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EU commissioner calls for simpler digital licensing (again)

By | Published on Wednesday 9 February 2011


Neelie Kroes, the EU’s Commissioner For Digital Agenda, yesterday called on content owners of Europe to construct a “simple, consumer-friendly legal framework” for making digital content available across the Union. Yeah, good luck with that.

Speaking at an event in London alongside the bosses of Amazon and BT, and the government’s culture monkey Ed ‘The Man’ Vaizey, Kroes said that the traditional content industries had not developed their licensing models fast enough to cope with the new demands of internet services.

She told the event: “Digitisation has fundamentally changed content industries, but licensing models simply have not kept up with this. National licensing can create a series of Berlin cultural walls. The price, both in pounds and frustration, is all too real, as creators are stifled and consumers are left empty-handed. It is time for this dysfunction to end. We need a simple, consumer-friendly legal framework for making digital content available across borders in the EU”.

Of course, in the music domain, EU officials have long called on the collecting societies of Europe – mainly those representing publishing rights – to start offering more pan-European licenses for digital services, so that in theory a new digital music platform could get just one publishing rights licence for the whole continent.

Although moves have been made my music publishers and collecting societies to satisfy those demands, in many ways those moves have confused things even more. And that’s before you consider the fact some major publishers have split up the way they licence performing and mechanical rights to digital services, so that the former go through a collecting society, and the latter through another agency.

And in the recording rights domain, of course, while rights holders may offer pan-European deals, they generally licence directly rather than via collecting societies, meaning digital services must do at least five deals (with each major and Merlin), and some of those rights holders will insist on a big deal sweetener in the form of both cash and equity.

So, quite some way to go to achieve Kroes’ ambitions in the music domain then. Though the number of people within the industry calling for more dramatic moves in this area is increasing, some fearing that if the music business doesn’t sort things out for itself, eventually governments could introduce compulsory licensing in the digital domain taking the matter out of rights holders’ hands.