Commission wants single market for online music
By Nathalie Vandystadt | Friday 06 July 2012
Creating a single market for online music by making it easier to issue Europe-wide licences is the ultimate aim of a draft directive that the European Commission will present to member states and the European Parliament, on 11 July. The draft, seen by
Europolitics,is technical, but the idea behind it is not new. It can probably be summed up in a single sentence taken from the text: “Although the internet is borderless, online music markets are still fragmented”.
For now, online operators that exploit copyright on music repertories have to negotiate country by country with national rights collecting societies. As a result, a legal music platform like the Swedish site Spotify, which is globally successful, is available in Europe only in Sweden, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Norway, the Netherlands, Finland, Germany and Denmark. The Commission attributes these difficulties in large measure to the collective management of copyright in Europe, but also to the commercial choices made by online operators, who do not hesitate to give preference to large and consequently more profitable markets.
The long-awaited proposal has a two-fold objective.
On the one hand, it is meant to harmonise at European level certain administrative practices of national copyright collecting societies like Sacem in France or Sabam in Belgium, which serve as artists’ agents with companies wishing to exploit their works. Copyright societies therefore shall not be allowed to discriminate against authors, composers, musicians, etc on the basis of their nationality or place of residence. Rights-holders must be able to be represented by the society of their choice and to divide up their rights among different societies and territories. The collecting societies must also be transparent in their dealings with their members and with respect to their votes at general meetings, management, monitoring of activities, collection of copyright, use and payments to authors. The Commission also spells out a number of accounting elements that must be included in the annual reports of these not-for-profit associations.
The Commission also proposes to oblige collecting societies capable of issuing pan-European licences to meet quality criteria. They will need sufficient IT facilities to transmit the data necessary for managing this type of licence. This implies clarity on the repertory available, monitoring of its use, invoicing systems, rights collection and distribution of royalties to authors. The idea is also to group repertories as far as possible. The danger of preferential treatment being given to national copyright societies from large countries would thus be counter-balanced by the fact that societies with small repertories could demand from those meeting the European criteria to include their content in pan-European offers.
If a collecting society is incapable of issuing online multi-territory licences or does not mandate another society to do so, rights-holders may issue such licences themselves or go through a third party, one year after the transposition of this legislation, reads the draft. Collecting societies will continue to manage national rights unless decided otherwise by authors.
The Commission sees its proposal as a way of boosting the legal online music offer, which has expanded by 20% in Europe (compared with 4% in the United States) and combating piracy. Not everyone shares this optimism, however. For some observers, the single market goal is a “smokescreen” because culture, apart from the English-language repertory, is by essence linguistically and culturally fragmented.
For some, this requirement is a “smokescreen” since culture is by essence fragmented