Quebec francophone musicians say anglophones received bigger cut of radio royalties

·4 min read
Pictured are six of the 13 francophone musicians in Quebec who have signed an open letter calling for more money from SOCAN. Top row, from left to right: Gilles Vigneault, Corneille and Louise Forestier. Bottom row, from left to right: Louis-Jean Cormier, Coeur de Pirate and Elisapie.  (Radio-Canada - image credit)
Pictured are six of the 13 francophone musicians in Quebec who have signed an open letter calling for more money from SOCAN. Top row, from left to right: Gilles Vigneault, Corneille and Louise Forestier. Bottom row, from left to right: Louis-Jean Cormier, Coeur de Pirate and Elisapie. (Radio-Canada - image credit)

More than a dozen francophone musicians in Quebec have signed an open letter demanding retroactive revenue from radio royalties. They say the organization responsible for distributing them fairly has given their anglophone counterparts a bigger share of the profits.

In the letter obtained by Radio-Canada, the group of musicians says it's seeking $2 million in compensation from the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) — the music rights organization that manages and authorizes royalty payouts to Canadian artists for songs played on the radio.

Francophone artists such as Gilles Vigneault, Corneille, Louise Forestier, Louis-Jean Cormier, Cœur de Pirate and Elisapie are among 13 singer-songwriters who signed the letter.

They say SOCAN's mission is to be equitable to all musicians, composers and labels across Canada, but they say they have not been getting the same share of royalties as anglophone artists.

The francophone musicians estimate they lost 45 per cent of royalties owed to them between 2019 and 2021 due to a SOCAN calculation method they consider unfair.

"It is clear that Quebec has been underrepresented for several years in SOCAN's allocation methods," reads a quote from the letter.

SOCAN revised its calculation method in November 2021, but the artists now want to be compensated for the 18 months of lost pay before the rules changed.

The group is threatening a class action suit against the organization if doesn't pay them the $2 million they say is required to make up the difference.

Declining revenue despite consistent airplay

Quebec musician Vincent Vallières, one of the letter's signatories, initially thought his songs were getting less airplay when he noticed his royalties had dropped. But in the end, he said the only thing that changed was the amount he was profiting for them.

"This is not acceptable," he said in an interview with Radio-Canada. "It's like if I told you that you're going to do a job, but I'm going to take 45 per cent of your pay away."

Le Petit Russe
Le Petit Russe

David Murphy, copyright manager for Vallières and other signatories, said he's received calls from several other clients who have noticed a drop in revenue. He said he'll soon file a class action suit against SOCAN if nothing changes.

"The numbers clearly show that Quebec creators have been hurt during this period," says Murphy. "In terms of listeners reached, a song played in Quebec generated less money."

Murphy, the former chairman of the board of directors for the Professional Music Publishers' Association (APEM) in Montreal, notes that Quebec radio stations are fewer in number than in the rest of Canada, so they play fewer songs. But they are also bigger, and therefore contribute more to SOCAN.

"If Quebec is not getting its fair share, it means the rest of Canada is getting more than its share," he said.

Retroactive pay 'unjustified,' says SOCAN

In an email to Radio-Canada, SOCAN said no market is uniform in how it is affected by a change in distribution rules. It said it regularly changes its calculation methods to reflect music consumption habits and new technologies.

"Such changes are obviously not a sign that the previous rules were unfair, but simply proof that SOCAN is keeping up with the market and the tools available for analysis in order to adapt to provide the most consistent, timely and accurate royalty payments possible to its members and customers," said SOCAN board chair Marc Ouellette.

"It would be inappropriate and unjustified to make any retroactive adjustment," he concluded.

Discrimination against francophones?

In a formal notice sent to SOCAN in April 2022, the lawyer representing Murphy and his clients referred to the disparity in revenue as "unlawful discrimination based on language."

"We take these allegations very seriously, and fairness and transparency are at the heart of SOCAN's values," said Ouellet.

But he said that retroactive adjustments would mean taking money back from some Quebec-based members who benefited from the old rules.

According to Murphy, English-speaking artists in Quebec profited as much as other anglophone Canadians under the old calculation method.

Even if they lost money when their songs were played in Quebec, Murphy said they would have made it up when they were played across the rest of Canada —a balance that French-speaking artists could not benefit from, since they are hardly heard on radio stations in other provinces.

Radio-Canada
Radio-Canada

"It's not just the amount [of money], it's a matter of principle," said Quebec artist and letter signatory Marie Denise Pelletier.

"I don't see why creators in Quebec should pay for creators in the rest of Canada. It doesn't make sense."

Pelletier said she hopes the situation can be resolved outside of the court, as many artists are walking on eggshells because SOCAN has a monopoly on the management of its radio royalties in Canada.

"We don't want to alienate SOCAN, but we don't want SOCAN to alienate its members," she said.

SOCAN said it plans to meet with its francophone members by the end of the month.