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Spanish competition regulator launches new investigation into collecting society SGAE

By | Published on Monday 24 January 2022

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The Spanish competition regulator, the CNMC, has launched new proceedings against the country’s big song rights collecting society SGAE following another complaint submitted by rival rights management organisation Unison.

SGAE has been subject to plenty of controversy over the years amid allegations of poor governance and out-right corruption. Those controversies resulted in it being suspended from global collecting society grouping CISAC for a time, and in 2019 it was fined 2.95 million euros by the CNMC.

Unison is a newer collecting society that, among other things, has been seeking to offer songwriters and music publishers an alternative route to licensing their rights in Spain, given the controversies around SGAE. However, Unison argues, SGAE has been doing everything it can to make it difficult for a new player to enter the Spanish collective licensing market, including breaching competition laws and collective licensing regulations.

The 2019 CNMC fine related to claims that SGAE was putting unfair and anti-competitive restrictions on its members who were seeking to withdraw their rights from the society in order to ally with Unison. Later the same year Barcelona’s Commercial Court also ordered SGAE to allows its members to withdraw works “without unnecessary and unjustified restrictions” and “in a segmented or individualised manner”.

Last month the same court issued a new order in relation to a newly modified SGAE management contract which, Unison argued, again imposed anti-competitive restrictions on its members in a way that ignored the 2019 court order.

The new proceedings announced by Spain’s competition regulator relate to different complaints made by Unison regarding SGAE’s conduct.

According to Unison, the CNMC has instigating the new proceedings after concluding “that there is reasonable evidence that SGAE has committed several infringements of article two of the [Spanish] Competition Act and 102 of the functioning treaty of the European Union in relation to the design and application of blanket licences in the television and radio markets, with market foreclosure effects, and the licensing of the repertoire it manages to users on an allegedly universal basis”.

In other news, Unison has filed a lawsuit against Spanish broadcaster RTVE for exploiting songs controlled by the society without licence. It says it has launched legal proceedings against the state-owned broadcaster after “repeated attempts by Unison to get RTVE to negotiate and sign a licence that would have allowed it to lawfully exploit these works”.