The U.K. publishing industry must place greater value in partnership and unity moving forward, attendees heard at today's annual general meeting of the Music Publishers Association (MPA) in London.

MPA chairman Paul Curran, re-elected for his fourth term, kicked off the meeting by urging all rights holders to join forces to protect their works in the rapidly developing digital environment.

Speaking at the head office of the MCPS-PRS Alliance, the U.K. collection society, Curran said: "Now that audio-visual exploitation is emerging online at a rapid rate, it raises new questions about blanket licensing in this new environment and about the synchronization rights in user-generated content on (YouTube and MySpace)."

To that end, the MPA has been holding regular meetings with the Alliance, and the U.K. recording industry trade body BPI.

"Having our informal meetings helps us explain to all concerned how the record companies are thinking," Curran added. "Through partnerships, we can make a difference. Otherwise, users (of music) will continue to play us off against each other as they have done in the past."

Stephen Navin, the MPA's CEO, also pointed to the complex structure of the emerging digital business.

"Consumers think that music is somehow free. So while we've seen the year-on-year decline of the recording industry, we've seen the rise of user-generated content," he noted. "We need to find ways to synchronize those rights. I have become more and more convinced of the necessity of the closer co-operation between publishers, users, the public and the government."

Navin added: "We must continue to erect strong bridges of communications with the BPI."

The Gowers Review, the independent report on U.K. intellectual property law published in December 2006, recommended "sweeping exemptions for sampling, parodying and caricature," which would undermine publishers' revenues, said Emma Pike, the outgoing CEO of the British Music Rights (BMR), the umbrella organization for publishing-related associations.

She also criticized the review for "rejecting the extension of the 50-year term of protection for sound recordings." But with a new government led by Gordon Brown now in power, she suggested, "this serves as a reminder that unity of purpose is crucial."

Mutual support will equally be vital during what is going to be a very difficult year in 2007, observed Steve Porter, the Alliance's CEO. "The top-line revenues will be down 12%," he admitted.

All the more reason why the creation of a pan-European licensing operation was crucial, he explained.

CELAS, the pan-European licensing joint venture formed with the Alliance's German counterpart GEMA to handle EMI Music Publishing's repertoire, is "very close to its first licensing soon," Porter commented.

He predicted that the international royalties-collection sector will be close to achieving its pan-European ambitions in two to three year' time. "But we can't be doing any of this on our own; it's about strength through partnership and breaking down boundaries."