The indie community has presented a united front over digital rights in a special Popkomm panel.

Speaking under the "Impala Presents" banner, delegates flipped the subject of debate at the last minute. The panel had been due to discuss the relationship between the EU and the independent community, but changed to instead focus on developments with Merlin, the indies' digital licensing body.

Merlin CEO Charles Caldas said the end was in sight for its dispute with Last.fm, which it recently accused of streaming unlicensed tracks from its members (Billboard.biz, July 19).

"We're in the middle of a negotiation to legitimize the service," said Caldas, "But also to create a business that will work for everyone. There has been progress and we will announce a deal in due course."

Caldas sounded notably less optimistic on the subject of MySpace Music, which launched without any repertoire from Merlin members (Billboard.biz, Sept. 25) after the rights body held out for equal terms with the majors, which all have an equity stake in the business.

"We're in an ongoing negotiation, but I don't have a lot to add to my statement of two weeks ago," he said. "It's a service that we believe could be of value to our members but the fact that the majors are [part] owners raises serious concerns for us. It's not healthy for the market or competition if it's allowed to go unchallenged. I would hope that MySpace Music come good on their public statements and put their money where their mouth is."

Other panelists were also critical of digital services that continue to have different terms for content from major labels and independents.

Alison Wenham, president of global indies body WIN and CEO of U.K. indies group AIM, accused such sites of "discrimination," adding: "It's imperative that we establish financial value for these copyrights that represent 30% of the music market."

Impala president Horst Weidenmuller, also CEO of German indie K7, even suggested the entire future of the music industry rested upon parity being achieved.

"If you cut out these [digital] revenue streams, [indies] won't have money to sign new artists," he claimed. "Then the majors don't have any new acts to develop... the whole market will implode."