The ADA and ALACC call for greater transparency in APRA royalties

Greater transparency around royalty payments from collecting societies is needed and Creative Commons licences should be compatible with APRA licensing models.

Along with the Australian Libraries and Archives Copyright Coalition (ALACC), we made a submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in response to an application by the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) to re-authorise the organisations arrangements for managing music performing rights in its repertoire. Applications for authorisation by the ACCC arise where an applicant seeks approval to engage in conduct that may otherwise breach Australian competition law.

APRA’s application orientates around how they administer the public performance and communication rights of their members. APRA becomes the copyright owner of those rights because members assign them to the organisation as part of their membership application. (Although, arguably, many members of APRA are not aware they are no longer the owner of the public performance and communication rights in their music.) This gives APRA the ability to exclusively licence the use of music to people who want to use the music. In exchange, APRA pays members royalties based on music usage. APRA argues that this approach creates greater certainty in its ability to licence the music it administers on behalf of members, and that underpins the efficient administration, monitoring and enforcement of rights in musical works. They argue this results in greater public benefits than the detriments with this arrangement.

Both our organisations agree that collective management of copyright material is an efficient and effective way of addressing the impracticalities of licensing the use of copyright material at scale. We support appropriate collective rights management through collecting societies. To balance the concentration of market power in collecting societies, including APRA, we believe there is a need for greater oversight of collecting societies’ operations.

While we recognise that APRA has made improvements to their operations in terms of the management of its repertoire, the collection of data on the use of that repertoire and the payment of royalties to members for the use of their music, we call for greater transparency and accountability of APRA (and collecting societies generally). In APRA’s case, this is especially apparent in relation to how music usage data translates into royalty payments to members. More needs to be done so members can have confidence in the royalties they receive.

APRA has made improvements to the management of its repertoire, including simplified licensing through the music licensing ‘one-stop-shop’ OneMusic Australia. The organisation has also committed to improve OneMusic, including customer experience improvements and allowing licensees to pay monthly. They are also implementing a number of administration and IT improvements on the member side of its business, including shifting to monthly royalty payments to members. Seeing royalties flow back to creators sooner is a positive development. APRA has also made improvements to their royalty calculation and distribution processes, including investing significantly in music recognition technology (MRT) and other technology to modernise its business operations. With a reliable and regular ingest of usage data the distribution of royalties by APRA should be more representative of actual music use while also reducing the labour burden on licensees needed to collate and report music usage to APRA.

We also recognise that APRA has introduced a number of ways in which members can regain their rights to facilitate direct licensing, including the ability to opt out of APRA’s management of their music in certain categories of use and to be licensed back non-exclusive use of specified songs for licensing to other parties or to communicate certain songs online for non-commercial listening. These mechanisms create some limited opportunities for APRA members to direct licence their music, however, as we flagged in our submission, APRA members are still unable to engage with common open content licensing schemes such as Creative Commons (CC). This was flagged with the ACCC by Creative Commons International back in 2005. Nearly 20 years later and this issue remains unresolved.

The full submission is available in multiple file formats in the Advocacy section of the website.