Majors write off historic unrecouped royalty balances for heritage artists

February 02, 2022

Many established artists and songwriters have long complained that they receive little, if any, streaming royalties from the majors as they are still paying off recoupable advances made to them many decades ago.

But last summer, Sony Music Group did something commendable.

They announced that they would write off unrecouped balances for thousands of heritage artists and songwriters who had signed to Sony in previous decades.

Now, in another landmark moment for the music business, Warner Music Group (WMG), have announced that they will do the same.

They are introducing a "legacy unrecouped advances programme", which will take effect from the beginning of WMG’s next semi-annual accounting period from 1 July, 2022.

Under this programme, where artists and songwriters signed to WMG before 1 January, 2000 but received no recoupable advances following that date , WMG will write off their unrecouped balances on their royalty accounts on 30 June 2022.

WMG have confirmed that this decision will also benefit other royalty recipients such as producers, engineers, mixers and remixers.

Following this formal announcement by WMG, it comes as no surprise that Universal have also informally confirmed that they will be joining Sony and WMG by doing the same as part of a wider upgrade of Universal’s Environment Social Governance (ESG) practices.

From a legal perspective, the consequences of this development cannot be overstated: artists and songwriters and, in many cases, their estates whose streaming royalties have until now been kept by the majors because they were contractually within their rights to do so, should, with effect from the second half of 2022, start to receive royalties from the future exploitation of their catalogues.