The European Commission's (EC) Online Roundtable on Music has resulted in a joint statement between the EC and music publishers, collecting societies and digital retailers pledging to improve online music opportunities for European consumers.

The statement, setting out general principles for the online distribution of music, was signed at the fourth meeting of the Roundtable, chaired by European Commissioner for Competition Neelie Kroes.

Amazon, European consumers organization BEUC, EMI Music Publishing, iTunes, Nokia, PRS for Music, SACEM, Swedish performing rights society STIM and Universal Music Publishing Group were the participants at the Oct. 19 meeting.

"European consumers want and deserve better online music offerings," said Kroes in a statement. "[The] agreement by the Roundtable on core principles represents real progress in this direction. It is the first time that players from various parts of the market have agreed on a common roadmap. I also welcome the concrete steps and commitments that have been made and which should improve the availability of online music for consumers."

Commissioner Kroes said during the meeting that "current licensing mechanisms are too complex and burdensome, stakeholders are missing out on opportunities in the digital world. Simpler and more transparent licensing solutions had the potential to expand the market and bring new and more innovative online music offerings to a broader range of European consumers, whilst at the same time protecting cultural diversity and the interests of authors."

Music publishers and collecting societies have been moving towards pan-European licensing solutions. However, an appeal is ongoing by the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC) and various collecting societies against the EC's July 2008 ruling on "anti-competitive" practises of performance rights societies. CISAC said the ruling had created legal uncertainty, which had affected development of "alternative and consensual pan-European licensing model for online use of creative content."

Progress is clearly being made in Europe, though, and the joint statement includes agreement from the participants on the following measures:

-- An agreement to pursue new EU licensing platforms comprising the repertoires of several collecting societies, consolidating the widest possible repertoire in their catalogs and based on voluntary cooperation among rights owners.

-- Collective rights managers should adhere to certain objective, transparent and non-discriminatory criteria to allow other entities to deliver multi-territorial licences.

-- Establishment of a working group to create a common framework for the identification and exchange of rights ownership information, in order to make it easier for commercial users to identify the relevant right owners and secure the necessary rights.

Following the statement, Apple welcomed the progress and said it is optimistic about making the iTunes store available to consumers in more European countries in the coming year.

EMI Music Publishing noted that is in advanced negotiations with SGAE and SACEM in relation to the representation of both societies' digital rights covering Anglo-American repertoire and, in the case of SGAE, its Latin American repertoire. Those agreements would function alongside EMI Music Publishing's long-standing arrangements with CELAS, which represents EMI Music Publishing repertoire for online and mobile exploitation in Europe.

In a statement, EMI Music Publishing described the joint statement as "a significant step forward in the development of market-based solutions for the licensing of music to the benefit of consumers."

"We've had productive sessions with both SACEM and SGAE, and I'm optimistic that we will conclude agreements very soon," said chairman and CEO Roger Faxon.

"The work of CELAS continues to expand the digital market for our talented roster of writers and composers, and I believe that these new deals, together with the work of the Online Roundtable that European Competition Commissioner Kroes has been leading, will help us to take another important step forward in digital licensing in Europe. I'm particularly pleased that the Roundtable has recognised the importance of a global repertoire database as the cornerstone for the development of effective models for the online licensing of music. It is equally heartening that the Roundtable has recognised the urgent need to address piracy."

PRS for Music welcomed the statement and said it will work closely with all other parties. In a statement, the U.K. collecting society also stressed that it "has been at the forefront of licensing new digital services whilst protecting the interests of its members and will continue to do so," adding that it has already moved towards licensing major services on a pan-European basis for repertoire it controls, "while recognising the need for some services to maintain access to repertoire from one source, for cost and administrative reasons."

Amazon stated that it is continuously working to provide customers with a broad selection of products and low prices on all of its European Web sites, and now enables delivery of all physical product categories into all 27 member states of the EU.

SACEM announced it will now actively cooperate with as many European authors' societies as possible with a view to building a common, non-exclusive portal able to offer the largest possible repertoire to online services on a pan-European basis.

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