December 2010IN THIS BRIEFING —
COMMENT — Pan-European ‘Hubs’
FOCUS — Coercion
Welcome to the December issue of our monthly public affairs bulletin, BASCA Briefing. A digest of current activities and BASCA policy, in each issue the Briefing will provide a short introduction to our active campaigns, and look at news issues from the music writers’ point of view.
We hope you will find it useful; if you would like any further information, please telephone us on 0207 636 2929.
This month we take a look at three key developments in the online and licensing world: Google’s latest steps to curb piracy, more on the issue of coercion and we praise moves in pan-European licensing to develop ‘Hubs’. Read on for more.
COMMENT — BASCA responds to Google four-step improvement plan
Google’s announcement on 2nd December that it will be taking four clearly defined steps to combat online piracy and to point users to visit legitimate sites is a clever strategy with impeccable timing.
Clever strategy because while with the one hand it pledges rapid response to takedown requests for copyright infringement, on the other hand it offers to those who consider themselves wrongfully taken down, by improving its counter-notice tools.
Cleverly even-handed again, it promises better control over its ‘Autocomplete algorhythm’ so that sites clearly associated with piracy will not readily appear, but it declines to stop altogether the indexing of torrent and other infringing sites.
Impeccable timing because the licensing terms for its new music service for paid downloads and a cloud locker service are still to be agreed. What better to oil the wheels of negotiation than an admission of the scale of the problem of online copyright infringement and a noble gesture or two towards dealing with that problem.
However, BASCA questions whether this is anything other than a token gesture on the part of Google. It fulfils little more than the requirements of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) which came into law in the US in 1998. One of the unfortunate aspects of that law was that it limited the liability of providers of online services for copyright infringement by their users.
BASCA has always believed that content service providers should take more responsibility for the content they make available and should be held more accountable by regulators. So may these four steps be the first of many and not merely a tactic to distract while yet more lucrative business is developed at the expense of rights-owners.
COMMENT — Hurrah for Hubs
In the last edition of the BASCA Briefing we praised CISAC’s PEP initiative to deal with the problem of the pan-European or multi-territory licensing of music online. Since writing that piece events have moved on: the Head of Copyright at the Internal Market Commission of the EU has gone public with his idea of a Licensing Passport for collecting societies and it has become apparent that certain major rightsholders have decided that they would not place their rights with the PEP. The consummation devoutly to be feared by all of those anxious to find a solution to the problem of pan-European licensing appeared to have been reached.
However events of last week give BASCA cause for hope: at their board meeting in Budapest, CISAC acknowledged that the PEP in its current form was dead but voted to adopt and throw their weight behind an initiative from PRS for Music, the concept of licensing and administration Hubs.
The idea of licensing Hubs is relatively simple and seeks to deal with the apparently conflicting aims of the powers that be in Brussels to have a one stop licensing shop, whilst at the same time allowing competition between collecting societies (or in this case groups of societies). This encourages efficiency and, sticking to the established principle of competition by licensors for rightsholder mandates rather than users, it preserves the value of the rights.
The Hubs would consist of groupings of collecting societies who would share back office processing and administration systems and would licence repertoires on a pan-European or multi-territorial basis. The mandates for this repertoire would come from member societies of the Hub, other societies and large rights holders. It is anticipated that, initially there would be two or three such Hubs in Europe and, between them they could offer users one hundred percent of the worldwide repertoire. This could provide users with comparative ease of licensing and security of knowing that they had a comprehensive licence. It could alleviate the fears of competition authorities by providing the necessary competition for mandates and looks attractive to creators and rightsholders because it offers equal access to market and incentivises efficiency.
As with the PEP initiative it complements rather than competes with GRD (Global Rights Database) and does not necessarily rule out Mr Lueder’s idea of “passport societies”. The critical advantage that Hubs seem to have is that the major rightsholders have not yet dismissed it. Once again we have to report that there is a huge amount of work to be done on the idea but perhaps the industry now realises that we are fast running out of options and that Hubs may just provide a solution that we can all buy into.
FOCUS — COERCION
Since introducing the topic of the ‘coercive acquisition’ of composers’ rights by broadcasters, TV production companies and advertising agencies in the July edition of the BASCA Briefing, we have returned to it upon several occasions. This is depressing but not surprising: the problem has been spreading throughout Europe and is in danger of becoming the default position. That is why BASCA, together with our colleagues in the European Composer & Songwriter Alliance (ECSA), have formed a working group to find ways to deal with the problem.
As a result of the hard work put in by the members of the working group, we were able last week at a meeting with Joaquin Almunia (Vice President of the European Commission and Competition Commissioner) to set out clearly the problem faced by writers of media music across Europe. The response was encouraging and ECSA will be maintaining contact with the Competition Commission and setting out the case against coercion of media writers and why it breeches competition laws. It is unlikely that this will be a speedy process, but we all know what they say about thousand mile journeys.