Despite strong pressure, the European Commission decided to ban certain copyright handling practices, triggering angry reactions from rights managers.
Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes yesterday (16 June) asked almost all the European collecting societies, which manage copyright on behalf of music authors, to scrap a clause from their contracts that prevents authors from choosing or moving to another collecting society.
The Commission claims that this move is in the interest of authors, who will be free to select Europe’s cheapest and most efficient collecting society. But CISAC, the organisation representing several European collecting societies, argues instead that “the principle that creators are free to join whatever society they choose is already well established and widely applied”.
The commissioner also wants some territorial restrictions to be banned, notably those preventing collecting societies from offering licenses to commercial users outside their domestic territory. This practice brings with it burdensome administrative procedures for broadcasters, such as online or satellite media, which act at European level. Indeed, they must request licenses from the specific collecting societies of all the countries in which they broadcast.
From the CISAC point of view, this decision will instead “inevitably lead to a catastrophic fragmentation of repertoire and therefore to legal uncertainty for music users”. The Dutch collecting society BUMA-STEMRA instead backed the Commission’s decision, thus confirming the fracture between big and small collecting societies throughout the EU (EURACTIV 20/07/07).
On the other hand, ECSA, an association which represents several European music authors, criticised the Commission’s decision, labelling it “an attack on cultural diversity” because it would benefit multinational rights users while affecting small and medium-sized businesses and individual writers. At the beginning of July, ECSA threatened to “play havoc” with the music market if the Commission had decided to go ahead with the antitrust decision on collective societies (EURACTIV 04/07/08).
Kroes’s spokesperson accused ECSA of speaking on behalf of collecting societies while failing to represent the wider category of music authors. The founder of the Bee Gees, Robin Gibb, who speaks for ECSA, is indeed the president of CISAC too.
The Commission is also arguing that cultural diversity will be increased by this decision because “it will encourage collecting societies to be more efficient,” to the advantage of small authors. Moreover, the current strong demand at national level for local repertoires is considered by Brussels to be sufficient proof that the less famous authors will keep an audience in any circumstances.
The decision applies immediately but does not involve the imposition of fines on the collecting societies it targets. They have now 120 days to inform the Commission about the implementation of the measures requested.
In a parallel move, Brussels also decided yesterday to propose extending the duration of copyright protection for music performers from 50 to 95 years to address the financial problems faced by old retired singers. The associations representing European performers welcomed the initiative, despite underlining its partial scope.