- 25 Jun 19
Having lobbied for a new EU directive which will ensure much-needed digital rights for artists, IMRO Chairperson Eleanor McEvoy tells us about some of the other achievements she’s been part of since taking on her role.
“I went out and told the truth, if only because it’s the easiest thing for me to remember!” laughs Eleanor McEvoy, when asked about being given the opportunity to speak in front of the European Parliament.
The Irish songwriter and musician – who has been the chairperson of IMRO since mid-2017 – doesn’t like to mince her words. In the handful of times that Hot Press has interviewed her in recent years, she’s spoken in clear terms, outlining exactly what IMRO does, how it helps music creators, and how proper legislation for content creators – on a European-wide level – is essential in the age of the internet. This is perhaps why she was elected to the role in the first place.
“I saw that income was going down and I could see it was only going to get worse,” she says, speaking about her own place as a musician. “So I thought, ‘OK maybe there’s something that we can do’. I thought that – because I have some kind of understanding of what IMRO does and about musicians’ rights and royalties – maybe I can explain this to a wide range of creators and to people that are coming up, in a way that might help rally their support.”
As a professional musician for several decades now, Eleanor noticed the sharp effects of the advent of online platforms for music and streaming sites. She notes that many of these effects were positive, but that some were becoming increasingly harmful.
“Looking back to 20-30 years ago, when I started, you can see how incomes have declined with the advent of online music sharing and streaming,” she says. “And look, we can embrace a lot of what the internet has done for musicians – it’s great that I can Google whatever I want, I can Google a piece of Handel, I can Google Walking On Cars and get it right away – I love that, I love technology for that. But at the same time, you need to be paying people if you want to use their content. Which is what the multinational tech companies are doing here: using people’s music.”
IMRO, alongside other music rights organisations throughout Europe, lobbied heavily for the EU Copyright Directive. The directive ensures a better deal for content creators by requiring the likes of YouTube and Facebook to take responsibility for copyrighted material being shared on their platforms, as well as by giving creators an opportunity for better remuneration by the big sites which use their content. The European Parliament passed the directive by a slim, but conclusive, margin back in April. Eleanor explains that it was a tough battle to achieve this victory.
“It was a hugely lengthy process,” she explains. “It was a culmination of four or five years’ work to be honest. But the last two years were very, very intense. It involved lobbying constantly, at European level. That was hard enough, but the real problem was the people we had lobbying against us.”
She gives a wry laugh. “You had all the richest people on the planet, the most powerful people on the planet, lobbying against us – people who’ve interfered in elections – so it was quite something that we managed to pull everyone together, that we managed to get everyone in Europe to come together on this. So I think it’s good that democracy won out in the end, because as we’ve seen, democracy is constantly under threat.”
Big tech wasn’t happy with the result, but there were also a number of internet users who proclaimed that this move would be the ‘death of the Internet’ and the ‘death of memes’, despite the fact that there were numerous provisions in the directive to ensure, and further protect, freedom of expression.
“It just wasn’t true,” says Eleanor. “The text allowed for memes, it allowed for gifs, it allowed freedom for smaller enterprises starting off. So, basically, people who proclaimed the death of the internet lied – or they got people to lie for them. It was quite sinister actually, it was the very definition of fake news, and it was great that that didn’t win out in the end. And now, we want to embrace technology. We want to work with the big companies. We’re saying to them, ‘We’re delighted for you to be earning money, we just want creators to be earning money as well.’”
Aside from the Copyright Directive, what are some of Eleanor’s other proudest moments during her tenure?
“Snow Patrol’s Johnny McDaid gave this amazing speech at the Independent Broadcasters Awards recently and he talked about IMRO and that was incredibly moving for me. He spoke about the IMRO team and all the positive work that they were doing. It meant a lot, for someone who is at his level, that he felt we were serving him well.
“I also feel proud when I’m in the IMRO building and we have all these young acts in performing. We have all these events and we meet the up-and-coming artists and it’s great to hear them talking about the work that IMRO’s done for them.”
Eleanor is also quick to mention that both the IMRO board and the IMRO team have been behind everything that they’ve achieved in recent years. What are the organisation’s plans going forward?
“The big thing now – after legislation passing in the EU – is getting it made into law in Ireland. We’ve got two years to do that. It’s not going to be easy because Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google – they all have their headquarters here. So that’s going to be quite a challenge but it’s important that we do that.
“Something else that we’re doing now is we’re going into the schools to talk to students about copyright law. A lot of the kids now are getting their music for free and they maybe don’t understand how music creators make a living and how it all works. So teaching them, while they’re young, is a great way of being able to explain, ‘OK, you love music, we love music, this is what you have to do for artists to be able to sustain their craft.’ And they get it. Students understand it. And once they understand it, they’re happy to pay for it. So that’s been an amazing thing to do.
“In recent months we’ve also backed Keychange, an organisation that’s trying to achieve gender balance in the music industry. We’re also working with a collective of artists called Sounding The Feminists. We’re basically looking at different ways in which we can improve gender balance in the music industry. It’s about creating balance and making sure that people, who’ve been overlooked, now get a fair opportunity.”
Can’t say fairer than that...