In a MIDEM panel examining the progress of the multi-territorial licensing initiative that the European Commission mandated by directive and decisions over the last five years, copyright society executives agreed on one thing: confusion still reigns for all sectors involved in music copyright.

As the moderator, CISAC director general Eric Baptiste began the panel by noting that the copyright societies in Europe were all working under the seemingly contradictory mandate to build a digital royalty licensing system that provides copyright users with one-stop shopping while fostering an environment that increases competition between Europe's societies.

Because of the contradictory elements behind the EU's endorsement of open licensing, "we have no clear picture of what the European Commission wants [societies] to do," said SACEM CEO Bernard Miyet.

One-stop shopping for licensing would theoretically allow digital service providers to get all the music clearances from one place instead of going to the societies in each of the 27 companies comprising the European Union. So far, each of the majors have structured their own joint ventures with various European collection societies, but only for Anglo-American reportoire. For example, SACEM (France's Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers of Music) and Universal Music Publishing Group have a Pan-European joint venture called "D.E.A.L" (Direct European Administration and Licensing). Meanwhile, EMI Music Publishing's cross-territory venture, formed with PRS for Music and Germany's GEMA, is called CELAS; Sony/ATV Music Publishing formed its pan-European vehicle with GEMA; and Warner/Chappell formed a pan-European licensing vehicle with other collection societies on a non-exclusive basis, which allows the user to choose which European society it wants to license from.

Since these pan-European ventures only license Anglo-American repertoire, that means a rights user still needs to visit with societies in each country to license the local repertoire to get music coverage for the entire European continent.

The entire scenario is leaving all parties frustrated. "So far, we are totally unsatisfied," said SABAM GM Christophe Depreter, whose organization is based in Brussels, the same city as the European Commission. "The only thing that is clear is that nothing is clear," he said.

"In fact, not only is digital licensing not clear, so far, it make life more difficult for everyone. It is more difficult for the user; life is more difficult for the collective management society, and of course life is much more difficult for our members because they have to wait longer for the renumeration," Depreter added.

Jeremy Fabinyi, acting CEO of PRS for Music, agreed, saying that the last few years have produced nothing but an enormous amount of activity, annoyance, frustration, and confusion. However, "I could say that the old way was better, but the reality is we needed to change and we needed to adapt."

But the problems continue to mount going forward. The societies are seeing huge increases in transaction costs due to the "fragmentation of the catalog, which also means that the authors and publishers have less impact on the business," according to Koda (Denmark) deputy managing director Martin Gormsen.

Ironically, the collection societies are not seeing demand for multi-territorial licensing, but rather are meeting with more users who want their advertising placed locally, the U.K.'s Fabinyi said.

Still, Fabinyi says that despite the rough times created by the economy and the digital licensing situation, there are only two options available: "You are either going to crash or crash through, we have decided to crash through."