Royalty plan botched, cable ops say

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BRUSSELS -- Tentative plans to reform royalty collection here would make copyright management even more complicated, European cable operators warned Tuesday.

The International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC) this year pledged to change its licensing systems. But the CISAC proposals are fiendishly confusing and could stall the development of mobile and on-demand TV, according to Cable Europe, the body representing Europe's broadband cable operators.

"The complexity and uncertainty of the current copyright regime hinder the development of new content distribution services like digital TV and on-demand TV," Cable Europe managing director Caroline van Weede said. "The CISAC proposal will make copyright management even more complex and cumbersome than it already is, and that will be counterproductive."

Van Weede called for simplified and harmonized rules to slash the incremental costs associated with copyright management.

CISAC was forced to make changes to its licensing system after the European Commission -- the EU's antitrust authority -- opened an investigation into its licensing arrangements. It came after preliminary commission findings that CISAC was operating a de facto monopoly for collecting societies to gather royalties for artists from Internet sites and through satellite and cable broadcasting.

The entertainment sector and other players involved in copyright have until July 8 to comment on the CISAC proposals as the commission bids to wrap up its investigation.

But Cable Europe said that the EC's key concerns have not been met. The commission's original "statement of objections" against CISAC targeted membership restrictions that oblige authors to go to one national collecting society to represent their rights as well as the territorial restrictions obliging commercial users to obtain a license only from the domestic collecting society.

The CISAC commitments, signed by 18 European authors' societies, involve three significant reforms: multi-territorial European Internet, satellite and cable retransmission service licenses; an end to the exclusivity clause from its model contract and the ability for European creators and publishers to move freely between authors' societies.

But Cable Europe said the simplest and most effective way to reform collecting societies would be through central licensing -- allowing broadcasters and content providers to clear all their relevant rights at an organization of their choice -- and "All-Rights-Included" packages that allow cable operators to buy directly from broadcasters all the necessary copyrights to distribute fully cleared content packages to the public.
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