Since the end of August, there have been reports that BMI is in advanced talks to sell itself to the private equity firm New Mountain Capital. A deal has yet to be signed but the possibility has raised concerns among songwriters about what it will mean for the collective management sector if one of its largest organizations becomes a business owned by private equity.
Such a move would take BMI in a new direction, away from the traditional model – based on non-profit and transparent operations—of the CISAC community. For CISAC and our global network of 227 Collective Management Organisations (CMOs, or societies), however, it also highlights the strength and value to creators of the global collective rights management system. The collective management model has been successful for over a century, remaining faithful to its core principles, while transforming and adapting to keep pace with the rapidly changing business environment.
BMI will stay connected to this community. In anticipation of the new direction it has taken in the last year, it has moved from being a full CISAC member to a CISAC “client,” a new category that was established in 2020 to accommodate the new types of rights management entities — including SESAC, Soundreef and Nextone – which have emerged.
Clients make up a very small group of “for-profit” entities that differ from the overwhelming majority of CISAC members, which operate on a non-profit basis. Clients are not subject to all of the traditional transparency and business rules that full CISAC members abide by, but still have access to CISAC’s systems and data exchanges that help the global music market function
By accepting for-profit entities as clients, CISAC maintains its inclusiveness and diversity, while not compromising on the core conditions of membership.
It is those core membership conditions which provide the unique value of the global network. Full members, such as ASCAP in the US, PRS for Music in the UK or GEMA in Germany, are required to meet key fundamental rules:
- to operate on a non-profit basis or be controlled by their affiliates
- to respect CISAC’s global standards of governance and professional rules
- to be fully transparent in their financial reporting and share information with the rest of the CISAC members
As a global confederation, CISAC respects individual creators’ decisions on whom they entrust their rights to. It equally respects members and clients’ decisions on how they manage creators’ rights. The global song rights market is changing rapidly, with growing competition between different types of royalty collection bodies at a time when the cost pressures of managing digital collections and distributions has never been greater.
These changes are inevitable and they are good, if they have the end of result of better serving the creators who are at the center of our business.
In this transforming landscape, the vast majority of CISAC’s member societies remain non-profit entities which abide by all CISAC rules. Full CISAC members work only for creators and rightsholders, not shareholders. Their transparency obligations ensure high levels of integrity and best practice across the network. Creators and rightsholders, not financiers and investors, are assured a controlling role in their decision-making. Creators sit on our societies’ Boards of Directors. You’d be hard pressed to find other entities in the music industry which have music creators as their Board members.
The global collective management system gives creators a strong, united voice to lobby for creator-friendly legislation, develop modern systems for data exchange, adopt best practices and maximize collections and distributions. From helping to turn around failing markets such as Greece, Turkey and India to negotiating the best deals with music users, this community continues to play an indispensable role for creators and publishers worldwide.
Our sector remains the only part of the music industry that puts the creator front and centre of everything it does. While more commercial ventures may be tested in our fast-evolving market, the fact remains that the collective management system is the most robust, reliable and fit-for-purpose model in serving creators.
Gadi Oron is the director general of the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC), a Paris-based rights organization.