The Bee Gees’ Robin Gibb and other European music composers warned Thursday that standardizing music royalties across Europe could hurt musicians and the songs they write.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, is close to finishing an antitrust investigation into how royalties are collected. The outcome might help large music retailers like Apple Inc.’s iTunes sell from one store across Europe, rather than different stores with different products in each of the 27 EU nations.
Gibb and three other composer-songwriters, representing the European Composer and Songwriter Alliance, or ECSA, warned that drastic changes to Europe’s current online music market could reduce the royalties that musicians, particularly lesser-known ones with fewer sales, depend on to keep writing songs.
ECSA said that if major online services can negotiate lower, region-wide fees, artists could get less for their songs despite seeing them distributed more widely.
“On a fundamental scale, it’s a human right that someone who writes a piece of work should have control of it,” Gibb said in a statement, adding that a change could discourage newer songwriters from producing tomorrow’s hits.
Musicians make money from their music after they register copyrights with collective-rights managers, who in turn license songs and collect royalties from online services, radio stations, nightclubs and other outlets.
Currently, there are separate licensing managers in each of the 27 EU nations, leading to a highly fragmented market and causing European online music sales to lag behind those in the United States.
EU spokesman Jonathan Todd said the European Commission supports the collective-rights system because they minimize administrative fees and leave musicians with more money.
However, the commission is investigating if this fragmentation violates fair trade rules by giving national copyright agencies a de facto monopoly. The collecting agencies’ contracts with composers give authors only one choice of agency per country to collect payments.
Todd said the antitrust probe may be concluded this month but gave no firm date.
The EU has been at pains to create a Europe-wide copyright and licensing system for online music to make it easier and cheaper for commercial users to buy rights.
Under the current setup, commercial users – satellite or cable broadcasters and Internet sites – that want to buy rights to music must get a license from each national collection agency. Because of the complexities, companies don’t bother getting licenses for every market, so not all online music is available equally across the EU.
More than 220 singers, musicians and composers – including Charles Aznavour, Sade, David Gilmour, Julio Iglesias, Maurice Jarre, Mark Knopfler and Michel Legrand – already have signed an appeal to the EU saying pan-European music licensing will stifle creativity.
In a statement issued after meeting with EU officials, ECSA said EU-wide licensing would likely wipe out hundreds of thousands of small and medium-size businesses representing writers and publishers, reducing “the ability for Europe to produce cultural goods of any value in the international market.”