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Unison welcomes latest Spanish court ruling against SGAE

By | Published on Tuesday 24 December 2019

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New Spanish collecting society Unison has welcomed a court ruling in Spain that says that the country’s other song rights society, the always controversial SGAE, must allow its members to withdraw their rights “without unnecessary and unjustified restrictions”.

2019 was a particularly eventful year for SGAE. Years of controversy around governance and royalty distribution policies resulted in the Spanish rights organisation finally being kicked out of global collecting society grouping CISAC. Then Spain’s competition regulator fined it 2.95 million euro for anti-competitive conduct.

Unison is utilising new collective licensing regulations across the European Union to launch an alternative option for both Spanish and international songwriters and music publishers who no longer have any confidence in SGAE to effectively manage their rights within Spain. Perhaps unsurprisingly, SGAE has been seeking to frustrate those efforts.

In its May ruling, the Spanish competition regulator said that, in frustrating Unison’s launch, SGAE had breached competition law, in particular by putting restrictions on its members who were seeking to withdraw rights. Hence the 2.95 million euro fine.

Since that ruling, Unison has begun new legal proceedings against SGAE over those anti-competitive practices. The new society also sought an ‘interim measures decision’ in relation to SGAE’s efforts to hinder those members seeking to withdraw rights, basically asking that May’s regulator ruling be urgently enforced.

Barcelona’s Commercial Court last week issued that interim measures decision meaning that, even though the wider legal dispute between SGAE and Unison continues, in the meantime the former must allow its members to withdraw, or partially withdraw, rights so to ally with the latter.

According to Unison: “In its resolution of December 20, 2019, Barcelona Commercial Court No 3 upheld the urgent measures requested by Unison, on the understanding that, despite the [competition regulator’s May] resolution, acts of abuse of dominant position and unfair competition by SGAE continue to occur in the marketplace”.

“The decision means”, Unison adds, “that, until the main proceedings are resolved, SGAE must allow its members to withdraw their rights without unnecessary and unjustified restrictions, including the right to withdraw repertoire and works in a segmented or individualised manner”. To allow that to happen, “the decision [also] requires SGAE to withdraw the corresponding clauses from its model management contract”.

Unison’s CEO Jordi Puy welcomed both the ruling and the timing of it, noting that many of the rights-holders who began the process of withdrawing their rights from SGAE earlier this year are hoping to be able to place those rights with his organisation at the start of 2020.

This latest judgement, Puy then added, further demonstrates that the notion of collecting societies enjoying actual or quasi monopolies in any one European country was now “history”.