Music to Singapore’s ears as Competition Commission considers ending fight for digital music rights
On 14 November 2012 the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) sought feedback on an application for guidance it received from music publishers in respect of a proposed agreement to jointly offer their rights in musical works.
Currently, the 12 music publishers, along with the Composers and Authors Society of Singapore Ltd, licence out their rights separately. This means that a digital licensee who wishes to distribute music online has to obtain separate licences for mechanical rights and public performance rights. The proposed agreement would simplify this process, reducing administrative costs and enabling digital licensees to easily access rights to a large number of musical works.
It is possible that such an agreement would contravene section 34 of the Singaporean Competition Act, which prohibits agreements that have as their object or effect the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition within Singapore (similar to the section 45 prohibition on anticompetitive agreements in the Australian Competition and Consumer Act).
For this reason, the publishers have made an application for guidance to the CCS (similar to seeking authorisation from the ACCC in Australia) under which the CSS can recommend that the Minister for Trade and Industry grant an exemption if the agreement has net economic benefits, as set out in the CSS Guidelines on the Section 34 Prohibition.
Given the statutory monopoly that copyright gives a music publisher over those tracks or albums it owns the rights to, there is a clear advantage to a given major label in holding out granting those rights to an online music distributor and then using their power in being able to “complete the collection” in order to negotiate higher prices for their music. However it remains to be seen whether joint bargaining of this type will avoid this issue or exacerbate it, and no doubt the world will be watching the Singaporean experiment.