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200 writers and 50 publishers marching away from Spanish collecting society SGAE

By | Published on Friday 4 October 2019

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Around 200 songwriters and 50 music publishers are in the process of leaving Spain’s famously shit collecting society SGAE, according to Spanish media reports. The controversial society demands members give it six months notice before jumping ship, so those creators and publishers taking the leap will be cut free from 1 Jan next year.

SGAE, of course, enjoys the accolade of shittest song rights collecting society in the world. Which is no small achievement, there’s an awful lot of competition out there for that title. After years of controversies about how it distributes the monies it collects on behalf of songwriters and music publishers – and how it has sought to shut out its critics along the way – SGAE was finally expelled from the global grouping of songwriter societies, CISAC, earlier this year. The Spanish government has also been piling on the pressure.

It’s not actually officially known which songwriters and music publishers are on the list of those planning to exit SGAE at the end of the year, but Spanish newspaper ABC says that list includes some of the country’s key creators, with their departure likely to have a big impact on the society’s repertoire and revenues.

Meanwhile another newspaper, El Diario, reckons that about 200 writers and 50 publishers have begun the process of leaving SGAE, meaning they’ll be free by the beginning of next year. Although some have apparently said that they will stay if the society can get its wider membership to approve long-talked about reforms before the end of 2019. Which it almost certainly can’t.

It’s not clear what the departing SGAE members plan to do with their rights, given that they’ll still need a society to license their songs to broadcasters, venues and companies who otherwise play music in public. However, there is now another option of course, a rival society called Unison having already launched. Meanwhile, El Diario reports that some of SGAE’s departing members are considering launching their own rights organisation.

The moving of rights around the collective licensing system isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. The global music publishers have been the most vocal critics of SGAE, but in Continental Europe songwriters directly assign both the mechanical and performing rights in their songs to their societies, and then grant their publisher the right to share in the money that society collects. In most Anglo-American markets the same principle applies to the performing rights. Which constrains the publishers to an extent, and increases the complexities of moving rights, even if the rationale for such a move is sound.

It will nevertheless be interesting to see what happens in the new year regarding where rights sit and who can license what. And also whether the departure of some major players takes an already embattled SGAE to the brink.