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Brave new world

There is hardly any other technical development that has turned the music business upside down as much as the success of platforms such as YouTube. And hardly any technical development has been as remiss in the treatment of authors’ rights as the internet. In this interview, SUISA CEO Andreas Wegelin explores opportunities and difficulties of this rather young business sector. Interview by guest author Silvano Cerutti

Brave new world

“If I compare SUISA with other organisations that are still in their early days when it comes to online, we are already well underway”, SUISA CEO Andreas Wegelin is convinced. (Photo: Günter Bolzern)

Andreas Wegelin, the distribution of online royalties is affected by delays which caused disappointment in some members. Can you empathise with that?
Andreas Wegelin: It is our job to get as much collected on behalf of our members as possible, not just online but for all usage categories. If there is a cause for criticism, we take it seriously and examine it. There is, however, also the aspect that some members have received more than before, and they are not disappointed.

Maybe the question needs rephrasing?
Well, maybe the level of expectation is too high. Today, music is consumed in much smaller units, there are possibly one or two songs from a CD and that is reflected in the turnover, of course.

But members should receive a settlement four times per year. That did not quite work out in 2019. Why?
That’s right. One of the reasons for this is that the payment of one major customer was late. The amounts in the June distribution would thus have been far too small: On the one hand, the settlement would have fallen under the so-called payout threshold, they would therefore have received nothing. On the other hand, the administration costs would have been too high. We subsequently decided to postpone the settlement. Our goal, however, remains to pay out on a quarterly basis.

So, you don’t have a problem with the data volume you received that you need for the calculation of the online royalties?
No, we don’t. Yes, the data volume we receive is rather huge and requires complex processing with respect to many countries and currencies, but our systems have proved to be extremely efficient in this regard.

I can now upload my work on platforms such as iMusician, from where it is distributed to various service providers (Spotify etc.) and I can see how much my work is used, and where. Can SUISA also do that?
These are two different business models. iMusician monitors where an individual recording is played. That is, of course, much easier to track than having to simultaneously trace dozens, if not hundreds of recordings of one single work. What’s more, music providers know exactly who the artists of a recording are, but don’t have information on the composers of the song.

So SUISA’s job is more complex?
Of course. Add to that the obligation to provide clear information on the rights whenever you upload a song to such a distribution service. At our end, however, we also get notifications of works which have been uploaded by a fan without any details at all. If I do compare our administration costs with the fees that a service such as iMusician charges, I think to myself: we can keep up very well. But – such distribution services show us how we could improve our service in future and what is in demand on the market.

Which is?
The key word is tracking. I give you an example: If commercials with music of Swiss authors are broadcast abroad, the best way for me to get information on the number of broadcasts is via a tracking system. Today, not least on the grounds of cost, we have a system where the broadcasters deliver the information to us. Which could be something like “Nivea spot”. Well, which one? If I already have the melody as a sound file, I can track that. That is our future, even if it is not the most pressing measure we need to take for the online sector.

Automation is therefore only as good as the data that are available to it?
Exactly. And they are often incomplete.

What about monitoring service providers such as Utopia Music which can track songs across the internet?
Monitoring is a huge topic. We follow this very closely and are also planning a pilot project. Yet again, this is a matter of the relevant cost-benefit ratio. That ratio may well be good for an international hit producer but when it comes to an overall repertoire such as ours, the expense can push the administration costs up to silly levels.

The ‘rucksack of completeness’ has been around for the offline sector for many years and the distribution works rather well in that area. In the online sector, however, where everything could be measured, things are complicated.
That is annoying, yes. The offline system has been functioning well for nearly 100 years. But we only cover Switzerland and Liechtenstein for that. Online, we need to take a global approach and are also facing competition, because, according to the EU, each rights holder can choose who they are represented by.

What are the consequences?
In the past, rights holders assigned their rights to SUISA via so-called reciprocal representation agreements for the perception of their work in Switzerland and the Principality of Liechtenstein. Based on that system it was possible to pass on the relevant share from Switzerland to any composer, whether English or American, and one subsequently received the relevant shares from abroad for Swiss authors.

Online, on the other hand….
…. it is only possible for a society to collect for the rights holder whom it represents directly, even though this can be done at a global level. All of a sudden, the documentation must be more accurate and also completed for other countries since it otherwise won’t match. One collective management organisation might declare that their share of a work amounts to 80 percent, another organisation claims to hold 40 percent, which adds up to 120. Such cases happen all the time.

And what’s the consequence of this?
The provider says: As long as you do not know who sends an invoice for what, I won’t pay you. Or we do not get any money, but the info: I have already paid someone else!

How do disputes among rights representatives arise?
Let’s take an example: I have a work with a composer, a lyricist and a publisher. The latter, however, has an agreement with a sub-publisher and has, for another territory, instructed a third publisher, and now all of these entitled parties can choose their own collective management organisation for the online exploitation. This means that there might be four or five collective management organisations which are then in charge for their respective part of the work. Now, I have to agree exactly which part belongs to me. This is where the “disputes” start, because the entry may be different at their end.

Is there no regulation among the copyright management organisations how you can proceed in such situations?
The societies are trying to coordinate their collaboration better in technical working groups. Due to the new competition situation among the organisations, a complete solution for these difficulties has not been found yet.

Music is consumed in small units, the rights representation happens at an even smaller scale, international competition and no smooth processes – doesn’t that frustrate you?
No, that is what makes this job so interesting! Changes such as the internet come to you from outside. You can either put your head in the sand or try to make the most of it. If I compare SUISA with other organisations that are still in their early days when it comes to online, we are already well underway.

But you do understand that authors are stressed out by such a situation?
Of course, it stresses us, too (laughs). We are building a new service here, which will hopefully be profitable and in demand and which gets the most out of it for our members. This can only happen in small steps and with setbacks, but there is also progress: We were able to improve the agreements, modernise infrastructure and the duration between the usage date and the distribution date could be halved since 2012. I am very optimistic.

To the second part of the interview: “Penny-pinching in digital music distribution”

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There is hardly any other technical development that has turned the music business upside down as much as the success of platforms such as YouTube. And hardly any technical development has been as remiss in the treatment of authors’ rights as the internet. In this interview, SUISA CEO Andreas Wegelin explores opportunities and difficulties of this rather young business sector. Interview by guest author Silvano Cerutti

Brave new world

“If I compare SUISA with other organisations that are still in their early days when it comes to online, we are already well underway”, SUISA CEO Andreas Wegelin is convinced. (Photo: Günter Bolzern)

Andreas Wegelin, the distribution of online royalties is affected by delays which caused disappointment in some members. Can you empathise with that?
Andreas Wegelin: It is our job to get as much collected on behalf...read more

The first year of SUISA Digital Licensing AG

A little more than one and a half years ago, SUISA founded its subsidiary company, SUISA Digital Licensing AG. The subsidiary company has now completed its first business year. A year which was under the auspices of development and brought about a multitude of new findings. It is time for retrospection and a first interim summary. Text by Fabian Niggemeier

The first year of SUISA Digital Licensing AG

The first business year of SUISA Digital Licensing AG was influenced by negotiations with many music service providers, successfully and jointly held with the SESAC Digital Licensing AG. (Photo: MichaelJayBerlin / Shutterstock.com)

By launching the subsidiary company, in short SUISA Digital, SUISA has outsourced cross-border and international online licensing in its entirety. SUISA is, from now, only responsible for the licensing of music uses on homepages and music services which only address a Swiss audience.

SUISA Digital’s responsibilities

SUISA has, for nearly six years, issued pan-European licences for online uses. In other words, the rights of SUISA members in the online world are not granted just for Switzerland, but directly for the whole of Europe. Thanks to the outstanding IT systems in this sector, SUISA was able to significantly increase the income of its members.

Another step followed in 2017: SUISA founded the Joint Venture, Mint Digital Services, with US collective management organisation SESAC. Until then, SUISA negotiated agreements with internet music providers (music service providers, abbreviated to MSPs) and managed the agreements itself upon their conclusion. With the creation of the Joint Venture, these two fundamental activities were split and outsourced. Mint Digital Services is responsible for the administration of the agreements i.e. the technical processing and invoicing in the name of the rights holders, whereas SUISA Digital is responsible for market monitoring, market penetration and the negotiation of the agreements. By way of another new introduction, the territory where the agreements apply was extended from Europe to nearly the whole world.

SUISA Digital is thus building a global licensing system and also offers this system to third parties. Collective management organisations from other countries can instruct SUISA Digital just like publishers can (for their Anglo-American repertoire), or authors from all over the world. That way, a cost-efficient management of rights can be ensured in the best possible manner.

Joint licences

SUISA Digital does not pursue this task by itself. It is in the interest of the rights holders as well as the MSPs to structure the negotiations in as efficient a manner as possible. That means to cover and govern as many rights as possible with as few agreements as possible. For this reason, SUISA Digital offers all MSPs to extend their agreements to the repertoire of SESAC Digital Licensing AG (in short: SESAC Digital). Provided that the MSP agrees, SUISA Digital and SESAC Digital jointly lead the negotiations and bundle their repertoire into a joint licence.

This is in the interest of the MSPs since it means they have to undertake less negotiation efforts, but also in the interest of SUISA Digital and SESAC Digital since a highly interesting “package” can be offered to the providers by joining up the repertoires. The advantage of this package is also that it does not just contain compositions which are used in Switzerland or Europe but also create a high demand globally.

The negotiations

At the end of 2017, a small but motivated team only focussed on preparing the negotiations. A multitude of information and figures had to be gathered and linked. Designing the agreement for areas outside Switzerland and Europe presented some challenges to the negotiation team. The parties agreed that the price of music should be linked mainly to the local significance of the music and the local buying power. It can thus be ensured that an adequate remuneration can be invoiced which remains affordable to the consumers.

Economic deliberations also made it clear that the big MSPs had to be approached first. The six biggest providers are responsible for 80% of the turnover. This statistical average does, of course, not apply for the music of all members: Those who are active in a specific music genre will at best have a bigger turnover on the platforms that focus specially on that genre. It was nevertheless paramount to prioritise the providers in line with their market share; knowing that certain big providers would be among the negotiation partners that would be harder to deal with.

Involving a mix of consistency, comprehension and rigour it was possible to make good progress in the negotiations. After twelve months, agreements could be entered into with all big MSPs or the negotiations are close to being concluded. Since these agreements are now ‘safe’, the next task is to complete the market penetration.

Until now, agreements with the following providers were jointly entered into with SESAC Digital:
YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, Apple iTunes, Google Play, Deezer, Beatport, Facebook, Soundcloud, Melody VR, and Qobuz.

Joint negotiations are underway with the following providers:
Amazon, Napster, Tidal, Juke, 7Digital, dailymotion, Mixcloud, Red Karaoke, Soundtrack your Brand, What people play, Anghami, Auro, Bleep, Emoticast, Idagio, Smule, Xtendamix, Yousician, Better Day Wireless, DJ City, Juno, Linn Record, Musically, Recisio und Radionomy.

Add to that another approximately 20 MSPs from which feedback is due, as well as about 10 MSPs which are only active on a national level in the selected territories.

Distribution

As mentioned at the outset, the relevant agreements are processed and administered by the Joint Venture Mint Digital Services. The distribution of the income is, however, done by SUISA Digital and SUISA. A minimum of six months lies between the usage period and the distribution. The reason for this is that we do not represent the global repertoire, compared to the traditional offline sector. We can thus not invoice everything and then distribute, but only what we identify.

In this context, we depend on the collaboration by our members: The quicker they notify us of their works, the faster we can generate the invoices. For this reason, we are waiting between 60 and 100 days before we process the reports, depending on the MSP. That way, we can ensure that the majority of the new works and thus works with the highest usage levels has been registered and can be distributed by us. The distribution of the income is then made, at the latest, in the quarter after the payment from the MSPs has reached us.

There are going to be bigger settlements in due course. Since all agreements had to be renegotiated, no invoices could be sent out during the ongoing negotiations. In the cases of Spotify or Deezer, this led to the fact that the uses of the entire year 2018 were only invoiced at the beginning of 2019.

Outlook

During the second business year, SUISA Digital is going to focus firstly on achieving a coverage of the internet music market which is as complete as possible. Secondly, it is paramount that new markets, also outside of Europe, will be opened up and to ensure that SUISA members receive the remuneration they are due from anywhere in the world. For this purpose, we are constantly collaborating with Mint to improve systems and processes in order to continue providing our members with the best possible services in future.

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  1. Walter Thut says:

    Guten Tag,
    einen Fall welcher mich und andere von der SUISA vertretene Komponisten betrifft, und die oben genannten Zeitverschiebungen bei den Abrechnungungen fuer Urheber stark in Frage stellt, moechte ich gerne hier beschreiben:

    Die Urheber des bei dere SUISA angemeldeten Songs BACK TO THE DIRTY TOWN haben viele Millionen Clicks uf Youtube, und viele Screenshots Belege dass dieser Song seit 2017 z.B. in der Schweiz, Frankreich und den USA dauernd Webungen vorgeschaltet hat.

    Leider haben die Urherber von der SUISA noch keine einzige Ueberweisung erhalten. Obwohl die SUISA uns vor mehr als einem Jahr bestatigt hat, dass sie cies Clicks auch erfasst haben, und dass wir Verguetungen von der SUISA bis spaetestens Ende 2018 bekommen werden, haben wir noch keine einzige Abrechung dazu, und keinen einzigen Rappen ueberwiesen erhalten.

    Bei unserem digitalen Vertrieb funktioniert hingegen die Abrechnung sehr gut, und liegt bei mehreren Tausend CHF pro Jahr.

    Was stimmt hier nicht?

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A little more than one and a half years ago, SUISA founded its subsidiary company, SUISA Digital Licensing AG. The subsidiary company has now completed its first business year. A year which was under the auspices of development and brought about a multitude of new findings. It is time for retrospection and a first interim summary. Text by Fabian Niggemeier

The first year of SUISA Digital Licensing AG

The first business year of SUISA Digital Licensing AG was influenced by negotiations with many music service providers, successfully and jointly held with the SESAC Digital Licensing AG. (Photo: MichaelJayBerlin / Shutterstock.com)

By launching the subsidiary company, in short SUISA Digital, SUISA has outsourced cross-border and international online licensing in its entirety. SUISA is, from now, only responsible for the licensing of music uses on homepages and music services which only address a...read more

Changes to the distribution of collections for internet use

New distribution keys will be used for the distribution of collections for internet use (audio and video on demand offers). For downloads, a new key of 25% for performing rights and 75% for reproduction rights shall be applied. For streaming, the split shall consist of 75% performing rights and 25% reproduction rights. Text by Irène Philipp Ziebold

Changes to the distribution of collections for internet use

SUISA changes its distribution keys for the income from streaming and downloads. (Photo: Rawpixel / Shutterstock.com)

For years, the distribution split between authors and publishers in terms of the allocation of the collections from performing and broadcasting rights on the one hand, and reproduction rights on the other hand has been agreed separately. SUISA has accordingly provided for different distribution keys in its distribution rules for the two rights categories.

For online uses, there is no separate distribution key which could be directly agreed on by the contracting parties. As a consequence, the collections from online uses are on the one hand distributed in analogy with the performing rights distribution key and on the other hand in accordance with the reproduction rights distribution key (cf. item 2.1.2 of the distribution rules).

Up to now, SUISA has been distributing 100% of collections from streaming in accordance with the distribution key for performing rights and 100% of collections for downloads in accordance with the distribution key for reproduction rights. This meant, however, that SUISA held a special position internationally and, at the same time, this practice no longer met the latest developments in the online sector.

New distribution keys for downloads and streaming

Apart from taking a look at the usual rules applicable abroad, technical procedures were also evaluated with a view to the analysis that led to the determination of the new distribution ratios of the distribution keys for download and streaming. Technically speaking, the making available of a work is based on the creation of a copy of the work on the server of the provider, the transmission of the copy to the consumer as well as the performance resp. potential storage on the terminal device of the consumer.

During discussions among the various committees (Distribution and Works Committee andBoard) with respect to the proposed changes, various views regarding the performing and reproduction rights shares existed with respect to the weighting of the distribution keys.

In particular the question arose how the aspect of transitoriness resp. repeated playback of a work should be considered for streaming, and which percentage should reflect this for the weighting of the performing share.

In the end, the following split was agreed:

  • Download: 25% of collections shall be allocated to the performing rights distribution key and 75% to the reproduction rights distribution key.
  • Streams: 75% of collections shall be allocated to the performing rights distribution key and 25% to the reproduction rights distribution key.

Distribution of the collections from video on demand (VOD)

At the same time, the provisions regarding the distribution of collections from video on demand were adjusted. The respective revenues shall now be distributed in analogy to download and streaming “per file” (per work). Prior to that, the revenues from video on demand had been supplemented to the remuneration for broadcasts of pay TV. The change now also permits in this sector that collections are distributed in a more exact and pinpointed manner.

For further information see the distribution rules of SUISA.

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All comments will be moderated. This may take some time and we reserve the right not to publish comments that contradict the conditions of use.

Your email address will not be published.

New distribution keys will be used for the distribution of collections for internet use (audio and video on demand offers). For downloads, a new key of 25% for performing rights and 75% for reproduction rights shall be applied. For streaming, the split shall consist of 75% performing rights and 25% reproduction rights. Text by Irène Philipp Ziebold

Changes to the distribution of collections for internet use

SUISA changes its distribution keys for the income from streaming and downloads. (Photo: Rawpixel / Shutterstock.com)

For years, the distribution split between authors and publishers in terms of the allocation of the collections from performing and broadcasting rights on the one hand, and reproduction rights on the other hand has been agreed separately. SUISA has accordingly provided for different distribution keys in its distribution rules for the two rights categories.

For online uses, there is no separate...read more