The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has announced that it proposes to allow Viscopy and CAL to "enter into a service agreement under which Copyright Agency will manage and administer the day-to-day operations of Viscopy’s business".
The ACCC media release indicates that
“The ACCC considers that the service agreement will result in significant cost savings to artists and licensees, and operational efficiencies for the administration of copyright licensing,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims said. “The ACCC considers that the detriments from this agreement, if any, will be small due to the very limited overlap between the parties, meaning that for the most part they do not and will not compete with one another, regardless of whether this agreement proceeds or not.”
Viscopy is an expert in the valuation and licensing of high quality reproductions of single artistic works, for example a particular image to be reproduced online, on a postcard, or on an item of clothing. Viscopy’s members are predominantly fine artists, photographers and cartoonists.
Copyright Agency’s core business is in the administration of statutory licences for copying and communication of print material by educational institutions and government agencies. Copyright Agency represents the interests of Australian authors, journalists, visual artists, surveyors, photographers and newspaper, magazine and book publishers. Copyright Agency and Viscopy are not-for profit copyright collecting societies and membership is voluntary and free.
The authorisation will provide statutory protection for Viscopy and Copyright Agency to collaboratively discuss and negotiate terms and conditions for the services provided to their members and licensees, including the scope of services provided, fees and commission levels. The ACCC is proposing to authorise the service agreement for five years.
Authorisation provides statutory protection from court action for conduct that might otherwise raise concerns under the competition provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010. Broadly, the ACCC may grant an authorisation when it is satisfied that the public benefit from the conduct outweighs any public detriment.The CAL/Viscopy media release in November 2011 was suitably upbeat, replete with the buzzwords that one would normally encounter in a takeover or corporate reconstruction.
That release indicated that -
A planned services agreement between two of Australia’s prominent rights management agencies, Copyright Agency and Viscopy, will see artists receive additional income, cut red tape and administrative fees and make it easier for organisations and businesses to license copyright material.
The proposed services agreement, under which Copyright Agency will provide membership, licensing and administrative services to Viscopy’s members and licensees, is anticipated to take effect from mid 2012 subject to regulatory approval. Viscopy members will continue to be served by the Viscopy board.
Viscopy was established specifically to provide rights management services to visual artists. Copyright Agency provides similar services for rightsholders including publishers, writers and artists, and was appointed in 2010 to manage the new artists' resale royalty scheme.
Viscopy Chair, Jeremy Thorpe, said the agreement is an important development which will deliver significant benefits to artists and simplify the copyright clearance process for artistic works. “This is an exciting and bold initiative which will see the back office operations of both organisations integrated, increasing licensing revenue to visual artists and cutting administrative costs.
“At the same time Viscopy’s membership of more than 8,000 visual artists in Australia and New Zealand will continue to be served by its own Board ensuring consistent high quality services for visual artists,” Mr Thorpe said.
Sandy Grant, Copyright Agency chair said with convergence taking place across many industries, organisations like Copyright Agency and Viscopy need to re-think the way they operate. “This is about sharing resources to deliver better results for the creators of works and the users of those works, alike. “In an ever increasingly converging world the services our organisations offer sit more naturally together than apart,” Mr Grant said. The proposed agreement will create a ‘one-stop-shop’ for any organisation wanting licence approval to use domestic or internationally created text and artistic content.
Other significant benefits of the agreement include:
• cutting administrative fees and overheads on royalties to visual artists under statutory licences
• pooling Copyright Agency and Viscopy repertoires, increasing blanket licensing coverage and increasing payments for all members
• new licensing revenue streams for visual artists
• high-quality information and training to visual artists
• principal policy advocacy for authors and artists in international and local policymaking
The agreement will be reviewed by both organisations after three years.We might ask whether there's much benefit for rights holders and users from the ongoing existence of a statutory collecting society that increasingly looks like a facade for its partner CAL.