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Warner Music Group to waive unrecouped debts for heritage artists

The decision means that artists will now receive royalties that previously went towards paying debts

By Hollie Geraghty

A recording microphone in front of computer recording software
The move comes following a historic decision by Sony last year (Picture: Magda Ehlers/ Pexels).

Warner Music Group has announced it will waive unrecouped debts for artists and songwriters who signed to the label before 2000.

Announced yesterday (February 1) as part of its inaugural Environment Social Governance (ESG) report, it follows Sony Music’s decision to make the same historic move last year.

WMG, the world’s third largest music rights company, confirmed the move will go into effect on July 1. The decision means that artists who had not recouped their expenses and/or advance fees will now receive the royalties that had previously gone towards paying off these debts.

In a statement, WMG wrote: “[We’ve] announced a legacy unrecouped advances program where, for our artists and songwriters who signed to us before 2000 and didn’t receive an advance during or after 2000, we won’t apply their unrecouped advances to royalty statements for any period beginning July 1, 2022 or after.

“The program will also benefit other artist royalty participants such as producers, engineers, mixers and remixers.”

David Martin, CEO of Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), and Annabella Coldrick, Chief Executive of Music Managers Forum (MMF), said in a joint statement: “Warner Music Group’s announcement is a positive step towards the artist-centric music industry that we advocate for.

“The FAC and MMF have long campaigned for artists’ un-recouped balances to be written off after a fixed time period. In light of this we are pleased that two of the world’s major music companies have now implemented this policy, recognising that such steps do not harm their business and help to create a fairer music economy.

“We welcome this move and hope the positive changes to ensure artists are properly paid in the streaming era will continue. We would like to see old unrecouped debts written off in full, not just disregarded, and would like to see this implemented on a rolling, annual basis so all artists will eventually benefit.”

Labour MP Kevin Brennan, who is an advocate for artists’ rights and spoke about streaming with Anna Coldrick in Rolling Stone UK’s latest issue, praised the decision on Twitter and called on Universal to follow suit.

He wrote: “A welcome move by Warner music group to scrap old unrecouped artist debts following on from Sony – as called for in our @CommonsDCMS Committee report on the economics of music streaming – Now come on Universal – do the right thing!”

You can read the full ESG report here.