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Jordi Puy (Unison): ‘ In two years, we have managed to get into the full international digital landscape of authors’ rights’



Jordi Puy had a plan. He knew Europe was ripe for a new type of music rights society, one that would be a digital native, and would work with transparency at its core. He rolled out his plan from 2017 and launched Unison, Europe’s new music rights society, in 2020.

The fact that he was based in Spain was not neutral in his choices. The country was badly in need of a change with the way music rights were collected and administered, after long-standing society SGAE saw its reputation plagued by a series of scandals, governance issues and a lack of transparency in the way royalties were managed.

Unison had to use Spanish courts to affirm its right to engage in the collective management of rights. In December 2019, a court determined that SGAE’s management contract model contained anti-competitive clauses, a decision that was confirmed by a higher court in December 2021. In January 2022, at the request of Unison, the Spanish antitrust watchdog started an inquiry into what Unison describes as an “abuse of dominant position.”

Unison is a for profit, privately-owned collective management organisation and is a by-product of the 2014 Directive on collective management of copyright and related rights that opened up the markets to competition in the field of rights management.

Puy — a former director of the Catalan Institute for the Cultural Enterprises in London — set up Unison in 2017 with partners such as Shain Shapiro, the founder of Sound Diplomacy.

The plan was to build the society incrementally. But then Covid kicked in. It could have completely set the project off rails, but in way, it made it more resilient with processes and a structure nimble and flexible enough to adapt to situations of crisis.

Today, two years after launch, Unison is a fixture not only in Spain but on the international scene. It has signed a series of clients to manage digital rights, such as South Africa’s CAPASSO, and has been actively growing its repertoire.

Creative Industries News had a chat with Barcelona-based Puy, as the company celebrates its second anniversary.

How does it feel to be two years old?

Jordi Puy: We’ve been operating for two years but we were created in 2017 and we went through a set up process, legally and technologically. We started on January 1, 2020. At the time we managed 450,000 works and had less then 100 clients. We have been growing and we now manage more than two million songs and have 400 clients from 30 different countries that collectively represent tens of thousands of rights holders. We have started to represent non-EU societies and we are asked to provide support for multi-territorial licenses, for both mechanical and performances rights. In this line of work, we have nine clients, including CAPASSO and other societies. So how do we feel? We’re very happy with this growth. In two years, we managed to get into the full international digital landscape of authors’ rights and have territorial deals with all the DSPs and keep on expanding.

I guess the Covid pandemic was not on your business plan…

Jordi Puy: Well (smiles), we started operating in 2020 and we did not predict the epidemic. It certainly affected us but we are in a much better position than we expected to be. It has a lot to do with the fact that we mostly developed in the digital landscape internationally, where we performed above expectation but we are not where we would like to be in other sectors like public performances and live. We’ve overachieved in terms of what we set out to do and underachieved in a few fields. There is no doubt that the pandemic has accelerated the world’s transition to digital and increased the importance of digital in our business.

Did you have the backing of big financial institutions when you started?

Jordi Puy: We have had and continue to have financial backing in order to develop our vision, with a combination of funding sources. Some are financial institutions and others are private investors.

How have you been received by licensees?

Jordi Puy: We have signed around a hundred representation deals covering more than 100 countries for offline rights such as live public performance, TV, radio, etc. We can serve clients that commission us to manage their rights for Spain, for Europe or worldwide and can serve international clients depending on their needs. We are also pleased that we achieved the acceptance process [as Client RME] at CISAC [International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers] at the end of 2020 after two years of hard work from our team. We joined not necessarily for political reason but because of operations like CIS-NET, and because it facilitates agreements with other societies.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room — SGAE. You presented yourself as an alternative to SGAE. Were you disappointed that there weren’t more companies switching to your services?

Jordi Puy: Well, when it comes to the transfer of clients from SGAE, we always planned for a gradual transition. I will admit that the early stages were highly difficult because of SGAE’s wrong approaches, for which we took them to the competition authorities in 2019 and to court at the end of 2020. We eventually won several resolutions in our favour but it made 2020-2021 difficult in terms of moves. Now, we are seeing a remarkable increase in 2022 in some rights in a way that we were not able to see prior to that because of SGAE’s anticompetitive attitude and practices. I am sure that they do not perceive it that way, but that’s certainly how we do see it. It does not prevent us from doing our job internationally, but it is time consuming.

What’s your plan for 2022?

Jordi Puy: 2020, for us, it was about establishing the pipes and put the deals in place; 2021 was the year of the proof of concept and prove we could do it; and in 2022, the goal is accelerating growth in clients, revenues and market position, nationally and internationally. With digital, we have to think internationally, and we also plan to develop our presence in Spain, beyond digital. We are not at the size we want to be, and we always want to go one step forward. In the first half of the year, we want to represent more rights holders and increase our presence in digital and other rights; and in the second half we will be able to do more innovative steps forward.

Is it possible to know how much you have collected and distributed in 2021? And what is you forecast for 2022?

Jordi Puy: In 2021 we distributed six times what we did on our first year [2020], and we are forecasting a growth pattern from six to ten times that amount for 2022.

How many people do you employ at the moment?

Jordi Puy: If you count operating, licensing, legal teams, business development, IT, and the main structure, we have 12 people dedicated to these functions, and we also have several sub-contactors that we work with. We like working with third party partnerships such as with Verifi Media for data management and BMAT in terms of technology. We use BMAT for music usage reports and for metadata enrichment and matching. They are really good for these functions. As for Verifi, we have been supporters since day one. We are pleased to see real projects achieving what we wanted such as creating a decentralised way of sharing data with the objective of speeding up all the processes in the value chain. This is a way to tackle the black boxes problem and deliver a faster and more reliable collection and distribution system in the digital world.

Unison’s Jordi Puy

You are part of the Verifi Rights Data Alliance (VRDA), alongside Warner Music Group (WMG), Deezer, and FUGA, as inaugural members. What’s the benefit for you?

Jordi Puy: Being a newcomer born in the 21st century when fractioned licensing is a reality, we’ve always had to prove the repertoire we represent. It is a need for us more than for anyone else. The established players work on the assumption that they represent the universe, and then we come and say, hold on, we represent this part of this repertoire, we manage portions of these songs. So having a decentralised solution for the ownership of works and the registration of ownership of works that is reliable and is validated by the different players is key for us. We can live without it but it would be so much more complicated. It is a project that it is good for any company that makes a living with a transparent business model. In a way, it is quite illustrative of what we are. Who would not be interested in that?

Would you feel the same way if SGAE of SACEM joined the Alliance?

Jordi Puy: I do like the pragmatism of this project. The beauty of it is that SGAE could join and we would be very happy if they did. Same with SACEM or PRS for Music. It would be a competitive advantage for the industry, or at least the side of the industry that is driven by transparency. Verifi does not try to solve everything at once, but this project shows what can be done. This is useful in itself. The next step is to have a few more partners to join.

What’s your take on the evolution of the digital market?

Jordi Puy: At the moment, the big changes are taking place in the user-generated content area, with the likes of TikTok, Twitch, etc. In this field, you have changes every month. At the top, the big guys remain the big guys, with some variations in market share, but there’s not much change there. However, there is an exciting landscape in Africa where we see local players growing that might or not become acquired by the big ones at some point. In the smaller markets, business is growing — there is more DSPs coming and some have interesting new models.

How do you approach these platforms?

Jordi Puy: When it comes to new platforms, we approach them the moment we know they are using the content we represent. We think the remuneration system should be proportionate to the acquisition of users and revenues. We are in favour of that. You can have a deal that makes sense for small platforms and when they grow, they grow with you. Our policy is simple: when there’s use of our repertoire, it is our mandate to license it.

And what happens when the platforms do not want to license?

Jordi Puy: We don’t like to litigate. We only do it as the last resort. We always prioritise negotiating and get the deal done, but if we run into further infringement of IP or competition law that prevents us from doing what is in our interests and our legal obligations towards our clients, then we have to defend the rights of our clients if we are challenged. When it comes to TV and radio, especially in Spain, it is a very varied landscape. We are in conversation with some media groups and there are broadcasters that are not responding to our claims or deny obligation to comply with copyright law. That was the case with Spanish public broadcaster. We have filed a case in court and it has been accepted to proceed. With others, we are negotiating. That’s our ethos. We do document the usage of our repertoire. That’s why we use BMAT to monitor 24/7, all year round, the usage of music. You cannot walk in an office and claim that you are owed money. You need data to back it up.

You are only one of the very few new rights societies. What does it say about the European rights market?

Jordi Puy: The European Union created a Directive, amongst other reasons, to improve competition and allow organisations like us to flourish, it is shocking that there is so few of us, which shows how hard it is to overcoming barriers to entry into a monopolistic business.

Emmanuel is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist, blogger and media consultant, specialising in the entertainment business and cultural trends. He was the US editor for British music industry trade publication Music Week. Previously, he was the editor of Impact, a magazine for the music publishing community (2007-2009), the global editor of US trade publication Billboard (2003-2006), and the editor in chief of Billboard’s sister publication Music & Media (1997-2003).

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