GEMA’s voting structure comes under scrutiny, but is it any less democratic than other collection societies’ in Europe?

In a country profile of Germany a few weeks ago, we reported that some members of the German authors’ society GEMA members had raised concerns at the unfairness of GEMA’s voting system at its annual conference. To recap, GEMA oper-ates three levels of membership: associated, extraordinary and ordinary (the highest level). These levels define voting rights at its annual conference. In 2009, there were 54,605 associated members, 6,406 extraordinary members and 3,343 ordinary members. Associated and extraordinary members have no voting rights at the annual conference. But in pre-meeting sessions, these two groups can nominate up to 34 representatives to participate in, and have voting rights during, the annual meeting. A proposal to raise the number of delegates from the associated and extraordinary membership from 34 to 42 was made at last month’s annual conference, but a decision on the proposal was been postponed until next year’s annual meeting.

After the concert promoter Monika Bestle filed a 106,000-signature petition last year, a hearing in May at the German Bundestag concluded that GEMA’s internal voting process was not well balanced. But is GEMA any less democratic than the other collection societies in Europe? Moreover, could members of other collection societies who are not eligible to vote at their annual general meetings cite the unrest at GEMA as reason for change in their national collection society?

PRS for Music in the UK and SACEM in France are two of Europe’s largest collection societies. PRS divides its membership into three tiers: full, associate and provisional. Of the total membership of 63,129, full members, which numbered 4,172 at the beginning of this year, have multiple voting rights; associate members (17,175) have a single vote; and provisional members (41,782) do not vote. The qualifying criteria for admission to each category of membership are based on a member’s earnings in the previous year. If earnings meet the threshold, which is defined as a set percentage of the total amount distributed to PRS members the year before that, the member is promoted to the next category of membership. Full members have a standard 10 votes. They qualify for an additional 10 votes if they have been a member for at least 20 years and during that time have received an aggregate number of distributions from PRS that is at least 10 times the annual qualifying figure for admission to full membership for the previous year or they have been a member for at least two years and during that time have received an aggregate number of distributions from PRS that is at least 20 times the annual qualifying figure for admission to full membership for the previous year.

Like PRS, SACEM has three membership levels for authors, composers and publishers: adherents (members), societaires professionnels (professional members) and societaires definitifs (full members). At the beginning of the year, the total membership of 132,000 was divided among 127,629 adherents, 2,277 societaires professionnels and 2,094 societaires definitifs. At SACEM’s annual general meeting, all members participate in the approval of the society’s accounts and elect the members of the board of directors, which is made up of six authors and two author-directors, six composers and six publishers. All members have a single vote, while societaires professionnels and societaires definitifs each receive 15 additional votes. The board of directors appoints members as societaires professionnels and societaires definitifs.

BUMA and STEMRA in the Netherlands operate as a single company, despite consisting of two separate bodies: Vereniging BUMA (the BUMA Association) and Stichting STEMRA (the STEMRA Foundation). Each has its own members and affiliates and its own board of directors. BUMA’s board consists of 12 members: six composers, three authors and three publishers. Candidates are recommended by the societies of composers, authors and publish¬ers, but members are elected by composers, authors and publishers collectively. STEMRA’s board consists of 12 members: seven composers or authors, four publishers and one member recommended by BUMA. The composer/author members are elected by writer/composer members of BUMA/STEMRA, and publisher members are elected by publisher members only. Voting is on a weighted basis, based on the publisher’s turnover, and any publisher gets a maximum of 10 votes. Once music authors and publishers transfer the commercial exploitation of their music copyright to BUMA/STEMRA, they become members (BUMA) or affiliates (STEMRA) and are eligible to vote. BUMA/STEMRA ended 2009 with about 16,000 members and affiliates.

Italian authors’ society SIAE has author and publisher members from a variety of arts, including the music, literary, drama, opera, visual and audiovisual sectors. It does not categorize members in tiers. Although rights holders can be contractually represented by SIAE, only members are allowed to participate in SIAE’s governing bodies. SIAE’s General Assembly (GA) consists of 64 members, which are elected by all members every four years. The GA, which meets twice a year, nominates the other governing bodies (president, board of directors, section committees, board of auditors, internal audit) every four years. From a total 81,839 “musical” members, 79,154 are authors and 2,485 are publishers.

SGAE of Spain ended 2009 with 96,955 author and publisher members. Its author mem¬bership is divided into the professional categories of music (72,748 members), grand rights (theater, drama, musicals, etc.) (7,371) and audiovisual (8,031). Voting rights are divided between temporary rights and permanent rights, with the number of votes weighted, based on royalty income. For temporary rights, the weighting of votes is dependent on royalty income received in the previous financial year, and for permanent rights the votes are weighted based on royalty income received in the previous five years.

In the latest issue of the newsletter we continue the analysis by looking at SUISA of Switzerland, SABAM of Belgium, AKM of Austria and STIM of Sweden. We also compare European collection societies with those operating in North America and Asia. The conclusion to all this? It would seem that although most collection societies restrict the voting at annual meetings to the most senior or exclusive members, virtually all of them continue to operate with full member support. For the time being at least. As always, comments are gratefully accepted.

Music & Copyright is a fortnightly research service published by Informa Telecoms & Media.

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