GESAC Urges U.S. to Change Copyright Law

GESAC, the European group of societies of authors and composers, has renewed its plea for the U.S. to modify its Copyright Act to compel bars, restaurants and shops to pay royalties for the public per

CANNES, France--GESAC, the European group of societies of authors and composers, has renewed its plea for the U.S. to modify its Copyright Act to compel bars, restaurants and shops to pay royalties for the public performance of musical works.

GESAC, which convened at the Midem trade fair in Cannes last month, considers the U.S. situation detrimental to European authors, composers and publishers who are not compensated when their works are played in public spaces like bars and restaurants. In contrast, substantial royalties are paid when works of U.S. origin are played in public in Europe.

Following an initial complaint filed by Irish society IMRO concerning Section 110(5) (b) of the U.S. Copyright Act, the issue was brought to the attention of the European Commission, the European Union's executive body.

In July 1997, the EC instigated a dispute settlement proceeding through the World Trade Organization (WTO). In July 2000, the WTO asked the U.S. to amend its copyright act to bring it in line with international intellectual property laws and comply with the WTO TRIPs Agreement, which requires that authors are remunerated when their musical works are played on radio or TV in publicly accessible premises.

A GESAC statement said, "Three years on, the U.S. shows no sign of altering its laws. Around 70% of bars, restaurants and shops [in the U.S.] are still exempted from paying fair remuneration for playing musical works."

The EU and the U.S. reached a temporary agreement in 2000 where the U.S. agreed to pay $1.1 million per year over three years to compensate for the losses European authors suffered from December 2001 to December 2004.


Brussels-based Gesac secretary general Veronique Desbrosses says the current situation will have to be reviewed at the end of the year.

However, she does not believe the move will level the playing field between European and U.S. copyright legislation.

"It is quite unlikely the U.S. will change its legislation this year--which is an election year--so we will be back to square one," she says.

The heart of the issue, in GESAC's opinion, is that the U.S. has signed the TRIPs Agreement.

Desbrosses says that regarding this matter, GESAC is backed by right-holders organizations, including music publishers CIEM/ICMP, labels bodies the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry and Impala, film production and distribution group EFCA, the European Music Office, film producers society Eurocinema, performing-artists group GIART and video distributors body IVF.


The other pending issue is compensation, which Desbrosses describes as "ridiculously low."

The settlement reached in 2000 could not be appealed, leaving European collecting societies with a sour taste.

Royalties from public performances in the U.S. could generate as much as 25 million euros ($31.5 million) per year to European rights owners if applied in the same manner as in Europe, according to some estimates.

By the end of 2004, EU and U.S. representatives will start a new round of talks. Meanwhile, GESAC and its sister organizations will lobby the EC and the U.S. government and push for changes in U.S. copyright legislation.

"If this is how the U.S. deals with the issue, how will the Americans justify any actions overseas to protect their rights?" Desbrosses asks. "This puts the U.S. in a rather awkward position. Why sign an international treaty if you don't implement it?"

In Desbrosses' opinion, letting countries pick and choose whether to apply decisions resulting from the WTO dispute settlement proceedings can only lead to an erosion of intellectual property protection worldwide.