Business News Labels & Publishers Top Stories

CISAC, Believe and others confirm their position on Russian activities in response to war in Ukraine

By | Published on Tuesday 15 March 2022

Ukraine flag

The global organisation for song right collecting societies, CISAC, has said that it feels each of its individual members should decide on whether to suspend their deals with the Russian society RAO in protest at the war in Ukraine, rather than it seeking a membership wide position.

The music industry operates separate collecting societies in each country, of course – with at least two societies in most countries, one representing song rights and one representing recording rights. Each society then signs up members, issues licences and collects royalties in its home market.

However, because artists, songwriters, record labels and music publishers want to monetise their rights worldwide – and because each society’s licensees want access to a global catalogue – all the collecting societies around the world are then joined up through a series of deals, often referred to as reciprocal agreements.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine last month, a number of collecting societies have suspended their deals with their Russian counterparts in protest at the war, including RAO with represents song rights and VOIS which represents recording rights. Meanwhile, SCAPR – the global organisation for societies that specifically represent performer remuneration rights – suspended it Russian member, that being VOIS, last week.

There has been some debate in the wider music community regarding those decisions. Some argue that most Russian artists and songwriters likely oppose their government’s invasion of Ukraine, and therefore question whether those artists and songwriters should be penalised.

Although the widespread sanctions instigated by governments around the world against the Russian banks are restricting many payments anyway, and some feel that making a formal stand in support of Ukraine and its people is politically important.

When announcing that US recording rights society SoundExchange had suspended its reciprocal deal with VOIS last week, CEO Michael Huppe said his organisation did not “take this action lightly but believes it’s important to demonstrate our support for the people of Ukraine. Ultimately, the flow of performance royalties between SoundExchange and VOIS is not significant, but as a matter of principle, we believe this is the right course of action”.

For its part, CISAC yesterday said that its global membership of song rights societies “deplores and condemns the war waged by the Russian government against the Ukrainian population”. On more practical matters, it then added “when it comes to CISAC members’ business relationships with Russia, royalty flows between societies and [their] Russian [counterparts] have already ceased due to financial and banking sanctions”.

But regarding its own policies, it went on: “After careful consideration, the CISAC board has decided that each individual society should decide on whether to maintain their business relationships with Russian societies, and what the terms of any relationship should be”.

“As a global confederation representing 228 members in over 120 countries”, it continued, “CISAC’s actions have to balance and reflect many diverse viewpoints. While abhorring the actions of the Russian armed forces, CISAC is not empowered to impose sanctions on member societies based only on the actions of their government”.

CISAC had already announced last week initiatives to support victims of the war, including a fund to help Ukrainian creators and refugees, and to support the continued operation of Ukraine’s societies, plus a project called ‘Songs For Ukraine’, which aims to promote Ukrainian repertoire on broadcasting and digital platforms around the world, to increase royalties to Ukraine’s creative community.

The organisation added yesterday: “CISAC is passionately dedicated to supporting creators in Ukraine and to bringing whatever pressure it can to stop the brutal invasion of Ukraine by Russia. This action is an indefensible attack on the innocent, and is an assault on culture and creators everywhere, including those in Russia. Russian authors, just as their counterparts elsewhere, cannot be blamed for the grotesque actions of their government”.

As well as the collecting societies, music companies across the world have also had to review their operations in the Russian market, of course. That includes both on-the-ground operations, partnerships and deals with Russian companies, and the distribution of music to streaming services in the country, especially those based out of Russia, like the music services of Russian internet firms Yandex and vKontakte.

On the recordings side of the business, all three major record companies, as well as a number of independents and distributors, have now suspended their operations and/or business partnerships in Russia. The latest distributor to announce such a suspension is Absolute Label Services, now part of Utopia.

It announced yesterday that it has now “told clients that it will suspend the delivery of content to Russia’s Yandex and vKontakte (via UMA) effective immediately. At this stage, the decision will not affect content that has already been delivered to these platforms. The decision comes in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an act of solidarity with the Ukrainian people”.

Absolute MD Henry Semmence added: “In defending their country against Russian invasion, the people of Ukraine are also fighting for values that we all hold as paramount: freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law and basic human rights. We have to do what we can to show our solidarity with Ukraine in its desperate time of need”.

“We know that this is not a war the people of Russia and our partners in the Russian music industry have asked for”, he added, “but we have to unite with countries, industries and organisations across the free world to take a stand against this senseless act of aggression”.

Meanwhile ,distributor and label services company Believe has issued a statement regarding its position on the Russian market, after a memo sent by its MD in Russia to the firm’s Russian clients last week garnered some criticism within the wider music community.

According to Billboard, in that memo, Believe’s Denis Gorshkov reassured clients that the company “continues to provide all services in Russia to numerous partners, labels and artists”, and that its distribution platform is still functioning in the market “without failures”.

Payments are also still being made to clients except where banking sanctions prevent such transactions. Gorshkov also provided advice on how Russian labels and artists can switch payments to a different bank “not included in the restriction list”.

That memo has caused concern among some of Believe’s clients outside of Russia. And that includes Various Artists Management boss David Bianchi who manages La Roux, a Believe client who until this morning appeared on a section of the distribution firm’s website promoting its artist services.

He told The Guardian: “We were unaware of this situation and are holding urgent talks with Believe to ascertain all the facts in this matter. Various Artists and the artists we represent stand in full solidarity with Ukraine”.

“We will not be undertaking any commercial or cultural activities that involve Russia or with companies and individuals who are connected to Russia moving forward”, he added, while also confirming that he’d asked Believe to remove La Roux imagery from its website.

In a subsequent statement, Believe told reporters that it has, in fact, restricted its activities in Russia in protest at the war in Ukraine, including stopping hiring and investing in the market, suspending releases and terminating relationships with Russian companies.

A spokesperson said: “No different from other international music companies, Believe is continuing to fulfil its agreed-upon obligations to our people, our artists and labels, including its payment obligations to Russian labels in full compliance with international sanctions”.

“Our priority”, they added, “has been and remains to ensure the safety of our team members, artists and labels and that of families in the region, fully comply with international sanctions and support humanitarian efforts for Ukrainian refugees”.