Robin Gibb keynotes Popkomm in Germany

Musician condemns European Commission in speech

LONDON -- Bee Gee member Robin Gibb has opened Popkomm 2008 in Berlin with a keynote speech in his role as president of CISAC, the umbrella group which represents 222 authors' societies in 118 countries.

He accused the European Commission of behaving in an "unhelpful and dogmatic fashion" in relation to its ruling on the "anti-competitive" practices of European performance rights societies.

The three-day Popkomm event comprises an international music and entertainment business trade fair, conference and live music festival. Organizers say they are expecting 843 exhibitors from 50 countries, while the festival will feature 400 artists from 30 countries. A total of 15,000 exhibitors and trade visitors are expected, according to managing director Ralf Kleinhenz. Turkey is the partner country for this year's Popkomm.

"For the first time ever the United States are present, with a conference stand," said Raimund Hosch, president and CEO of Messe Berlin (Berlin Exhibition Grounds), referring to the industry body the American Association of Independent Music. There are also dozens of U.S. companies among the exhibitors.

Gibb delivered a speech that strongly condemned the European Commission's ruling in July against 24 European collecting societies. CISAC has been told to remove all obstacles impeding a Pan-European performing rights licensing system following a long-running battle with regulators; the EC described it as an antitrust decision prohibiting societies from restricting competition.

CISAC has confirmed that it appealed the EC decision on royalty collection practices on Oct. 3, in parallel with 22 authors' societies. CISAC wants an annulment of the ruling that found that societies engaged in a coordinated practice to limit licenses to the domestic territory of each collecting society. It says the ruling has created legal uncertainty and has put an end to CISAC initiatives to develop an "alternative and consensual Pan-European licensing model for online use of creative content."

"There is a perfectly good and practical reason that each bilateral reciprocal agreement has territorial restrictions," Gibb said in his keynote. "It has nothing whatsoever to do with concerted practices. It is at this point that the societies are pushed into competing by a 'race to the bottom' on royalty value. This would do incalculable harm to the writer community."

He described the collection society network as "under attack and bizarrely it is under attack by the very institution which should be encouraging collective rights management and cultural diversity in a digital age -- the European Union Commission."

Gibb said that the ruling against multilateral agreements by societies was "obviously daft and makes international trade in music licensing even more difficult than before." He added that clauses in the CISAC model contract on membership and exclusivity were removed "a long time ago."

Gibb admitted that "new answers for multiterritorial licensing have to be found" in response to new technologies, but said the ruling had the effect of blocking the planned licensing of new digital services, which CISAC said was under discussion.

"In early July, I went to Brussels with a delegation of fellow music writers to try and persuade the Commission not to carry on down this fruitless path," Gibb said. "We were listened to politely and then assured that there would be nothing in the decision to the detriment of songwriters and composers. I now feel we were lied to at that meeting and worse -- the Commission put out its own press briefing implying that we agreed with their position. This is not the truth."

Gibb began by describing himself as a "fierce supporter of collective rights management" and spoke of his and his brothers' emotional attachment to songwriting from their early days.

"The worldwide network of societies has been of huge value to me and my brothers throughout our careers," Gibb said. "When we songwriters write music, we are not just creating a product. We create something which is an extension of ourselves."

He concluded by calling for the EC to reopen talks to "let us work together to achieve your aim of a growing European digital economy and at the same time enable authors to have a vehicle of their choice to help them earn a living."

Billboard is a partner at Popkomm, which is taking place at Messe Berlin until Friday.

The other two keynote speakers are Wim Wenders and Petri Lunden, chairman of the International Music Managers' Forum.