Pan-European iTunes in sight, says Commission

The European Commission yesterday (26 May) announced that European consumers would soon be able to buy online music across national borders, paving the way for a pan-European iTunes and the like. But the industry downsized expectations.

“There is a clear willingness expressed by the major players in online music distribution in Europe to tackle the many barriers which prevent consumers from fully benefiting from the opportunities that the Internet provides,” said EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes.

She specifically referred to a proposal by powerful French collecting society Sacem to entrust other collecting societies with pan-European licensing of its repertoire, renouncing its exclusive control of French authors’ rights.

The move, especially if followed by other national collecting societies, would favour the sale of music online to all European citizens regardless of national borders. So far, for example, songs sold on the popular online music site iTunes vary from country to country amid different national authors’ rights laws. Some tracks are only available on the Italian version and not on the British one, or vice-versa. 

With pan-European licences in place, these national obstacles will be removed, paving the way for a genuine EU online music market. Its size could bring prices down and thus pose a major challenge to peer-to-peer websites on which music and other content is shared for free, albeit illegally.

Apple, which manages iTunes, backed Sacem’s alleged move. The decision could indeed significantly boost sales on the EU market, which at the moment are generally lower than in the US.

Popular record label EMI also supported the move, saying that it is ready to entrust rights managers with its repertoire across the whole European Economic Area. 

However, Sacem downsized expectations. “We are assessing the situation and we showed our will to find meaningful solutions, but not all questions are solved,” Sacem CEO Bernard Miyet told EURACTIV.

Music authors' rights in the EU are managed by collecting societies, which draw royalty payments when songs are played live and when they are broadcast on media, including on the Internet.

So far collecting societies have been managing authors' rights at national level, but as the Internet grows in importance, a borderless business model is gaining momentum.

Last July, Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes asked 24 European collecting societies to scrap a clause in their contracts that prevents authors from choosing or moving to another collecting society. The move paved the way for pan-European licensing of music repertoires (EURACTIV 17/07/08).

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