Licensing music in Europe – a work in progress

Europe has always been a continent of music-lovers. But the way we as consumers choose to enjoy music is changing – and everywhere you look there are efforts to adapt to this. Here’s a look at two key trends.

Music gone digital

The Internet has of course been a game-changer for the music sector. It all started with downloading, but since then the services on offer have mushroomed: consumers can now choose between subscription services, advertising-supported services offering streaming for no charge, music video services like You Tube and services backed by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that weave music subscriptions into broadband packages (the ISP Telia, for example, includes a Spotify subscription as part of its mobile package).

Music can now also be accessed across a range of devices, too, so fans can listen to the music they chose wherever they are. And thanks to social media functions attached to existing services, a virtual community of fans has been created that can recommend what they enjoy…and speak out about what they don’t.

Today there are more than 300 legitimate online music services in Europe, giving access to some 13 million tracks. From a whopping 70 services in the UK to a modest two in Cyprus, Malta and Luxembourg – there’s always a way for fans to access the music they love in a legal and equitable way.

The partnerships forged between industry and authors’ societies in Europe mean that innovation, enterprise and the protection of creators’ rights – the basis of musicians’ livelihoods – are compatible. Read what we said last week about some of these partnerships and how they benefit creators.

Unfortunately, there’s a sting to the Internet’s otherwise rosy tail.

Europe’s legitimate music business is held back by pirate sites that tap into the all-too-human yet unfortunate desire to have things for free. Offering comparable services to legitimate services but at no cost, pirate sites undermine the incentive for consumers to pay for the music they enjoy. This not only stifles the development of honest business ventures, it also undercuts the musicians trying to earn a decent wage by doing what they love to do.

Authors’ societies work tirelessly to enforce the rights of their members across Europe. But that’s not enough: the legal environment that allows piracy to thrive needs urgent attention.

Music gone global

The world has become a global village and now, more than ever, musicians are enjoying recognition and acclaim the world over. Most consumers in the EU now have access to the overwhelming majority of music repertoire online.

The tight-knit ‘network’ structure of authors’ societies in Europe ensures their flexibility: for their own repertoire, they can grant licenses that are local, national, pan-European or worldwide in scope.

Where services aren’t available on a multi-territory basis, it’s the choice of licensees – not authors’ societies. Services like Google can and do choose to limit their operations to certain geographical locations for practical or commercial reasons.

The much-loved service iTunes, for example, is now available throughout the EU. But did you know that some months ago this was not the case? Music fans in  Eastern European countries had to get by without the service…but it wasn’t due to red-tape in obtaining licenses –  iTunes hadn’t even applied! And, when they  finally did decide to open their services in Hungary, for instance, talks with the local authors’ society – ARTISJUS – went well, and were finalised within just three months!

That said, we know there’s work to be done on our side. We’re already devising solutions to meet the challenges and opportunities of the single market.  Major investments in advanced technologies have enabled the provision of fine-tuned and reliable management, namely ‘micromanagement’ and ‘nano-distribution’ processes that are crucial in the online environment where millions of downloads of hundreds of thousands of works, some of which have several copyright holders each, have to be processed to facilitate the distribution of sometimes tiny sums of money to the rights holders owed revenue. Similarly, projects like the Global Repertoire Database Project – a multi-territory data resource – promises to enable more efficient licensing and royalty allocation.

Collective rights management has always proved to be adaptable to technological developments and new types of use – offering easier access to musical works, ensuring the non-discriminatory provision of licenses and promoting cultural diversity. It’s already confronting the challenges of the digital world head-on.   What’s needed now is a legal framework that enables authors’ societies to make the necessary arrangements between themselves to allow for the voluntary re-aggregation of repertoires, thereby facilitating access to all copyright works, for the benefit of users and consumers.

No one knows what further change the music sector will undergo in the years to come.  But one thing is for sure – its success will remain tied to the value we place on its creators and their work, and how we protect and enforce their rights.