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23rd Jul 2016

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Parliament asks for binding online music law

  • Trade in online music is a rapidly growing market (Photo: European Commission)

The European Parliament has called for binding rules to regulate the EU's online music market and to protect the bloc's cultural diversity.

MEPs meeting in Strasbourg on Tuesday (13 March) have, by an overwhelming majority, adopted a report by Hungarian socialist MEP Katalin Levai calling for the EU executive to replace its soft law recommendation with binding legislation.

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"I was not very happy with the soft law approach taken by the commission," Ms Levai said at a press conference after the vote.

She would like to see the EU executive replacing its October 2005 recommendation on collective cross-border management of copyright and related rights for legitimate online music services to be replaced with a binding directive, saying that open competition in the area is "unacceptable".

The parliament fears that the commission's soft law could stifle local music markets and weaken cultural diversity, urging caution in how competition should be introduced into the sector.

"We would like to avoid that situation and we would like to refrain from creating an atmosphere where uncontrolled competition can take place," Ms Levai stated.

"Musical products should not be compared to a refrigerator or a car," Cees Vervoord, head of the Dutch collecting society BUMA/STEMRA, said in an interview with EUobserver on Wednesday (14 March).

He explained that music is primarily a cultural artefact, which is the way it has to be looked at and not as a business selling branded goods.

"It has a cultural dimension and especially in Europe since we have so many different cultures," Mr Vervoord said, adding the EU's 27 countries all have strong cultural backgrounds.

"You need to respect that in order to avoid that Europe musically becomes a kind of one-repertoire-continent," he stated.

"It is a core point of my report that cultural diversity and support to the small nations' talented authors should be put in the forefront of my report," Ms Levai pointed out.

The MEP also stated that it was time for the European collecting societies to modernise and become more democratic as well as transparent "in the interest of the authors of course."

'A sensitive domain'

During the process of researching and writing the report, Ms Levai came across strong interest in the EU digital music sector, predicted to become a €3.9 billion a year industry by 2011.

"My objective has basically been to find a good balance between many interests…the necessary introduction of competition and cultural diversity," Ms Levai explained, adding that the big publishers were not very happy with the result as they stand to gain most from a fully open market.

She also said that ahead of the vote the report had been "attacked" in different ways, for example, by false emails.

"I realised it was really a very sensitive domain I entered where lots of interests clashed during the whole process," she said.

"It is a very important and rapidly growing economic area."

Sceptical commission

It is now up to the commission to take the next move, with Ms Levai hoping the EU executive will create a directive in the spirit of her own-initiative report.

"The commission wishes to note that the online market is still only in a stage of development – we need to be especially careful not to limit its potential by adopting an overly inflexible approach," EU employment and social affairs commissioner Vladimir Spidla told parliament on Monday night ahead of the vote.

He was speaking on behalf of EU internal market commissioner Charlie McCreevy who came forward with the recommendation in 2005.

Mr Spidla did add, however, that existing arrangements have to be improved in such a way that rights holders are afforded adequate protection. "I think there is a willingness to accept these proposals," he said.

The EU executive is currently asking all interested parties to express their views on the 2005 recommendation until 1 July 2007.

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