Early risers (i.e. 10am) at Midem today were treated to an appearance by Michel Barnier, European Commissioner for internal market and services, in a session entitled âMusic for Everyoneâ, with a keynote from Barnier followed by a panel session.
Barnier kicked off by citing the music industryâs importance to Europe â a 6bn-Euro market that has spawned digital startups including Spotify, Deezer, Last.fm and 7digital.
But he also talked about the challenges facing the industry. âEuropeans are often frustrated at not being able to access online the diversity of content offered in other member states, even though they are prepared to pay for it,â he said.
âThe availability of some of the most popular online music providers is still very uneven between member states. How can it be, for example, that some of them are not available in Italy or Poland? And that only three out of the 20 most popular operators may be accessible from certain member states?â
Barnier was keen to stress that there are challenges on all sides of the digital music ecosystem: labels and publishers invest in artists only to see their work immediately made available on pirate sites, while startups trying to launch pan-European services are stymied by âthe compartmentalism of national marketsâ.
âWhether consumers, investors or entrepreneurs, it is incomprehensible that Europeans are finding on the Internet obstacles that we have been trying to break down in the physical world for more than 50 years,â said Barnier.
âWhile it should not be a convenient scapegoat, copyright must no longer form part of these obstacles. It is not a stumbling block, it should be a modern effective tool for supporting innovation.â
Barnier went on to talk about the European Commissionâs Licences for Europe initiative, aiming to get rightsholders and digital services together to solve challenges including pan-European access to online music services, and legal questions around user-generated content.
He also talked collecting societies, noting the importance of their work across Europe, but also the complexity of a market with 30 different societies, all operating under different rules.
Barnier hoped that the ECâs directive on collective rights management will remove the barriers for digital music services looking to operate across Europe.
âIt will mean a step forward not only for the 250-plus online music service providers in Europe, but also for all those whose services incorporate music, like TV channels and video-on-demand services,â he said. âAll of these players need multi-territorial licences.â
Barnier said the EC isnât ignoring the question of piracy: âCopyright is an essential driver in the creative process, but a right which cannot be respected is of little use,â he said, before moving on to a pet hate of music rightsholders: piracy sites funded by advertising.
âIs it acceptable to tolerate advertising revenues being gobbled up by a service provider who foster the free sharing of illegal music files?â he said.
âBased on the results of a consultation we have launched, we will decide whether improvements to the European legal framework need to be proposedâ¦ We must find solutions that protect and improve the domestic market, stressing the fight against infringements on a commercial scale, in accordance with the principle of âfollow the moneyâ.â
Barnier also said that heâs keen to drive the âre-legitimisationâ of copyright through dialogue with the music industry and digital services, as well as through new legislation if necessary.
âWe cannot give free rein to the illusion that everything is free, and we cannot give the impression that in an age where file duplication is infinite and instant, that unlimited sharing of protected content is a natural right, particularly when profit is the objective [of the pirate sites].â
Songwriter and journalist Helienne Lindvall responded to the speech, saying that âitâs good to hear a voice from Brussels that understands and supports authors and songwriters, because sometimes we fell a bit left out in the cold.â
She went on to say there are certainly unresolved issues on the availability of music. âSome collecting societies are a lot better than other collecting societies. I would welcome more transparency and accountability,â she said.
âI would be happy if there were fewer collecting societies that would be more efficient and transparent, or at least be accountable to Brussels or to somebody.â
She also talked about the âincredible successâ of Spotify in her native Sweden, where it has helped the industry bounce back from its sales lows in recent years.
But she also pointed out the need to âmake those services thrive by doing something about illegal services â you cannot have a healthy market if you have a part of that market which is unhealthy and freeâ¦ It doesnât matter how many great licensed services we have if we donât do anything about the other side.â
Lindvall also talked about the personal difficulties sheâs encountered trying to get songs sheâs written taken down from unlicensed services like Grooveshark, and the brick wall sheâs come up against when every takedown seemingly generates more uploads of those tracks.
âI was once told by a politician that I could tke them to court. With what? Certainly not with the revenues that I make from YouTube,â she said, raising a knowing laugh from the audience.
Andrew Jenkins from Universal Music Publishing gave a majorâs perspective, saying the infrastructure in Europe has to be gotten right.
âWe had 200 years of national licensing essentially, and then in the last seven years weâve had multi-territory licensing in Europe,â he said. âWeâve had to make a lot of changes.â
Jenkins suggested that initiatives like the Global Repertoire Database (GRD) is trying to tackle these issues.
âThe best thing we can do for cultural diversity is to make sure that everybody who does write works gets paid for writing works,â he said. âWe have to as an industry solve those infrastructural problems.â
Jenkins also addressed the costs of creating the GRD, saying it will provide good value for money (unsurprisingly, of course â heâs involved in the project).
âSpending 50m Euros creating a database seems like a lot of money. Actually, in the scheme of [industry revenues of] 3.6bn Euros a year, itâs tiny.â
Music manager Paul McGuinness weighed in next, welcoming the thrust of Barnierâs speech, and the work of the EC.
âThe truth about collection societies that no one really mentions is that not only do their tariffs vary enormously around the world, but also their standards of integrity vary enormously,â he said.
âWhen we talk about the availability of licences not being sufficient, very often weâre using that as a euphemism. Very often the people seeking licences suffer from letâs call it an âintegrity deficitâ. Thatâs the reason they donât get licences, and they should not.â
He also talked about the rise of legal services like Spotify and Deezer âwhere thereâs no question of integrityâ¦ where there is a question, and I include YouTube, these are the main distributors and are going to become more important in the years to come.â
But he echoed the criticism of other managers and artists about the money coming from these services. âUp until now, even for very big artists the sums of money passing through those services are quite trivialâ¦ theyâre very small indeed,â he said.
âYou could say that these services are mainly a promotional medium. I hope they grow and prosper, because they are legitimate, but weâll have to wait and see about that.â
And then McGuinness returned to a previous bugbear: Google.
âI donât want to engage in Google-bashing, but there is a sense of unease across Europe, across the world about Google,â he said. âGoogle have been making encouraging noises about restricting illegal sites or directions to illegal sites for acquiring music. The noises are very encouraging, but Iâd like to see some action. Itâs as simple as that.â
McGuinness wasnât just Google-bashing, though, as he said. âGoogle have brought so much to civilisation in terms of spreading knowledge and informing the world. I know theyâre ingenious, we all know theyâre ingenious,â he said.
âBut they are making money from directing people to piracy sitesâ¦ I wish they would apply themselves and their extraordinary ingenuity to the micro-transactions that occur every time somebody listens to a piece of music over the internet. They can do itâ¦ There is a sense of unease, and a feeling theyâre not really doing what they could be doing in this space. And I would like them to hurry up a level.â
Barnier was asked about Google. Cue a long pause.
âWeâve said how important Google is and other operators â usually American â theyâre very important players, they have a positive role to play in dissemination, in education,â he said.
âAnd in general terms, what I believe is that in the Internet ecosystem we need to change how values are distributed. Whatâs going on today is not fair for creators, for authors, for writers. Theyâre not being paid, and when they are being paid, itâs not properly for the work which they have done. Theyâre not protected.â
Barnier also talked about the balance for sharing reveneus from the digital ecosystem as âa new subject on the table in Brusselsâ, appealing for input from all quarters. Yes, in other words, he nimbly dodged the Google question. But then worked his way back to it.
âIf we donât stick together [as Europeans] we will be lost. We will be subcontractors, under the influence of the Chinese and American economies.â
Axel Dauchez, CEO of streaming service Deezer was next to speak, professing himself as a big fan of the new EC initiatives, and of copyright itself. âItâs not only protecting the content, itâs protecting the platforms. We are not protected enough.â
However, Dauchez said he was very optimistic about the evolution of digital music services, but âvery pessimistic about the diversity of it â the number of European platforms is decreasing month after month in every countryâ¦ The consolidation has already started, and the risk is there.â
He highlighted some key copyright issues that Deezer is facing. First, complexity. âWe are now live in 180 countries, and we have to deal with this mess of the publishing world, and it is very, very complex,â he said.
âWe are dealing with publishers and collecting societies worldwide, and they cannot even tell us what we are buying!.. The fees are not clear.â
Dauchez focused on the problems facing European digital music services, as they try to compete against some of the big global players, particularly Google and Apple.
âI think there is one cancer: itâs been said about Google a little bit before,â he said. âWhat I think the key word is is discriminationâ¦ Am I a competitor to YouTube? Should I have the same deals as YouTube? Of course. When I am discussing with collecting societies and publishers can I say âjust give me the deals that YouTube hasâ? Of course not.â
Dauchez said the same applies to iTunes, including the fact that Apple makes its money from hardware sales rather than just from digital music â yet a company like Deezer canât ask for the same deals Apple gets when signing licensing agreements.
âThis will kill the innovation, this will kill the local players. We are already under huge discrimination because of VAT, and because of the size of our market compared to the USâ¦ We need to be protected against discrimination on copyright.â
That, in 1,900 words, is the gist of the discussion.