EP in favour of collecting societies and levies

By EDRi · January 28, 2004

On 15 January 2004 the European Parliament accepted an own-initiative report about the importance and future of collecting societies, the organisations that collect the rights on copyright and neighbouring rights. The report states that Digital Rights Management is insufficiently developed to replace the work of collecting societies. According to the report, reasonable levies (for example on blank CD-recordables) are “the only means of ensuring equitable remuneration for creators and easy access by users to intellectual property works and cannot be replaced by Digital Rights Management Systems.”

In 2002 the European Commission promised to produce a Communication about the collecting societies, to fill in some details left open by the new Copyright Directive (2001/29/EC). The communication never materialised, and the Austrian Member of Parliament Mercedes Echerer took the initiative herself.

In most current member states of the EU collecting societies operate from a de facto monopoly. Only in the Netherlands (Buma/Stemra) and Italy (SIAE/IMAE) do the societies still have a legal monopoly. There has been much criticism about the way these societies collect the royalties for composers and authors. For example in France the owners of discotheques were obliged to pay an astonishing 8,25% of their gross turnover to SACEM. After a long legal battle, the European Court of Justice decided that the fees indeed seemed very high, certainly in comparison with other countries, but over all the management costs were too in-transparent to compare with each other. More importantly, the Court ruled that owners could not be obliged to pay a blanket fee for the entire repertoire SACEM represents, but should be offered a choice. Most discotheque owners claimed they didn’t care much about French music and only wanted to play Anglo-American repertoire.

The European Parliament takes the lessons from these and similar cases into account, when insisting on using competition law to examine possible abuse of monopoly, forcing the societies to be transparent about their management fees, keeping the administrative costs at a maximum of 10-15% and creating arbitration procedures that are affordable for everybody.

Creators of copyrighted works must be pleased with the double underlining of their rights of free choice; they are explicitly given the freedom “to decide for themselves which rights they wish to confer on collective management societies and which rights they wish to manage individually”, a freedom that must be guaranteed by law. Many artists in Europe are still forced to sign away all of their rights, including their electronic rights and all their future productions, to the national collecting society. This policy for example prevents many artists from offering their own music for free on their website.

The report carefully avoids to address the most painful issue of Digital Rights Management; the privacy of the individual user whose eyeballs and ear shells are being tracked and billed for every single byte of creative work he or she enjoys. In fact, whenever the report speaks about users, it seems to refer only to market parties that make money with the exploitation of copyrighted works.

European Parliament report on collecting societies A5-0478/2003 (15.01.2004)

European Court of Justice, joined cases 110/88, 241/88 and 242/88 against SACEM (13.07.1989)