Merlin has pulled off a special trick: the independents’ digital rights agency has paid out its billionth dollar (AUS$1.25 billion) to its members.

The milestone, announced early Monday, follows several years of snowballing revenue growth for the organization, which has licensed more than 20 digital music services from Deezer to Google Play and YouTube Red, iHeartRadio, Pandora, Vevo and Spotify, with which it struck a renewed multi-year global licence in April.

Led by Australian-born CEO Charles Caldas, Merlin was presented to the industry as the “virtual fifth major” in January 2007 and launched for business in May 2008. The not-for-profit Merlin, now affectionately known as the “virtual fourth major” (following the sale and dissection of EMI) currently represents more than 20,000 indie labels and distributors in 53 countries, who collectively account for an estimated 12 percent of the global digital music market.

“It makes me immensely proud to reach this landmark,” says Caldas in a statement. “Like all the best independent labels, Merlin is run with passion, as a lean and efficient operation – albeit with an extensive and profound global responsibility. Our unique structure has empowered Merlin’s members to sit centre stage in the streaming market, while enabling digital music services to capitalise on the immense consumer demand for independent music.

“Even more inspiring is that this billion dollars in revenues comes only from the new-generation services that have launched since we did. In a market still in its early stages of evolution, the more significant growth is arguably yet to come.”