BERLIN — SUISA Digital Licensing, the Liechtenstein-based subsidiary of the Swiss performing rights society SUISA that collects digital publishing royalties outside the U.S. for publishers and songwriters, has sued Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, for infringing copyright in compositions on which it collects performing and mechanical royalties.
The lawsuit, filed on March 12 in Hamburg District Court, seeks damages based on how much compositions controlled by SUISA Digital have been used by Snap, which would be determined during the course of a trial.
SUISA Digital reached out to Snapchat 22 months ago, and “they said they had none of our repertoire,” which includes the works SUISA represents, as well as many others, according to SUISA Digital CEO Fabian Niggemeier. When that turned out not to be the case, Niggemeier says, SUISA Digital sued.
“They think they don’t have to pay and they’re wrong,” says Alexander Wolf, president of SESAC International. (SESAC and SUISA together own and operate the administration platform Mint Digital Services as a joint venture.)
“We don’t comment on pending litigation,” says a Snap spokesperson, “but we are committed to supporting artists and working cooperatively in partnership with the entire music industry, including SUISA Digital.”
A source close to the issue, who says that SUISA has not shared the complaint or its specific allegations with Snap, disputes SUISA’s characterization of contacts between the two sides but declined to get more specific.
Snap currently licenses recorded music from the major labels and many independents, as well as compositions from the major publishers and many member companies of the U.S.-based National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA). An NMPA settlement led to deals in which NMPA members collect directly from Snap both mechanical and performing royalties, bypassing U.S. collecting societies, according to a source familiar with the agreements.
Snap definitely lacks at least one other deal it needs in Europe — it has yet to make a deal with the French collecting society SACEM, according to a spokesperson there, but it is in the process of negotiating one.
SUISA Digital represents the online rights of SUISA, as well as online rights from 14 other collecting societies and several international publishers. These rights, along with the U.S. rights of SESAC outside the U.S., are administered by Mint.
The new European Copyright Directive could make these kinds of lawsuits against platforms more common, although it’s worth noting that this one was filed in Germany, which has implemented the directive with fairly weak legislation.