Q&A with Véronique Desbrosses, General Manager of the European grouping of author societies, GESAC

The long-awaited proposal for a directive on collective rights management and the multi-territorial licensing of rights in musical works for online uses has now been published. Véronique Desbrosses, General Manager of the European grouping of author societies, GESAC, shares her views.

Q – What’s been your first reaction to the proposal? Has the Commission managed to strike the right balance between the interests of creators, consumers and service providers?

We have been waiting for the proposal for several years and I am happy that finally we have something concrete on the table to work on!

Fixing harmonized high-level standards on transparency is a positive way forward and will contribute to enhancing trust and confidence in collective management societies.  It is important to stress that these societies play a key role in the cultural ecosystem: a song, for example, can be played all over the world, on the radio, in bars and discos or via the web – bringing joy to music fans everywhere.  Authors’ societies allow this to be possible while making sure the process also generates remuneration for the creator – copyright is their salary after all –  thereby safeguarding the creativity chain.

We welcome the intention to create a legal framework that would give greater certainty to music authors’ societies to pool rights together and offer the largest possible repertoire for cross-border digital uses from a minimum number of entry points.

But the text is far from being perfect and there is a need to improve it on many aspects so that it can fully meet expectations and needs. For instance, some provisions of the text are largely inspired from company laws and are not adapted to the specificities of authors’ societies. Authors’ societies are not commercial undertakings or pure service providers; they are non-profit organisations governed by their members – rights holders like authors and composers – who participate in the decisions that affect them through General Assemblies and Boards of Directors.  EU legislation should reflect this specificity accurately.

Q – One of the proposal’s main aims is to improve the transparency and governance of collecting societies in Europe.  Do you agree that it’s time for collecting societies to change?

Let me first underline the fact that authors’ societies are not “collecting” societies because their role goes far beyond the mere collection of monies: their role also includes negotiating licenses with users, distributing the monies, engaging in social and cultural actions for their members, enforcing rights etc. This is why we prefer, and it is more accurate, to use the term  “collective rights management societies”. This being said, the answer to your question is yes, I think it is time to have the same high-level minimum standards on transparency all over the EU and for all collective rights management societies!

Authors’ societies want to be trendsetters on transparency and efficiency but they rely also on the transparency and accurate reporting of the users of creative works. This of course means that the users of creative works should also comply with high-level industry standards! It should be a win-win situation and I am not sure whether the Commission’s text is helpful since it does not establish any obligation for users.

Q – What about self-regulation? What are collective rights management societies already doing to improve and innovate?

We upgrade our standards regularly and our common self-regulated “professional rules” have been reviewed and upgraded some weeks ago in the framework of CISAC, the International Federation of Authors societies. For example, it was decided that the distribution of monies to rights holders should be made quarterly, which is by far a higher standard than is proposed by the Commission (once a year). Also, a couple of years ago, GESAC established some common rules on governance and transparency with the music publishers’ organization ICMP. These included, in particular, taking into account the necessary adaptation of the management of rights to the needs of the digital age. It is important to have in mind that good governance in  musical authors’ societies is about striking the balance between the interests of very different members: the individual authors and composers on the one hand and the music publishers, which often are big firms, on the other.

Q – According to the Commission, some collective rights management societies are ‘not ready’ for the challenges of cross-border online music licensing of multiple repertoires, which makes it hard for service providers to obtain the licenses they need to launch online music services across the EU. Would the proposed new rules really help collective management societies to play their part in making the Digital Single Market a reality? If so, how?  

Authors societies’ already grant cross border online music licenses! The online music market is developing fast and there are today more than 300 online music services available in Europe. This positive result couldn’t have been achieved without authors’ societies granting national, cross-border, pan-European and worldwide licenses according to the needs of users.

It is true that in some countries the online music market is less developed than in others but this is generally because commercial users find those markets less attractive. It is also important to keep in mind that content services often prefer to geo-localize their services to one country because this allows them to adapt their services to the taste of the public and construe their business models according to local specificities.

Cross-border management of rights supposes matching data in order to accurately identify, invoice and distribute the royalties owed to right holders and authors societies’ are heavily investing in sophisticated IT tools and putting considerable effort in joint projects such as the Global Repertoire Database to achieve this.  In order to secure our investments and to address the fragmentation of repertoires we need to have a sound legal framework and the future directive should provide this necessary clarity and certainty.

Q – The new rules would impose new obligations on societies like yearly transparency reports and quicker payments to members. How do you think these requirements would change the working lives of collective rights management societies across Europe? How to reduce the amount of undistributed money?

If you go to the web sites of EU authors societies you will find already their annual report detailing their activities and financial figures like the amount of royalties collected and distributed, and deductions made for administrative costs and for social and cultural actions, etc.  So we’re already ahead of the game on reporting.

Another issue is accurate and quick payments to rights holders. Authors’ societies are constantly upgrading their tracking systems to invoice users and pay rights holders what they are owed on time every time.  The system of reciprocal representation between authors’ societies all over the world and the global information network between collective rights management societies with matching databases allow the monies collected in one point to be distributed to the right holders wherever they are in the world.  This sophisticated  network system enables the exchange of precise and up-to date information on millions works and on their respective creators and rightholders.  But sometimes rights holders do not inform their authors’ society about their change of address and contact details which makes it difficult to find them.  For one work of music you can sometimes have up to 20 different rightholders, who may well be spread out over the world! We rely on the reports of uses of works made by the users and sometimes such reporting are inaccurate. Quality of reporting, which is not always the case, fundamentally affects the accuracy and speed of distribution of royalties to their rightful owners.

Q –As General Manager of Gesac, what do you hope the new laws will ultimately accomplish?

There is a need for better understanding and trust about collective management of rights. Authors societies’ role is crucial for providing access to European and worldwide creation for all European citizens, ensuring legal certainty for new and innovative business models to develop and safeguarding the rights of all creators equally regardless of their fame or popularity.  The future directive should allow for a level playing field for authors’ societies while taking into account their specificities which should be recognized. The new law should also create the long-awaited legal security and certainty so as to allow authors societies to group forces and be able to offer more repertoire and less point of entrees.  We are happy to have a chance to constructively cooperate with the EU institutions in the coming months so as to improve the text to this end.