Is The EU's Proposed Reform Of Music Licensing Doomed From The Start?
from the signs-aren't-good dept
Music collection societies often figure in Techdirt thanks to their attempts to wring licensing payments from people on absurd grounds, like trying to make them pay for playing music to horses, or for singing old folk songs. But in Europe, there’s another issue. Because each country has its own music collection society, digital music startups wishing to operate across Europe must negotiate not one, but dozens of separate licenses – a major obstacle to overcome.
Even the European Commission has noticed that this is a problem, and has proposed bringing in a new directive to tackle it:
New digital technologies are opening up great opportunities for creators, consumers and businesses alike. Increased demand for online access to cultural content (e.g. music, films, books) does not recognise borders or national restrictions. Neither do the online services used to access them. This is where collecting societies come into play, in particular in the music sector, where they collectively manage the licensing of copyright-protected music tracks for online use on behalf of composers and lyricists and collect and redistribute to them corresponding royalties.
However, some collecting societies struggle to adapt to the requirements of the management of rights for online use of musical works, in particular in a cross-border context. As a result of today’s proposal, those collecting societies willing to engage in the multi-territorial licensing of their repertoire would therefore have to comply with European standards. This would make it easier for service providers to obtain the necessary licences for music to be distributed online across the EU and to ensure that revenue is correctly collected and fairly distributed to composers and lyricists.
That reference to collecting societies that “struggle to adapt to the requirements of the management of rights for online use of musical works” is a pretty obvious dig at organizations like GEMA, which has been extremely inflexible when it comes to online licensing of music in Germany. So we can probably expect vociferous resistance to any change from many of the collecting societies that have enjoyed milking their legal monopolies to the full. Surprisingly, though, some artists don’t seem too enthusiastic either:
A proposed EU law to give musicians more rights over their royalties has angered bands like Radiohead and Pink Floyd, who accused the European Commission of breaking promises to tackle the problem of musicians’ missing pay.
The issue here seems to be that collection societies have a tendency to hold on to money that they should be distributing to artists, also referred to by the European Commission. The fact that musicians have already gone on the attack suggests that we are going to see some fierce lobbying coming from multiple directions. However, it may be that this directive is doomed to fail for quite another reason.
Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission, and certainly one of the most rational/radical members there, has written an extremely interesting blog post about the new proposals. She begins:
Last week’s vote on ACTA — although hardly a surprise for those who’ve been following – was a reminder about the big debate currently going on, about how to balance intellectual property rights with Internet freedoms
For me it’s about making it easier for artists to promote their work widely, and make a living from it: without constraining the immense innovation of the online world. And, for me, the current copyright system achieves all of those objectives poorly.
That’s why I’m convinced we need to reform copyright for the digital age. For me, merely making enforcement more and more heavy-handed is not the solution — especially if it results in draconian measures like cutting off internet access.
But a good start – and I hope a principle on which everybody could agree – is that we should make it easier to legally access the content you love.
That’s a very welcome statement, coming as it does from one of the most senior EU politicians. Significantly, she also has some words for the European Parliament regarding the proposed directive on music licensing:
our proposal needs to be agreed by the European Parliament and Council. Some previous attempts by us to modernise copyright rules — like our relatively modest proposal on orphan works — were significantly watered down by the legislator. This time I hope the Parliament and Council are more aware of the views citizens have expressed: that people love the openness of the Internet, and want easier access to more content.
That “modest proposal on orphan works” was gutted by the relevant European Parliament committee, as a previous Techdirt post explained. One key reason why the final form of the directive turned out so badly is that its rapporteur (the EU parliamentarian with overall responsibility for the legislation) was the copyright maximalist Marielle Gallo, who was not only one of the few to vote in favor of ACTA, but went so far as to brand ACTA dissent as a “soft form of terrorism“.
Unfortunately, it seems that Gallo will also be the rapporteur on this new music licensing proposal. Assuming she gets her way, that pretty much guarantees that any directive that emerges from the long process of political wrangling won’t do much to address the deep underlying problems with music licensing. It may even make them worse, judging by what happened with the hostage works directive under her guidance.