COMMENTARY: WILL EC ROYALTY CHANGES COME AT CREATORS' EXPENSE?
By ROBIN GIBB
A few weeks ago, I found myself in the unusual position of speaking to the European Commission in Brussels. As a member of the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters, I was there to speak in the name of CISAC, the international body representing authors’ societies. The commission is conducting a review of the licensing of creators’ rights, which directly affects the income of millions of creators worldwide. It was therefore our job to explain the vital role that collection societies play in enabling us, the creators, to collect revenue that is rightfully ours.
Collection societies frequently get bad press as abusive faceless monopolies acting against consumers and, indeed, authors’ interests. Nothing could be further from the truth. European collection societies were set up by authors as nonprofit organizations and are run by the authors, composers and publishers who are their members to administer their rights. Of course, the societies have never been popular with the big multinational commercial broadcasters and other music users who are constantly trying to cut their own “costs” at our expense. At the hearing in Brussels, it was perfectly clear that they wished to devalue copyright in order to benefit their shareholders. It was less clear where the consumer or any author would benefit.
Crucial to societies-and the 2.5 million creators whom they represent-are the reciprocal agreements between them, which make up the network that enables each society to offer in its own territory the entire world’s music repertoire.
This system has benefited me and my fellow creators in at least two ways.
This network is central to my work as a songwriter, not a performer. I have co-written many songs with my brothers over the years such as “Chain Reaction” for Diana Ross and “Heartbreaker” for Dionne Warwick. Without this system there is no way that we would have been able to receive a fair reward in all countries for our work as writers.
Secondly, in these days of multinational copyright users, the network creates collective bargaining power, which affords authors less well-known than me some chance to receive an equitable reward for their works. With increased threats to the creative community, the agreements between collection societies, which underpin the network, are more essential than ever.
A ludicrous idea voiced at the hearing was that competition between authors’ societies in the grant of licenses to users would somehow benefit creators. If a user were able to obtain clearance rights for my song “Night Fever” from 24 competing organizations, which organization do you think the user would choose? The user would, of course, choose the organization offering the cheapest possible price. What interest would I have in such a scenario? I might be in a strong enough position to personally fight this reduction in value by withdrawing my rights from societies that undercut each other, but other creators less well-known would be stuck.
Royalty devaluation will also inevitably lead to cultural devaluation. As a creator who has benefited from the strength of the Anglo-American repertoire, I have no doubt that my genre of music would survive competition-albeit financially decimated. But have a thought for Europe’s cultural diversity that would be seriously jeopardized if the current system of collective management of creators’ rights were destroyed.
The commission is currently threatening to fine collection societies for infringement of competition laws as if they were another Microsoft. In reality, they are nonprofit-making organizations and fining them is fining every creator throughout Europe. Most artists are dependent on royalties and it is desperately unfair to have their livelihoods threatened by an external party claiming to champion their cause.
I sincerely hope that the European Commission understood my message and will continue to listen to the voice of creators before taking any decision. It is above all a question of avoiding the erosion of the authors’ negotiating position in the sole interest of a small band of very powerful broadcasters. ****
Singer/songwriter Robin Gibb is a founding member of the Bee Gees.