When you think of royalty collection in Spain, which words come to mind?
Allow MBW to make a rather bold presumption, and suggest that “transparent” isn’t readily popping into your temporal lobe.
For years, the European territory’s music industry has been blighted by accusations of corruption and scandal. The apex of this story arrived last year when global body CISAC kicked Spain’s incumbent CMO for publishers and songwriters, SGAE, out of its membership following a series of damaging allegations.
Now, SGAE has real competition in Spain in the form of Unison – whose client list is already seriously impressive, and whose ambitions stretch far beyond the borders of its home nation.
For decades in Europe, the only option for publishers and songwriters – not to mention international CMOs looking for a local partner – was the incumbent collection society in each territory.
That all changed in 2014, when the European Union passed a directive allowing IMEs (Independent Management Entities) to challenge these incumbent CMOs – a right which, in Spain, was further enshrined by local rulings in 2018 and 2019.
This is where Unison comes in.
The IME, based in Barcelona, launched at the start of this year, and already represents the management of more than 600,000 works for international clients – including cuts on hits recorded by the likes of Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, Eminem, Run DMC, Janis Joplin and Tupac.
As well as collecting royalties in Spain for these songs, Unison also recently became the first European IME with the power to directly grant multi-territorial digital licenses in the EU.
Outside of Europe, to date Unison has inked more than 20 partnerships with PROs in markets such as Brazil (via ABRAMUS), Canada (via SOCAN), Nigeria (via COSON) and South Africa (via CAPASSO and SAMRO). These agreements enable Unison, in tandem with its partners, to manage the collection of royalties for both online and offline uses of its catalog in these territories.
Unison’s efforts don’t stop at royalty collecting, either: last year, it played a pivotal role in lobbying the Spanish Competition Authority (CNMC) to fine SGAE €2.95m for abusing its dominant position in Spain’s music copyright market.
Platinum-selling Spanish DJ/producer Alizzz (aka Cristian Quirante), who has worked on music by Latin star Rosalía and Spanish hitmaker C. Tangana, amongst many others, became a Unison client earlier this year.
“I decided to work with [Unison because they] offer a more efficient, transparent and artist-oriented service.”
“Every musician in Spain knows about the issues we have been having related to royalty collection and payment for public performance,” Alizzz says of his decision to join Unison.
“I want to see positive change and a better environment for culture and the creatives here, and rather than sitting around and waiting for it to come to me I decided to work with a new company who offer a more efficient, transparent and artist-oriented service.”
Here, Unison’s Chief Executive Officer, Jordi Puy, tells MBW how his blockchain-ready firm has been able to rack up such a formidable list of clients in a short space of time – and why, in his view, major publishers, songwriters and CMOs around the world should think about joining them…
You already represent shares in works made famous by the likes of Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Rosalía, Eminem and many more. What has been the secret to you representing such a strong blockbuster catalog despite only being officially launched in January?
We currently have over 100 clients, which include writers, publishers and international CMOs. One of our US clients controls a very large number of compositions, which includes shares in works interpreted by all of those top artists.
We also represent some local Spanish and Latam top composers directly for their entire repertoire, which includes productions for some of the most successful artists in this space, such as Rosalía or C. Tangana.
“We currently have over 100 clients, which include writers, publishers and international CMOs.”
Jordi Puy, Unison (pictured, main)
We started operations in January, but we have been working for over two years on our platform development, Business Development and licensing and legal matters. We had to overcome illegal barriers of entry by traditional competitors in Spain, which implied court cases before the Spanish Competition Authority and the commercial courts.
We have won both cases so far. During this time we dedicated most of our non-legal efforts to build the best possible platform and to engage with clients.
Why do you believe the situation regarding collection societies needed to change in Spain and across Europe?
Well, it was not just us thinking that a change was needed. The EU Commission saw the need to foster competition in this space in order to benefit right holders, by promoting innovation and diverse offerings.
Each country in the EU is different, but there was a need for an improvement of the collection and distribution systems in many jurisdictions in order to optimise processes and offer different alternatives to the right holders.
The EU authorities strengthen the rights holders’ power to choose who should be managing their rights for all or part of their repertoire, for all or part of their rights and for the world or for certain territories only.
Spain has not had the best reputation for publishers in recent years, especially with ‘The Wheel’ and SGAE etc. Do you think you can ‘clean up’ the market?
We believe that we contribute to the regeneration of the system in Spain by proposing a rights management alternative and applying the principles of efficiency and transparency through technology, as well as professional and experienced management. Unison was not created just to solve certain problems in Spain, but to compete in the global market.
“We believe that we contribute to the regeneration of the system in Spain by proposing a rights management alternative and applying the principles of efficiency and transparency through technology.”
That said, and having our base in Spain and attachment to the market, this has been one of our main priorities, together with offering a multi-territorial digital licensing hub for publishing rights (both public performance and mechanicals), with the support and partnership of Barcelona-based BMAT.
In that respect, we have already been commissioned by writers, publishers and international CMOs to manage the digital licensing of publishing rights in a multi-territorial manner.
You have ambitions beyond just Spain. Can you explain what your European-wide plans are for the management of pan-European digital licenses?
As mentioned in the previous question, we already operate on Pan-EU multi-territorial licensing, as well as beyond the EU. Our ambition is to grow our client base and reach globally, offering an alternative to the existing hubs with efficiency and transparency through technology as added values.
Are you hoping a major music publisher (or a very large indie!) may entrust you to collect on their behalf? Why should they use an IME rather than a traditional PRO?
Definitely yes. We certainly aim to give everyone, independents and majors, the best possible service in Spain, the EU and globally. Our client base is independent, but we also represent writers that have publishing deals with major publishers.
We think that we can add value with our tech driven and efficient management approach to copyrights management, with systems that optimise processes across the copyrights management cycle, such as fast registration of works, better music usage monitoring, clearer distribution systems that favour distributions based on effective use and paying out the collections in the fastest and clearer possible way.
Generally speaking, wouldn’t a not-for-profit PRO be better for a partner than a for-profit PRO?
We do not see why this should be the case. First of all, and as the European Commission expressly acknowledges, the efficiency of a collecting society is not linked to its legal form. In any case, management structure and business orientated approach ensures that we have to do everything possible to better serve our clients. If they are not happy, they will leave.
This makes us react faster to change and adapt to our clients needs in a way that organisations of other nature generally can not. Also, we have already signed deals to represent some international CMOs within the EU territory, which shows that coexistence and collaboration is possible as well.
How are you using blockchain to the benefit of your clients?
We use blockchain through our partnership with Verifi Media, the best company that we could find in this space to serve the objective that we were trying to achieve: a better international database for rights ownership.
When we created Unison, we investigated what challenges we wanted to try to address in the collective management of copyrights and identified technologies that could help us solve them, such as the world’s leading company for TV and radio monitoring services, BMAT.
“We focused on finding the best blockchain ecosystem that allowed us to share basic ownership data on a decentralised and secure manner with music rights stakeholders worldwide.”
For the ownership of works registration, we saw blockchain as an excellent solution out there. We are not involved in cryptocurrencies, since we believe that there is not a robust enough regulation to make it a safe space for rights management: we focused on finding the best blockchain ecosystem that allowed us to share basic ownership data on a decentralised and secure manner with music rights stakeholders worldwide (publishers, CMOs, digital distributors etc.). We wanted to contribute to ending the too usual situation of someone not paying rights because they did not know who to pay to.
Verifi Media was the best partner that we could find to try to tackle this issue and we became the first rights management organization to be created with Blockchain compatibility from inception. And we hope that you will be able to see very interesting developments in this space before year end.
What are your longer-term ambitions in Spain and beyond?
We want to continue to grow our client base for Spain – full market – and globally in digital. We will work hard and will also establish partnerships with like-minded and aligned organisations that help us grow together and move towards our vision: helping right holders to get the right and fair remuneration for the use of their creations.
We have already partners and clients in North America, Central and South America, Africa and Asia. And we want to continue to expand in this direction.
“Many creators now depend almost exclusively on the income generated by their copyrights. We cannot let them down.”
In the post-COVID 19 reality, a fair, accurate and transparent remuneration of writers, composers and publishers for the digital usage of their rights is needed more than ever.
Many creators now depend almost exclusively on the income generated by their copyrights. We cannot let them down.Music Business Worldwide