Missing Music Streaming Royalties for Songwriters : The Indicator from Planet Money The music industry has boomed thanks to streaming, but with thousands of new songs being added to platforms everyday, sometimes royalties slip through the cracks unpaid. $424 million worth of royalties, to be exact.
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The Giant Pool Of Unmatched Music Royalties

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The Giant Pool Of Unmatched Music Royalties

The Giant Pool Of Unmatched Music Royalties

The Giant Pool Of Unmatched Music Royalties

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/978924200/978974970" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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(MARTIN BUREAU/AFP via Getty Images) MARTIN BUREAU/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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MARTIN BUREAU/AFP via Getty Images

(MARTIN BUREAU/AFP via Getty Images)

MARTIN BUREAU/AFP via Getty Images

Chances are pretty good that if you listen to music these days, you do it using a streaming service like Pandora, Spotify, or Apple music. Sometimes you'll pay a monthly subscription fee to stream all you want, or sometimes you'll just pay by listening to ads between songs.

Either way, in theory those companies will use that subscription or ad money to cover their costs, and then they will pay the people who actually made the songs that we're all streaming: the performers, of course, but more importantly for the purposes of our story, the people who created the copyrightable intellectual property at the center of a song: the songwriters.

But as it turns it, many of those songwriters have actually not yet been paid for all those sweet tunes we've been streaming non-stop. Last month, news broke that 20 of the largest music streaming platforms had been sitting on no less than $424 million in so-called "unmatched royalties". That's money that they had collected but didn't know whom to pay.

On the Indicator: how did the big music streaming platforms end up owing $424 million dollars to the songwriters and music publishers they depend on? And what does that tell us about the state of the music business?

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