The European Union has proposed a plan to retroactively extend the copyright terms on musical recordings for another 45 years. Under the current 50-year copyright term the EU notes income stops when performers are retired. The EU yesterday revealed plans to force a unified market for online song distribution permissions from royalty collection societies.
European regulators this morning ordered music rights collection societies across all its member states to abandon the existing territorial framework under which they operate.
Regulators believe the network that exists to run foul of the one market aim of the EU, and also say it is holding back development of Europe’s online music market. As it stands, online music services such as eMusic or iTunes are forced to negotiate distribution rights on a per-country basis, going through whatever local hoops exist to secure permission, and being required to sell songs through a dedicated store for that country.
That last part – the dissonant song selling environment – means a European consumer is unable to shop across European music stores to secure the best available price – they can’t shop online for music in stores that serve any country other than the one they are in. This is clearly not the way the European market is meant to work.
The Commission now wants rights collection societies to set up a system in which digital music operators can secure a single license to sell songs across Europe, which will facilitate new online stores. The EU also wants rights societies to have to compete with each other, rather than the current situation where each holds a monopoly in its own country.
The decision goes against a relatively high profile campaign by musicians and rights societies in which they declared a pan-European license would impact their earnings. However, European Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said the deal could “benefit cultural diversity by encouraging collecting societies to offer composers and lyricists a better deal in terms of collecting the money to which they are entitled”. Artists will be able to choose which society they allow to manage their rights, she pointed out, and will likely opt for the most artist-friendly societies which offer the best deals.
Apple has chosen to renege on an earlier commitment to lower UK iTunes prices to bring them into line with those across Europe.
The company promised to change prices to match those charged across Europe six months ago in order to stave of an EU investigation.
Apple had said: “Within six months it will lower the prices it charges for music on its UK iTunes store to match the already standardised pricing on iTunes across Europe.”
At the time, Apple’s 0.99 Euro per song charge equated to 74p, while the company charged 79p per track in the UK. Fluctuations in the currency market now mean both prices come in at around the same price, meaning no price cut is necessary, at least not according to Apple logic – and the company has made no further commitment to reduce costs once the currency markets change again.
“The announcement was that we would match the UK price to that of other lower priced European countries,” an Apple spokesman said, speaking to the BBC. “This is no longer necessary as exchange rates have effectively done it for us.”
Music fans in Europe still pay much more than those in the US, where each song costs $0.99 (49p or 0.62 euros).
Some of the world’s richest songwriter/musicians and most of Europe’s composer/songwriter associations have got together to protest against EU plans to force pan-European licensing of music online.
To protest the matter a selection of artists, including James Blunt, David Gilmour, Robin Gibb (pictured) and Sir Paul McCartney, today signed a letter of appeal to EC President José Manuel Barroso.
The issue? The EC is near complete on an antitrust investigation into how royalties are collected in Europe. At present, these are collected by national collection societies, which distribute money to artists on a national basis, however, the drawback of this traditional set-up, which has its roots in the days long before the common market, is that rights must be secured on a country-by-country basis, making it difficult to secure consistent rights across Europe. This means different online stores across Europe offer different selections, and clearly runs against the core EU principle of an open market.
If the Commission finds against the societies, the outcome would help online stores, such as iTunes, because the EC would likely force the creation of harmonised trans-European systems for securing rights.
However, ECSA warns that changes to the current situation could reduce the royalties musicians earn. EC regulators counter that the current fragmented market means development of Europe’s online music industry lags behind that of the US. As such the EC wants to create a trans-European copyright and licensing system for online music in an attempt to foster growth of such services.