The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has reauthorized APRA’s collective arrangements to administer and license performing rights in musical works for a five-year term.
The arrangements, however, are subject to certain conditions. An improved dispute resolution scheme is key amongst them.
Under the terms set out by the ACCC, APRA must produce a “comprehensive plain English guide to its licences,” and a guide that increases awareness of the licence back and opt out provisions. The conditions also require APRA to implement a new alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme that it says must be “independent, affordable and practical for a range of disputes and applicants.”
In a statement published on its Website, ACCC Commissioner Dr Jill Walker describes APRA as a “virtual monopoly,” one that wields serious clout as holder of the rights for the performance of almost all music in the country.
“While there are clear benefits from APRA’s arrangements, some licensees and members are unhappy about their relationship with APRA,” Walker said. “APRA is a virtual monopoly and has significant market power in relation to its dealings with users and its arrangements can also create inefficiencies for its members.”
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) had announced in 2010 it wanted APRA to streamline its royalty processes to better enable composers to deal directly with music users, and invited feedback on its plans. Dozens of submissions rolled-in from venue operators, trade bodies and licensees, including documents from the likes of Australian Hotels Association, Nightlife Music Video, Live Performance Australia and Totem Onelove Group. Some were particularly scathing, and sources said at the time there were others that were kept off the public record.
The ACCC now notes that APRA had been taking steps to address those concerns, and that these moves “represent a significant improvement” in the society’s arrangements. The commission also noted interested parties generally supported a shorter period of authorization, but the ACCC decided on granting a longer period of authorization in “light of the amount of work undertaken” to address the issues raised.
“We welcome the recognition that APRA’s arrangements achieve what can often otherwise be difficult for writers or music users to do on an individual basis,” comments APRA/AMCOS CEO Brett Cottle in a separate statement. Sydney-based Cottle says APRA had made various improvements, including a review of its dispute resolution processes, and the development of an “independent and robust dispute resolution service” that is to be launched in early 2015.
APRA’s arrangements were first authorized by the Australian Competition Tribunal in 1999. The ACCC reauthorized the arrangements in 2006 and conditionally reauthorized them in 2010. The competition watchdog then in October 2013 proposed to grant conditional reauthorization to APRA for three years, and soon after granted interim authorization.