An Interview with Alfons Karabuda

Alfons Karabuda

Alfons Karabuda is the President of ECSA (European Composer and Songwriter Alliance), which is comprised of 40 organizations representing professional composers and songwriters of all genres in 22 European countries. ECSA’s principle mission is “to defend and promote the rights of music writers at a European and international level by legal means and to also advocate for equitable commercial conditions for composers and songwriters.” Karabuda is also Chairman of the Swedish Society of Popular Music Composers and Chairman of the Polar Music Prize Award Committee.MI spoke with him via Skype about a wide range of issues affecting Europe and the international music community.

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ECSA and The Directive for Collective Rights Management

Alfons, tell me what you and ECSA have been up to.

[A few days ago] we had our International Conference here in Stockholm.
It was good; it turned out to be a very good conference actually. We got really the ones we wanted there. We got high profile from the EU (European Union), but we didn’t want the commissioners and those just coming there just to speak a bit politely and then leave after thirty seconds. We really had the ones that actually do the job in the EU, like Ryan Heath, he’s a very smart guy. He’s the spokesperson for Neelie Kroes and for the Digital Agenda, and I think he really appreciated it. So it’s a good way [for] getting closer to those who might not just be, ah, you know, just 100% positive towards copyright and us.So it’s good.

It’s quite crazy, but I’m doing a few good things. We’ve tried, of course, to reach out to those who might be elected next year but now I got a letter asking me to go to Brussels to coach the YEPP (Youth European People’s Party) — that’s 57 youth political organisations from 39 countries.

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Wow.

Coaching them in copyright, how to use it in their campaign, but also tell them a bit about copyright. So that’s a fantastic opportunity to reach out to them, you know, coming from the inside. So I think it has to do with us having built a reputation now in Brussels, where they trust us.

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That’s exactly like what you are going for, right?

Absolutely, and sometimes I know that people say, “Why don’t you just tell them this and this and this, the three facts that are necessary, and that we need money now.” But if we don’t have a credible voice, it doesn’t really matter; no one will listen to you. You can write angry letters or manifestos as much as you want; it doesn’t really help. So I’m seeing that we actually are contributing to a change. I can see that in several areas now in Brussels.

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Tell me what areas.

What we’ve done and what is very important is that, first of all, you know how much we’ve worked on the Directive for Collective Rights Management.

So ECSA has worked very, very hard on that, and we’ve had a few things in that Directive that were nonnegotiable — really the most important things — and one of them being the exclusive assignment, of course. Us having the possibility to exclusively assign our rights to the societies.

Because if we don’t do that, it has no strength; and that would basically be the end of the Collective Rights Management’s structure and system. So that was something that we made some impact on. So that is all fine now, and then we’ve had some other things in the Directive, of course, that needed to be highlighted. Some very strange things that did not reach the final Directive now, and one of them being actually that if the collecting societies were not able to find the right holders in a time of, I think it was, three years, the money would then go to the state for them to distribute in a nice way. (He laughs.)

And that’s really crazy; I mean whose money is this? It’s the right holders. But that was not a majority. But these kinds of things kind of slip into the Directive with suggestions for amendments, and so we’ve been fighting them every week saying, “Well this is crazy. This doesn’t work.” And it really was very important to be very active.

So, but that was one of the things we were able to stop.

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That’s kind of like a whole different direction for the black box.

Absolutely, yeah absolutely, and we, of course, as right holders, we want the money to be distributed, and quickly, of course. So a lot of this Directive has been very positive; you know, making the societies stronger and more efficient, which is something that we want. And transparency, of course, because not all countries have the same kind of transparency in their Collective Rights Management System.

So I’m quite pleased, and I know that ECSA is quite pleased, with the Directive. So it’s now going to be finalized, of course. It’s in January or February that the last voting [takes place], but probably this is it. I mean we’ve seen that there’s a majority really saying that this is something that everyone can live with, and so that’s good for us. So that’s something that we’ve been working on.

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“I know that people say, “Why don’t you just tell them this and this and this, the three facts that are necessary, and that we need money now.” But if we don’t have a credible voice, it doesn’t really matter; no one will listen to you. You can write angry letters or manifestos as much as you want; it doesn’t really help. So I’m seeing that we actually are contributing to a change. I can see that in several areas now in Brussels.”

Licenses for Europe

We’ve been very active in something called Licenses for Europe, which has been really an attempt from the three commissioners, with Neelie Kroes in front, of course, wanting the stake holders to find solutions. Not really talking about the legal framework, but rather seeing what can you do in order to make licenses easier; and there’s been a lot of talk about further development of cross- border portability of subscription services. Improved availability for eBooks across borders. And easier licenses for music, which actually finished just a week ago.

And the sum of it all, you could say, was… it’s not a revolution in any way. It’s been a nice way of getting closer to some of the stake holders and highlighting a few of the problems, but not really something that … I don’t think that the Commission is very, very pleased with it.

It was, to me, it was more of a good way of highlighting some of the issues.

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So it’s still a work in progress.

Yeah, the Licenses for Europe, as such, is finished now; but, of course, things have come out of that. Things have been highlighted which now need to be dealt with; and what you can say — which is quite interesting, because this was not just for music obviously — is that we in the music world, or business, have come quite far when comparing to the others, in the book industry and so on. We’ve learned from our mistakes, and we’ve been doing quite a lot. I know that when I was there at the meeting, they said, “Well, we would need a big database. We should start working on the database for rights.” And I said, “Maybe next week I can make a presentation of the Global Repertoire Database and the work that we’re doing.”

And so, we’ve been facing these things for quite a while right now, and to me it seems as if things are happening that are quite constructive, and hopefully new players will be able to get into this business, because the worst thing that can happen for us now is to have these dinosaurs. Two or three dinosaurs ruling, and they would never really open up for the kind of diversity that we want.

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Just for clarification, define stake holders for me. Who are the stake holders?

The stake holders in Licenses For Europe, that was basically everyone involved in making music, that’s us; In TV, the TV stations; you had representatives for the consumer organizations; everyone in the whole value chain, really. So, that was a very big thing. Everyone in very big sessions, and that’s also very difficult to really get anywhere, when you have that kind of…so many people, really.

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Was it a cooperative atmosphere, though?

Well, in a way yes, because since you know that nothing really has to come out of it and there’s no legal enforcement of any sort, I think everyone was quite relaxed, in a way. What I could see was that ECSA and the consumer organizations got closer to each other, because we saw that we had similar goals and, really, values. So that was quite good, and it was quite interesting to see all the middle men seeing us having these kinds of discussions from the same perspective.

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Who were some of the consumer groups you were dealing with?

BEUC (Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs – The European Consumers Organization) was there, representatives for them, so it’s the consumer organization, the biggest in Europe.

And in ECSA, when we put forward the importance of the Moral Rights, because I’ve said that before, also, I think that is key in getting stronger rights for the individual creator. They were quite surprised. People don’t really think about the Moral Rights and what it really means. So I made the presentation there, and Patrick (Ager) also made a very good presentation at the Licenses for Europe. That is something that has gone on, and the work with the UN, the report, that now the politicians really know about; and I think that is really the key forward.

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“And so, we’ve been facing these things for quite a while right now, and to me it seems as if things are happening that are quite constructive, and hopefully new players will be able to get into this business, because the worst thing that can happen for us now is to have these dinosaurs. Two or three dinosaurs ruling, and they would never really open up for the kind of diversity that we want.”

Moral Rights – A Global Concept?

Moral Rights…Can you talk about it a bit, but can we start with you giving me your perspective of what Moral Rights is, especially for the US audience. I don’t think everybody is all that familiar with it.

Absolutely. And this has become even more clear to me since the work as a UN Expert to the Human Rights Council and in writing the first report ever on the subject. So, what it is, is basically copyright, as we have it, is of course called authors’ rights here, as driut d’auteur from French, and it’s split in two. You have two things; it consists of two parts. One of them being the economic one, which is really making sure that you can be remunerated for what you do. But Moral Rights is the right to your expression, to your voice, so it’s bigger than that. It’s part of the freedom of expression, and the Moral Rights really makes…it’s one of the most important things for others not to abuse your expression. So this is not just about entertainment and having a song played, it’s really having…if someone remixes your song, if someone changes or alters what you have written, it’s a way of censoring or changing your expression, and this is very clearly stated now in the UN Report, which kind of puts things in another perspective.

We’ve taken back the great values of integrity, freedom of expression, artistic freedom of expression, which is a foundation for democratic society.

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I never thought of it that way. That you are taking censorship and turning it around, so that you kind of co-opt it and, you know, take it back.

Which is quite fun actually.

And it’s true. It is true. And this is also very interesting when looking at some of the business models that are, you know, just popping up. We have one called Epidemic Sound …when this company buys all your rights and you get 600 kroner — you know, that’s 60 euros for one song — and then you never see anything more and you’re not related to that song ever again. So however they might use it, in selling it to all the TV stations, you will never get a cent. And now I’m actually working on this, and I’m saying that this is probably illegal, because, as long as you have the Moral Rights, which you can’t sell, you must be able as a writer also to say, “No, I don’t want my music to be played in that context.” And the whole thing, the whole idea with these business models is that no one can say anything. The company buys, and you know, “listen and eat as much as you can of the music. You can just use it, and you will not have a problem, and you pay a fixed fee every month.” But if you suddenly have creators saying that, “Well, I don’t want my song to be played there,” then they have a big problem. So the Moral Rights really makes this possible.

And so the Moral Rights is something that is so crucial for society as a whole, and this makes it in a totally…it’s so different from us being that little group saying that we want some more money. And I’ve seen the change also in some of the politicians, especially from Greens and the Liberals that were not really as positive to this, that if they go against us, they go against freedom of expression.

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Right, right. Now can you contrast for me nations who have copyright laws in which AuthorsRights are in place, as opposed to countries like the US, where it’s statutory copyright?

Well, it is a big difference, because it obviously has so much more focus, of course, on an economical part where it’s based on a transaction. And it also says in the UN Report that these kinds of rights should not be part of a negotiation or a transaction. You cannot negotiate; you can’t sell or give away the right to your own human rights. So this is on the highest level from the UN Human Rights Council, where this is stated, so this is something that you cannot just make a business of. You can’t really sell your rights and become a slave. You know, that’s not legal any more.

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Right, right, although it is here.

It is different, but I think this is the way forward. I think that also seeing what the EU does now in a copyright review and reformation. This is something often that pirates and others are talking about, saying that, “We need a reform of the copyright.” And I’ve said that from the start. “Yes, we do.We need stronger rights for the individual creators.”

So that’s fine; let’s reform it. Let’s make sure that we cannot give away our rights in a way that is possible now in a lot of countries, in most countries actually.

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So then do you think that we need worldwide Moral Rights for creators?

I think that since most of the things in the world need some kind of harmonization in order to function efficiently around the globe; everything is getting more global. I think that it would be very natural to see that the rights of the creator, and these moral rights, is something so linked to the basic principles of the rights to any human being, really, and that should be an obvious case in every country. And you can see, in the US you still have rights for what you’ve created; when you see in the countries where there is no copyright, those are the countries that are the most dangerous and difficult countries for artists and creators to live in.

And so if you really want to be that democratic country, you have to respect these fundamental rights.

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I see it being a tough sell here.

Well, I realize that it’s not an easy thing, but we do actually, we have this right.
And it’s very important for us not to lose it. I was at the Digital Agenda in Dublin, arranged by the Commission, and there was a representative from Google there, talking about copyright. And he explained to the audience about copyright and how copyright should look. And he said that, “Well, there are different kinds of copyright. Actually the copyright is much better in the United States, it’s easier.” “Uh, sure, but for whom?”

So it depends; it’s always from which perspective. To me the most important thing is to make sure that we will have continuous, diverse possibilities for creators to create new, if you call it, content. Because that is the future, also, for the business. So it’s not just about these nice values. It’s about being able to create good things that are competitive.

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“Absolutely.And this has become even more clear to me since the work as a UN Expert to the Human Rights Council and in writing the first report ever on the subject. So, what it is, is basically copyright, as we have it, is of course called authors’ rights here, as driutd’auteur from French, and it’s split in two. You have two things; it consists of two parts. One of them being the economic one, which is really making sure that you can be remunerated for what you do. But Moral Rights is the right to your expression, to your voice, so it’s bigger than that. It’s part of the freedom of expression, and the Moral Rights really makes…it’s one of the most important things for others not to abuse your expression. So this is not just about entertainment and having a song played, it’s really having…if someone remixes your song, if someone changes or alters what you have written, it’s a way of censoring or changing your expression, and this is very clearly stated now in the UN Report, which kind of puts things in another perspective.We’ve taken back the great values of integrity, freedom of expression, artistic freedom of expression, which is a foundation for democratic society.”

Spotify, Streaming Models, and Piracy

Right, and that adds to the economy, certainly at this point to the global economy.

Absolutely, and I think that maybe those, you know, in charge or being in important positions should have a look at how the public reacts to different new business models and why. I think that when looking at Sweden now, Sweden has done a lot of, you know, we created Pirate Bay and a lot of things that actually created a problem.

But we’re also closer to a solution. We are not fixed by having downloads. We have a streaming service where we have one company, Spotify now. I can just see it from a STIM (Swedish International Music Composers Bureau) perspective. A few years ago it didn’t exist, and people are talking about how little money it actually creates, but it depends on the deals. And I can tell you that Spotify now is STIM’s biggest customer. It’s bigger than national TV and national radio, just in a few years, and we’re talking about the money coming into STIM. So we’re not talking about the record labels’ cut, which is very big, so there’s still a lot to do; but this is possible because we have so many premium subscriptions in Sweden.

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So it probably is different, because a lot of music creators are complaining in the U.S. because there’s just so little money, that they pay so little, that it’s just very difficult to make a living from streaming.

But it has to be…I think it’s a matter of letting go of the old, as well. When everyone in the business wanted to keep the CD records — and it was also very difficult to also be first in the process, or progress, in actually having part of the future business models. And it’s dangerous if we keep doing that, if we now say, “Well, we like downloads, we don’t like the streaming services.” What we need to do is have strong voices saying, “We need to have a strong impact in getting together and being able to, well, have a stronger leverage towards these kinds of companies.” And what we need to do is not to accept having one [company’s model.] What we need is to have really good business models that are competitive. We need some healthy competition where they actually compete about our music. That’s when we can get better tariffs.

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And you said in Sweden, you only have Spotify?

Yeah, that’s the biggest one. So it’s open for everyone, but we have Spotify. I think that the fact, though, that we have so many really paying for this premium service here…That is something that shows that it really functions. Of course we want more for every stream. But that’s something we need to work on now, and also the balance with the record labels. But saying that money is not, you know, coming through, that’s a lie. And most of the time, it’s people talking about things that they don’t know; they’re talking about deals that were made two years ago…when things looked very different.

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You spoke about Pirate Bay. After the Pirate Bay trial, ECSA had lauded the verdict against what you called industrial infringers. However, you also were encouraging the EU Commission to help facilitate a system of licensing for more and better legal offerings.

Yes, we did.

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How have things evolved since that verdict?

Well first of all, you can see that in the two things that we’ve talked about today: having a service that functions, a legal one, and also taking back the values of freedom of expression and, you know, becoming the good guys.That together has — of course that’s not the only reason — but the Pirate Bay at the last EU Election had 6.7 percent here in Sweden. At the midpoint when we actually achieved in getting our views across, they had 0.6 percent. So I think that also is quite a clear statement that you have to give them another picture of how things are, what your views are, and also giving everyone an option that is functioning, easy, and not too expensive, of course.

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“Well first of all, you can see that in the two things that we’ve talked about today: having a service that functions, a legal one, and also taking back the values of freedom of expression and, you know, becoming the good guys.That together has — of course that’s not the only reason — but the Pirate Bay at the last EU Election had 6.7 percent here in Sweden. At the midpoint when we actually achieved in getting our views across, they had 0.6 percent. So I think that also is quite a clear statement that you have to give them another picture of how things are, what your views are, and also giving everyone an option that is functioning, easy, and not too expensive, of course.”

The YouTube Deal in Sweden

STIM recently signed a licensing deal with YouTube, right?

Yes.

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Can you tell me about that?

No, then I will be killed. (Laughter)

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(Laughter) Oh, I wouldn’t want that!

So, I can’t really give you any details, but it’s based on the advertising revenues, and so it’s a good thing, of course. It’s crazy having a company like YouTube, based only on content, where the music content is 90 percent, I think, of what YouTube really hosts.

So, of course this is great. I’m not sure how much money it will be giving, and especially not from the beginning. But this is a good start.

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Well, I’ll ask it to you this way, and maybe you might answer it. Do you feel that the deals being made with YouTube represent a fair and valid compensation to music creators?

I would say, really, without having the risk of being killed, (more laughter) that I haven’t seen any deal with any business model where I’m really pleased with the outcome for the creators. I think we have a lot to do in showing the real value of music and what we do, and without us, showing that, without us, no one has a business at all. So with that being said, I think that the deal that has been done is a good step.

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“I would say, really, without having the risk of being killed, (more laughter) that I haven’t seen any deal with any business model where I’m really pleased with the outcome for the creators. I think we have a lot to do in showing the real value of music and what we do, and without us.. showing that, without us, no one has a business at all. So with that being said, I think that the deal that has been done is a good step.”

Private Copying Levies in Europe

What about private copying levies in Europe? Can you tell me about that? How does that work, and what’s the status of that?

It’s very different in the different countries. Some of the countries are not really that much dependent on them as Sweden. I think we need a diversity of content, of business models, and I think we need a diversity also in ways of getting remuneration. The Private Copying Levy is not really my first choice, but I think it’s good, because it has nothing to do with integrity issues; it has nothing to do with someone checking what you do. It’s really, you pay something very small for the hardware that you buy, and it’s been shown that, in countries in Europe where you have Private Copying Levies and where you don’t, the price is the same. So really it’s a cut of the profit of these big, big companies.

I think it’s reasonable; but in some countries it’s even more important, where they have much larger sums, actually, and also you get it from several sources, as in France, for example. And the Private Copying Levies in France also generate income, because a lot of that money is being put back into the music industry. It’s being put into festivals, live gigs, where the money flows back to the rights holders. So it’s a system promoting culture in a very good way, of course. But I do think that it’s a bit complicated, and I don’t think that in all of these countries it’s been transparent enough. And if it’s not transparent, it’s very difficult to explain to someone. And of course it’s in an era of piracy, where you see the most active activists love their computers, love their hardware. And so it’s been a tough thing, of course, PR-wise, to make this a good thing. But I do think that the Private Copying Levy should definitely stay. We should promote it until we find something better, and that’s what I said to Commissioner Neelie Kroes, as well. I told her that, “Fine, if you find something better, I’m all for it, but don’t take away the private copying levies before we find something better.”

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We should promote it until we find something better, and that’s what I said to Commissioner Neelie Kroes, as well. I told her that, “Fine, if you find something better, I’m all for it, but don’t take away the private copying levies before we find something better.”

The GRD (Global Repertoire Database)

Let’s go to the GRD (Global Repertoire Database). ECSA’s been very involved with that. Can you give me your perspective on what it is, what its benefits would be, and how it could contribute to the health of the creative community?

Absolutely. I think there are a lot of things to say about the GRD. One being the fact that, if we are not really able to really maintain a database — seeing who has written what and who owns what — if it’s not accurate enough, I think we’ll lose legitimacy for copyright as a whole. So I think it’s a — forget about all the money — it’s, first of all, a way of doing it right, and we haven’t been doing it right. And since it’s becoming a more and more global issue, we need to have a global database, where we know that we have one truth, one. You know we can’t have all of these disputes. It costs a lot of money, and it doesn’t give us credibility. So I think that’s very important with a Global Repertoire Database. And then, of course, I do see that this will make it possible for savings, especially in the long run, because it’s not only seeing what the Global Repertoire Database costs to build; you should compare that with what every society would need to develop in their own countries. They would need new systems. They would need to update their own systems, and it would be a huge cost everywhere. So this will be a way of making it work, and I think that, hopefully, this will also make it possible — It will, of course, always be of benefit to the big ones, to the big players — but I do think it will, hopefully, make it possible for the small players, for new entrepreneurs to be able to get into the business of licensing music for their own business models. So I’m positive, but this is a huge thing, of course, and it will not work if all the stake holders are not onboard and if they don’t agree. So this is really something that we need to have a unanimous and strong opinion on [as to] how to move forward, and I’m fairly optimistic.

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At what stage is it now, would you say?

The building phase is starting now, so it’s really up to, if the thing up to now has been a lot of planning, it’s now the building phase where it’s being done.

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And you feel it’s headed in the right direction, at this point?

Yes, I think so, because the right direction has to be the direction where everyone is agreeing on how to move forward, and now I can see that.

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Yes, there are many conflicts, correct?

Well, there have been different opinions all the way, but that’s the way it is. I mean in the music business, have you seen anything else?

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Yes…There are many different players involved. Are there paid interests that could have undue influence, or might in the future? Is that a part of this at all?

No, I think that has been one of the main concerns, that we as right holders did not want big companies with only having a goal of profit in mind. This is really us… it’s us owning the content that’s building this. So we have some of the customers on board, but not with voting power, and they are there to see that it’s also going to work for them, of course. Because if it doesn’t work for them, it doesn’t work for us. So I would say that this is being done by ourselves. So, no, I see it for the greater good.

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Once the GRD is done, it’s accomplished, does anyone own it? How does that work?

That’s a good question. It has to be owned, actually, by the rights holders, and us building it, but these are details now that are also being worked through.So there are details in the governance that are now being in the last phase, so I’ll have to get back on that.

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I guess that, ultimately, is a key question. Like when you say rights holders, do you mean the people who are actually involved, or do you mean all rights holders, whether you’re a small publisher somewhere or whether you just have your own catalogue of songs, as a songwriter? I mean, what does that mean, rights holder, in this scenario?

Rights holders is, to me…it’s rights holders also part of the Collective Rights Management System, and there you have the diversity, the big ones, the small ones; you have the publishers, you have the lyricists, you have the composers and songwriters, and it has to be very inclusive. So you have to have everyone on board, and you can’t have two or three societies owning this, because then you don’t have a global database. So it’s really everyone having their content in there has to be part also, in a way, both in governance and owning it.

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Well, I suppose part of the problem has been that more money is coming from some places than others, and yet it would need to be owned equally in terms of access, right?

Yes, but I think that that is also what we want, even if a few societies and others have paid more now. The general idea is that there will be a balance eventually, and that that money will be paid back. It’s more like a loan, because this is not intended for anyone to pay and own it.

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“So this will be a way of making it work, and I think that, hopefully, this will also make it possible — It will, of course, always be of benefit to the big ones, to the big players — but I do think it will, hopefully, make it possible for the small players, for new entrepreneurs to be able to get into the business of licensing music for their own business models.”

The Future of PROs and The Independent Voice of Music Creators

I’ll move on just to the collective societies. The individual PROs — and there are so many — have maintained independent identities and survival mechanisms. Do you see that changing as global licensing needs are ramped up, in terms of merging and going toward a more global licensing system?

I see that, of course, with the back offices; that’s evident. You know, the things that are not really the way you are licensing and handling your customers, [but rather] it’s really the boring part of the system, which needs to be done cheaper and more efficiently. So with the back offices, you can see that. You can see that STIM formed their company together with PRS for Music, it’s called ICE. We have others coming into that as well, now GEMA (German Music Rights Management) and also the Nordic countries. So yes, there will be collaborations of different sorts, also in licensing, of course, but mainly when it comes to the back office, because that cannot be done parallel in all the countries. It’s much too expensive.

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Do you see that also in the US? Do you see any merging between Europe and the US, or any other areas of the world, being more cooperative?

That’s a good question. I’m really not sure where we will end up in that. I don’t know enough about the US. I hear a lot and I read a lot, but, to me, I don’t have a clear picture of where that would go, actually. You probably know it better.

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I was gonna say, I don’t know if anyone in the US knows.

No, but it is difficult, and I can see that there you have different wills, of course; and I’m not sure who will end up on top, so to say.

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Also in this line of thinking, the PROs (Performance Rights Organizations) have always been kind of the last line of defense for music creators, and now many publishers are entering into direct licensing deals. How is that perceived in Europe, and how is it received in Europe?

Well, first of all, in our own community of creators, we see it as something very negative, because the PRO’s…it’s our backbone. And we think that a strong thriving music [community] — as we said at the conference, The Digital Agenda for Music — needs to have the diversity; it needs to have everyone on board, in order to have possibilities also for future blockbusters and whatever. But we see, really, without the collective rights management, we are in big trouble, because we will never be equals to the big companies in negotiating with them. And I think that on the EU, a lot of the politicians realize this. They see the big companies getting bigger and bigger and merging, and the only important thing here is to make sure that the societies are efficient and transparent enough; because that’s the only way you can compete. And I also think that it’s not so easy, and it’s not economically that interesting for the publishers or for others, either. So if we make sure that our societies really are efficient and show that they do a good job, I think that there will be an interest in keeping the rights within the society. Of course, not as it was before; there will always be direct licensing.

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It just seems to be a much bigger trend now and not necessarily, at least not here in the US, not in the control of the societies.

No, I’ve seen examples that are quite worrying, absolutely. So I think that’s a trend that needs to be stopped.

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Now we’re talking about the collecting societies…ECSA is an independent songwriting and composer organization. And you obviously see a great need for that, separate and apart from PROs, correct?

Yes.

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Do you feel that that’s strong enough globally, or is there a need for a larger, more global organization? I mean, I know there’s CIAM (International Council of Creators of Music).

Well, CIAM has different… well, they are a place for us to meet, which is very good, of course. But CIAM in itself cannot be that organization, as CIAM is part of CISAC (International Federation of Societies of Authors and Composers). So it’s a committee within CISAC; and it’s a good way of getting all the independent organizations together, but I do see the need of independent author alliances around the world. So I think that is very important, because it’s very difficult to lobby anything, if you are not independent and able to say whatever you want. And we’ve seen examples of that, in ECSA, where we’ve stood very firm when others have wanted us to do this and that. I see by gaining strength, ECSA also has stronger pressure, but I see that as a good sign.

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Are there certain things that you see coming up that ECSA is particularly interested in?

Well, as I said, the copyright reform would be very important. So the work in the copyright reform has now proven to take a very interesting turn. It’s actually working now on unfair contracts and how you can make sure that the individual creator is strong enough. And that’s exactly what we’ve been working on since the beginning. So seeing that the Commission and others realize the importance of this, I think that’s a huge step forward.

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Were these the issues that were addressed at the Digital Agenda for Music?

Yes, now as well, we’re in talks with the Commission on these now, so we’re working on it.

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“But we see, really, without the collective rights management, we are in big trouble, because we will never be equals to the big companies in negotiating with them. And I think that on the EU, a lot of the politicians realize this. They see the big companies getting bigger and bigger and merging, and the only important thing here is to make sure that the societies are efficient and transparent enough; because that’s the only way you can compete.”

Repression, Safe Havens, and Freedom of Expression

You also just recently made a presentation at the Safe Havens for Artists at Risk, in which you spoke about the recent UN Report on Artistic Rights. Can you talk about that, and the role that ECSA has taken in regard to the issue of freedom of expression?

Well, we’ve been working quite hard on that, and, since we had a very special possibility, or position, when I became Expert to the UN, in that it really made it possible for us, for the first time as creators, to give our view on the subject. And I can tell you that our contribution to this report has been very important for us and the creative community. So it’s really in that report that all of this has been highlighted — as I described earlier, on the moral rights and [its] importance. And actually it says that collecting societies that have a majority of creators in governance should be promoted and protected, which is very interesting, of course.

So, with Safe Havens, that’s something that we have been working on, not actually at an ECSA level, but at a SKAP (The Swedish Society of Popular Music Composers) level in Sweden. And we’ve been very successful, because there are Safe Havens for writers, for literary writers; and now we’ve expanded that in Stockholm and in Malmo to also include musicians and artists.

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Give me an example of what you mean by Safe Havens.

Safe Havens is really giving persecuted artists and musicians a safe place for at least 2 years, where they also are given the possibility of having a network and continuing their work, because it’s not just saving someone and putting them in a camp somewhere. It’s not really saving these persons; it’s saving the democratic process that they represent and that they work on.

So that’s what makes it quite special. And we’ve succeeded with that now, so we have a few cities here now that have said yes to this, just recently, actually, and we’ll continue.

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How does it work within the legal environment?

Oh, there have been changes made by the immigration authorities, and everyone has really worked together on this, because they’ve seen the importance. And this was really a success in Sweden.

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Do you see that it could expand on a global basis?

Why not? Absolutely. To me, it’s logical, and ECSA is also part of a network, a global network called Arts Fix, where we have representatives from all over the globe; and I think that that could be a good place also to promote this. And I actually, just a few days ago… I was elected on the Board of the International Music Council.

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Yes, I saw that. Congratulations.

Thank you. And that is also an organization and a network where we reach out globally. We represent 1,000 organizations in 150 countries, representing 200 million persons. So I would say that gives you quite a lot of possibilities.

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Yes. Do they have political influence?

No, this organization was founded by UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 1949 and has been an advisor to UNESCO and is not political in that sense. It has an agenda, and a high priority on diversity. And really, what we have been talking about today, all of that is something that could very well be high on their agenda, and why not the fair trade that you’ve been working on also in the States and Canada.

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Yes. So it’s economic, but it’s very culturally oriented.

Yes, it’s very much cultural oriented.

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“Safe Havens is really giving persecuted artists and musicians a safe place for at least 2 years, where they also are given the possibility of having a network and continuing their work, because it’s not just saving someone and putting them in a camp somewhere. It’s not really saving these persons; it’s saving the democratic process that they represent and that they work on.”

ECSA Advice

ECSA has done so well, it seems to me, in evolving into quite an influential group politically. Would you agree with that?

Yes, I do.

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How would you advise other countries, like the US, where I think there’s not as good a working relationship between all the parties involved.

No.

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You seem to have done a very good job. Any advice for others?

It’s really seeing the importance of the results you want and just making it happen, and not trying to be the one in charge or having these fears of actually opening up to colleagues in other organizations. I understand that you probably have that, as well as we had, and it was only when all of the countries got together and trusted each other and trusted the ones that they elected — and giving the true mandate to those they’ve elected — it was only when we got all of genres on board…So it’s only when I as a president can say, I represent all of Europe, all the genres, then they have to listen and they have to open up for any roundtable that they are working on with these issues. So my advice is really putting yourself on second level and seeing for the greater good of what you want to achieve; and really make a strong voice with everyone on board. It’s not easy, but when you start seeing the results, it’s getting easier and easier. I can tell you that the General Assemblies of ECSA now, they’re very smooth, because the members see that we are getting the results.

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“So my advice is really putting yourself on second level and seeing for the greater good of what you want to achieve; and really make a strong voice with everyone on board. It’s not easy, but when you start seeing the results, it’s getting easier and easier.”

The Tech Challenge

What about the tech companies, like Google? How does that play in, and how do you deal with that?

I think that is our next and the biggest challenge. It’s really making it clear, evident, to everyone to see what they are and why they are doing what they are doing. And it’s not so strange; I mean, of course, they would like to have content cheap or free, because the company will gain so much more with that. So I don’t see… there’s nothing wrong with it, but people have been thinking of Google as if they were activists and wanting something else than actually getting their company to become even bigger. So I think that we have a challenge there in both showing what’s right and also, hopefully, being able to collaborate as we do with YouTube and getting better and better deals as well.

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Let’s end on that optimistic note. Thank you, Alfons.

“I think that is our next and the biggest challenge. It’s really making it clear, evident, toeveryone to see what they are and why they are doing what they are doing.”

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