Dutch warn Brussels to 'navigate issue with care.'

BUMA, the Dutch authors' rights society, has broken ranks to publicly support the European Commission's plans to overhaul Europe's licensing system.

In a statement issued Wednesday (April 12), BUMA defended the Commission's recommendations for a more competitive system of collection for copyright royalties, which the society claims will allow "survival of the fittest collecting societies, not simply survival of the biggest." BUMA is the first royalty collecting society to support the Commission's stance.

The Brussels-based Commission, the European Union's executive authority, issued a Statement of Objections (SO) in February to CISAC -- the EU umbrella group of European national collecting societies (to which BUMA belongs) -- to inform them that they were potentially breaking competition rules by extending their national monopolies over licensing authors' rights for physical goods and performances into the online space. It suggested that the societies' model for gathering royalties was potentially flouting competition rules.

The SO followed complaints lodged by RTL Group and Music Choice Europe. RTL Group issued a complaint in 2000 with the Commission after the broadcaster was thwarted in an attempt to secure a pan-European radio broadcasting license. Music Choice Europe made a similar complaint in 2005.

On the flip side, BUMA warned Brussels to "navigate this issue with great care." If it does not, BUMA says that the Commission may find that it is simply replacing the current system of national societies with a "European royalty collection oligopoly," which may not be the most efficient way forward.

"Liberalization of the market will produce winners and losers," comments BUMA chairman Jan Boerstoel in the statement. "BUMA wants to compete in the European market on the basis of the efficiency of the services it delivers, certainly not on cutting back the earnings of authors, composers and publishers. We know we can compete -- the Commission must now make sure we get a chance to do so without being squeezed out unfairly."

In a simultaneous move, BUMA has responded to the Commission's SO. CISAC immediately rebutted the claim and said it would respond by the two-month deadline, but merely to correct what the organization felt at the time were factual mistakes.