Time may be of the essence, but European institutions work within a different timeframe from the rest of the world.
That was pretty obvious at the very informative session Lost Property: The Future of Collective Rights Management in the EU, presented by German authors’ society GEMA at midem last week.
For authors’ societies, the most important person on the panel was Kerstin Jorna, the deputy head of cabinet of European Commissioner Michel Barnier at the European Commission in Brussels. Jorna is one of the policy-makers who is in charge of drafting European legislation dealing with copyright. And if there is one sector in need for such thing, it’s collective management, so that users of music repertoire and those who license it can navigate within clear boundaries within the European Union.
“We want to create a digital single market for the benefit of all. We need security for the market between those who create, those who invest [in creation], and those who enjoy [these creations],” said Jorna.
That’s a declaration of intent, since the Commission caused havoc a few years back by ruling that reciprocal deals within rights societies was anti-competitive. Hence the need for a clear EU legal framework for pan-European licensing in which rights societies can operate with a set of rules and content users can apply for licenses that give them access to the repertoire they need; while creators can get compensation.
Such a document has been expected from the Commission for the past two years. Last year at midem, Barnier said it would happen by the end of the year, then it was pushed back to 2012.
When asked by session moderator Manfred Gillig-Degrave, editor-in-chief of German trade magazine Musikwoche what is the Commission’s time frame for such a framework, Jorna replied that by April, Barnier will present a text on pan-European licensing, opening a period during which the proposed legislation with be discussed by stakeholders, before being presented to the European Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, for final adoption in 2013. That is, if nothing derails the process, of course.
“We hope that a consensus will emerge towards 2013,” said Jorna. An incredulous comment from the audience then highlighted the frustration from many within the world of collective management, who consider that the European Commission is not reacting quickly enough, leaving the sector in a state of limbo.
GEMA CEO Harald Hecker welcomed the process initiated by the Commission, but reminded Jorna that “we need to act very very fast – time is of the essence here.” For Hecker, societies need this framework because they are dealing with “more and more international users who are asking for cross-border licenses”.
Added Hecker, “Collecting societies need the legal framework for two reasons: we have to create a level playing field for fair competition. In the EU, you have 27 rules for societies and we need harmonisation of these rules. Without these rules there is no fair competition. And we need legal certainty. As of today, there is no cooperation with societies because we don’t know what we can do and what we cannot do.”
The urgency was also felt in the comments made by Ansgar Heveling, member of the German Bundestag. “We need fast review from the EC about the way in which it will go,” he said.
Kenth Muldin offered a double perspective, as CEO of Sweden’s STIM, which he described as “a small society from a small country’, and as chair of the board of CISAC, the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers. As a representative of STIM, Muldin welcomed “the initiatives form EC to get a level playing field for small societies to participate” and speaking with his CISAC hat, he said that the organisation, which regroups 230 societies from around the world, will very closely analyse the proposed legislation.
“Europe still represents over 65% of the income for creators and publishers,” said Muldin, “so it is quite natural that the whole world is watching closely what happens in Brussels, and also watching the planning of what will happen in Europe. Similar situations occur all over the world: the abolition of borders will happen globally.”
Giving the perspective of the creators, Alfons Karabuda, executive chairman of Europe’s composers and songwriters association, ECSA, told the audience that creators welcome competition between societies if it results in better service to users and to their members; but not if it applies to rates, because this will mean less revenues in the end for creators.
Karabuda also made an impassionate plea in favour of collective management. “We need a healthy competitive market and we need also a place for composers who do not have a place in the commercial arena,” said Karabuda. “Collective management societies are the ones that can treat repertoire equally. We welcome the initiatives [from the Commission]and would be glad to be part of the creation of this framework because we fear that if not seen from the authors’ perspective, it will not be a long term solution.”
Emmanuel Legrand is a freelance journalist and consultant.
You can also watch this conference in video on GEMA’s website, here.