRS for Music" (so as not to be confused with PRS for Fish Food, presumably) announced its annual results today.

Composition royalties from recorded media fell by 8.8 per cent, although this was partially offset by increased royalties from the use of UK compositions abroad, radio fees, and a minor digital increase. Overall, revenue collected fell by one per cent from 2009 to £169.8m.

There are two royalties associated with a piece of music: the composition and the recording itself. PRS collects the composition royalty from licensing public performances of the work, and also the mechanical royalty, a small fee payable to composers from the reproduction of a recording.

The latter is a historical curiosity that dates back to the player piano, but allows the PRS to keep tabs on record sales. The PRS keeps around 15 per cent as an overhead; the society claims big efficiency improvements, so while £7m less income was received, payouts only fell by £800,000.

Deals with radio and TV still bring home the biggest chunk of income for songwriters and composers: £173.2m last year.

This group's biggest historic enemy was the record companies, on whom they depended for their accounting. But now, the biggest challenge for songwriters is extracting anything from internet services, such as Google, for the use of music. Google's YouTube is the world's default online jukebox, but merely gives a pittance back.

When Rick Astley's Never Going To Give You Up notched up millions of hits on the back of the "rickrolling" fad, one of the songwriters received just £12 from Google's YouTube. Yet even this is too much for the tight-fisted stewards of the Chocolate Factory, which is seeking to revise copyright law in the UK so it pays out even less.

Digital revenues for British songwriters and composers in 2009 were £26.5m, up less than £1m year-on-year, and still barely half the revenue earned from radio.

Did someone say "New Economy"? ®

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