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Songwriters launch antitrust action against EU broadcasters

European songwriters and music composers have launched a complaint against broadcasters for alleged coercion to obtain copyright for below the fair market value.

The complaint has been filed with the EU competition authorities by the European Composer and Songwriter Alliance, which represents composers, accusing some of the continent’s largest broadcasters of insisting that composers hand copyright over to them as a pre-condition for being given a commission. This practice, known as coercion, is an abuse of broadcasters’ power and as such is anti-competitive, denying composers and songwriters the price they would obtain for their copyright in a free and open market, according to Brussels-based ECSA. The specific complaint lodged with the EU’s Competition Directorate is that the broadcasters concerned have infringed Articles 101 and/or 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

Broadcasters cited in the complaint span the whole continent, including the UK’s largest pay TV operator BSkyB, BBC, French national channel TF1, German public broadcaster ZDF, pan European production group RTL, Italian broadcaster RAI, and UK commercial broadcaster ITV.

The complaint was actually filed in Jan. 2012 after first having been noted to the EU in Nov. 2011, but was made public by the ECSA at a press conference last week. There, Alfons Karabuda, ECSA Chairman, stated “this complaint represents what is at stake for the independent community of composers and songwriters and why it matters, not only to the composers, but also the threat to quality and diversity of talent among younger, less well‐known composers and songwriters which these practices pose.”

The ECSA argued that coercive commissioning has a dramatic financial impact on music creators, and is particularly damaging for freelance composers or songwriters who lack the resources to defend themselves against the powerful broadcasters they rely on for their work.