Collecting societies worldwide and their tasks

Musician recording song

You are probably familiar with collecting societies, maybe without being aware of it. Either you have already paid a fee to them for commercial use of music or you have heard someone else talk about it. Perhaps you are even a composer, songwriter or publisher yourself and thus a member of a collecting society.

But did you know that these associations exist in all industrial nations? They also take on similar tasks around the world. Find out which tasks these are, what advantages such a society has for you, as a music creator or music user, and how the associations work together internationally.


What are the tasks of a collecting society?

There are many myths about collecting societies for music. Their complexity and the costs they raise are often unexpectedly high for companies, giving a bad reputation to the societies. But they actually represent the interests of creative people.

A musician whose work is performed publicly and for profit has a right to receive a share of the income generated with it. Public and profitable reproduction includes music that is played in discotheques and retail outlets, at concerts, in films or on the radio. This is where the collecting societies come in: as agencies representing the musicians, they collect the royalties due to the composer and the lyricist for the use of their works.


Different countries, different names – collecting societies around the world

Most countries have their own societies. In Germany, the GEMA collects royalties for their members and those of the GVL, which is the association of the performing artists, i.e. the singers, dancers, instrumentalists, etc. In Switzerland, SUISA takes care of the rights of musical authors; in Austria, it is AKM. There are numerous collecting societies in the USA, the most important being the SESAC, the ASCAP and the BMI. The UK has several societies, too, but they have joined forces as PPL PRS Ltd. to make it easier for people to obtain music licences. SACEM is the leading collecting society in France, JASRAC in Japan and SGAE in Spain. Italy, New Zealand and Australia, Poland, Canada, Ireland, Norway and Denmark also have their own collecting societies. You can find out more about them on the respective websites.


International cooperation of collecting societies

In 1926, authors’ societies from 18 European countries met in Paris to form CISAC: The Confédération Internationale des Sociétés d'Auteurs et Compositeurs is the global umbrella organization for all collecting societies. In 2018, CISAC had 238 member organizations from 121 countries. They bring together around three million authors and publishers from the fields of music, literature, film and the visual arts. To give you an idea of their significance: In total, royalties amounted to seven billion US dollars in 2009. Collecting societies are also linked by a network of reciprocity. This means, for example, that PPL PRS ensures that authors from the UK are remunerated even if their works are performed abroad. It also collects licence fees from music users who play, duplicate or reproduce the works of foreign artists.


Advantages of collecting societies for music creators and music users

Although the cooperation with collecting agencies sounds like an additional bureaucratic effort, it is in fact a simplification of procedures. Without a collecting society, using music for commercial purposes would either lead to a lawsuit for copyright infringement or you would have to take care of all this yourself: Manage the playing of thousands of pieces of music on hundreds of occasions, negotiate the level of royalties, contact each artist individually, pay each one separately (perhaps just a few cents), and so on. For the artists it would be the other way round: they would have to take care of finding out for themselves who played their songs when and where and make sure that they receive every single payment. That sounds like a lot of work – which the collecting societies take off your hands.

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