Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Posted by Thomas Crampton

Had to crank out a story on tight deadline about digital music rights in Europe: 2 states in EU ease sales of songs over Internet

Selling music online in Europe could currently require an online music operater to get up to 25 licenses (one from each country) in order to operate, a situation Brussels seems strongly bent on changing: Collecting agencies in other European Union member states could face fines of up to 10 percent of their total revenue if they fail to open up in a similar manner, the official said.

Interesting to see the EU is tackling hurdles to running a digital business. Are they doing enough?

UPDATE: wiki page to follow up discussion.


I think this is good news. It's a step in the right direction. The collection agencies typically have a very hard time giving up control and it is nice to see the EU focusing on making online businesses easier to run.

I guess you can call it good news if you have't heard the Dutch news. It was reported that the European Commission was asking advice from the collecting societies.

This sounds very strange to me considering the rigid attitude and monopolostic behaviour of the collecting societes towards viable alternative solutions such as Creative Commons.

Besides this I'm wondering about the musicians themselves:

Is a collecting society still representing the artists?

to give you an example:
A lot of the music I like for instance could be called underground. It doesn't get airplay except for the hours after 20:00 on public radio or maybe on some alternative radiostation if I'm lucky. Thanks to the Internet I can listen to a lot of 'netstations' that do play music I like and allow me to discover new music.
A lot of these 'netstations' are doing it for fun. In other words they are amateurs or professionals that are actually losing money on it. Due to bandwidth issues, time etc. Still the collecting society went as far as to ask people who have a netstation for fun and do not earn any money of it to pay a monthly fee.

- Bye bye fanstations.
- Bye bye new ways of discovering music without the corporate agenda.
- Bye bye possible new fans for the artists

I can understand from a business perspective, if somebody earns money of the artists represented by the collecting society some of the money needs (belongs) to go to the artists been played. That's fair for business, collecting society and off course the artists.

However the approach the collecting society has been taking with 'netstations' and IS taking with podcasts makes me believe that the collecting society is actively against new innovative ways of music distribution and by killing it in its infancy also destroying possible new business models. Or as the saying goes, they are throwing away the baby with the bathwater.

Therefor I can't really call this good news because it sadeness me that the EC is asking advice from these dino's.


You really make some great points!

Collecting societies are supposed to represent artists, but - given digital developments - WILL they represent artists.

Collecting societies were started in the pre-digital era.

I know very little about the music industry or collecting agencies, but as you mention it would be great to hear the position of artists.

I'd like to know:

1- Have collecting agencies already adapted to the digital era? (They may say that is the case and interesting arguments.)

2- Can they ever adapt to the digital era or are they a model based on selling vinyl and CDs?



Dear Thomas,

Thanks for your reaction!

I started out writing my response and after a while I noticed I already had written more than five full pages! I think I really need to write an essay to fully explain the pro and cons of the current situation with the rights collecting societies. However a comment on Joi's blog is -in my view- not the right place for such an essay ;). Therefor my answers to your questions will be incomplete due to the complexity of the situation. But I'll try to answer your questions nonetheless.

1- Have collecting agencies already adapted to the digital era? (They may say that is the case and interesting arguments.)

This really depends on how you define adaption. My opinion is that: they have been adapting in a negative and non-constructive way. For example:

-the proposal for a levy on digital storage such as mp3 players or harddrives

-an already installed levy on carriers such as dvd's and cd's regardless of the content

-asking a ridiculous fee for streaming music even for non-profit hobbyists!

-hostile approach towards less rigid copyright systems as Creative Commons

-proposal for a podcasting fee

-spreading FUD towards all creators to make sure they'll join a rights collecting society

2- Can they ever adapt to the digital era or are they a model based on selling vinyl and CDs?

In my view they should/will adapt. Or they perish. They still have a purpose and this would be based around balance, freedom of choice, openess and honesty. I would be very happy with the following (and I know some of this might be very naive):

-let musicians keep their own rights

-give creators the right to chose between copyleft systems and 'all rights reservered' systems on a per work base

-enforce and protect the rights equally for copyleft and 'all rights reservered' systems on a per work basis

-promote the reality of musicians instead of the Idols and Britney Spears alternate reality

-educate creators objectively about copyright, drm etc etc

Thomas, you know how to ask the hard questions and I keep on thinking about how to explain the current situation with rights collecting societies. I'll try to work some more on my first five pages and see if I can come up with a decent essay for the next person asking such difficult questions ;)

Bjorn, put your essay on my wiki. I created a page for this topic. here.


Thanks! I'll put it online as soon as I have structured my thoughts around it to call it a draft ;)


Just had a collecting society official (from brussels, but I think from a french collecting society) who came to my office very excercised about the article I wrote.

He very unhappy that collecting societies are portrayed as getting in the way of digitization.

Nice to have such a strong reaction and I look forward to learning what the collecting society point of view is.

Perhaps I should write a feature on how they intend to make themselves relevant and last in the digital era.