Recommendation calls for EU-wide online licenses.

The European Commission today (Oct. 12) overhauled the convoluted rules on collective licensing, making it easier to license music online in the European Union's 25 member countries.

The Commission confirmed a policy giving right-holders and commercial users of copyright-protected material a choice of their preferred means of licensing. It aims to create a system ensuring musical rights can be cleared efficiently on an EU-wide basis so the European online market can catch up with that in the U.S.

The new rules say different online services might require different forms of EU-wide licensing policies. They scrap territorial restrictions and customer allocation provisions in existing licensing contracts, while leaving right-holders who do not want to make use of those contracts the possibility to tender their repertoire for EU-wide direct licensing.

The plan applies only to services provided on the Internet, such as simulcasting, webcasting, streaming, downloading or an online 'on-demand' service and music services provided to mobile telephones. (The full document is available online here.)

EU internal market and services commissioner Charlie McCreevy said he wanted to foster a climate where EU-wide licenses are more readily available for legitimate online music service providers. "These licenses will make it easier for new European-based online services to take off," he said. "I believe that this recommendation strikes the right balance between ease of licensing and maintaining the value of copyright protected works so that content is not available on the cheap."

He said that for the time being and as a first step, the recommendation was on how the market should develop. McCreevy said the commission would monitor the situation closely. "If I am not satisfied that sufficient progress is being made, I will take tougher action," he said.

The European authors' rights societies body GESAC said the measure was "a more realistic approach to collective management" than the "seriously flawed" proposal on online music rights initially floated by McCreevy's services last July.

The final recommendation gives authors, composers, publishers, performers and producers more flexibility in choosing which rights societies represent them, but "accepts the imperatives of cultural diversity and equal treatment between rightholders," GESAC said.

Adam Singer, CEO of the British MCPS-PRS Alliance Group, described the recommendation as "the starting shot for an online land rush across Europe." He added, "We welcome this first step towards a truly commercial pan-European one-stop online shop and we intend to play a major role."

IFPI Regional Director for Europe Frances Moore said the measure would not change much for the recording industry as it had been proactively licensing for on-line music, whether collectively or individually, for some time. "There are over 300 legal music sites in Europe now, some of them with over 2 million tracks," she said."Furthermore, we are in the main satisfied that the collecting societies representing record producers operate in an effective and transparent manner."

But Moore welcomed the recommendation's recognition of the principle that the right holder has a choice between individual licensing and collective licensing, and the backing for voluntary collective licensing models put in place by the recording industry that remove territorial restrictions.