New York-based Spirit Music Group has become the first U.S.-based member of IMPEL, the initiative launched by U.K. collecting society PRS for Music to enable independent publishers with Anglo-American repertoires to navigate the complicated pan-European digital-music licensing landscape.
When it joined two-year-old IMPEL (Independent Music Publishers' European Licensing) earlier this month, Spirit Music, which has high-profile artists like Jay-Z, Scissor Sisters, Dizzee Rascal and 1970s U.K. glam-rock star T-Rex on its books, became the 16th indie publisher to sign up.
Spirit Music's membership also comes as IMPEL discloses that it has processed more than £1 million ($1.56 million) in royalties for its members since its inception.
Other IMPEL members include U.K.-based Bucks Music, Netherlands-based Fintage Music, the U.K.'s Truelove Music and Eagle-I Music.
By signing up with IMPEL, these independent publishers assign the pan-European rights to their English-language repertoire to the PRS scheme, which provides the resources to license their music on a pan-European basis to digital-music services.
Otherwise, signing licensing agreements on a territory-by-territory basis becomes laborious and time-consuming for independents seeking Europe-wide exposure on major online-music services. IMPEL equally makes it easier for online-music vendors and distributors, including Apple's iTunes and Spotify, to acquire multi-territory rights in Europe via a one-stop shop.
"IMPEL has removed the complexity of pan-European licensing for independent publishers and greatly eased the administrative burden," said Stuart Hornall, chairman of the IMPEL Advisory Group and managing director of London-based Hornall Brothers Music, in a statement.
"Progress was slow after launch in 2010, but significant improvements were made in 2011 delivering a boost in monies distributed and improvements in administration," added William Booth, PRS for Music's director of media licensing.
Major independents such as Imagem Music (which describes itself as the 'world's largest independent music publisher') have also joined the initiative as 'friends of IMPEL.' Because of their bigger clout in terms of catalog size, geographical reach and revenues, these larger independent 'friends of IMPEL' have flexible deals that allow them to assign some rights separately from IMPEL if they wish to.
IMPEL's progress comes as the debate about pan-European licensing remains only partly resolved, a pertinent topic as the international music industry gathers for the MIDEM confab in Cannes Jan. 28-31.
Only the major publishing houses have had the power to remove their digital rights for Anglo-American repertoires from national collecting societies. Instead, they have selected only one or formed partnerships to handle the rights. Consequently, they dominate the pan-European digital landscape with their catalogs.
EMI Music Publishing's repertoire can be licensed for mechanical rights via only CELAS, a venture formed by PRS for Music and its German counterpart GEMA, for online and mobile music in 41 territories in Europe.
PEDL (Pan European Digital Licensing) currently comprises seven European collecting societies that have the non-exclusive rights to license Warner/Chappell Music's repertoire Europe-wide. The seven are the U.K.'s PRS for Music; Belgium's SABAM; France's SACEM; Spanish society SGAE; STIM, of Sweden; Dutch society BUMA/STEMRA and Portugal's SPA.
Universal Music Publishing has a similar agreement with only France's SACEM, while Sony/ATV Music Publishing offers similar licensing deals via GEMA alone.
A PRS spokesperson notes that, although the European Union seeks to simplify pan-European licensing across the borderless internet, there are still barriers. The European Commission deems traditional national collecting societies' practices monopolistic. Yet, if the same societies joined forces to offer pan-European licensing, the move could break EU anti-trust laws.
"The European Commission is always promoting the region as a single market for doing business," a PRS for Music spokesperson explains. "Because the majors had their pan-European agreements in place, online-music services were forced to deal with them only. An initiative like IMPEL gives independents with strong repertoire the same opportunities during negotiations with the major digital-music vendors."