Now that the pandemic is over, “it is anything but ‘business as usual’” at CISAC, the international trade organization for copyright collecting societies, according to director general Gadi Oron in its 2023 annual report.
In a time of change for collecting societies, which bring in a combined 9.6 billion euros a year, CISAC’s priorities include lobbying governments in support of member societies, continuing its campaign to support the ISWC code system to identify works, and navigating the challenges of AI, which Oron calls “our biggest priority now in terms of policy.”
The biggest news in the report about a particular market is the success of Autodia, the Greek collecting society that has become prominent since the 2018 dissolution of AEPI. “In 2018, I gave a presentation to the board [of CISAC and said we must do something,” Oron remembers. AEPI’s collapse was epic, complete with a 2017 police raid and a failure to pay out 42.5 million euros (more than the total amount it distributed some years), according to an audit ordered by the Greek Ministry of Culture. Oron feared the potential collapse of a market that had been worth about 50 million euros a year in the late 1990s, so he asked the CISAC’s board to support a plan to fund and help Autodia, which was then a small nonprofit society that in 2018 collected less than a million euros.
In 2022, Autodia collected 16.2 million euros, and it now collects for all three major publishers, BMG, and many of its sister societies, according to CEO Margarita Panagiotopoulou. “We are growing fast and gaining market share,” Panagiotopoulou says, “and that is on track to continue.”
Autodia now faces competition from EDEM, which mostly represents Greek repertoire and took in about 8 million euros last year.
The first phase of CISAC’s plan was to get Autodia loans from its member societies and send to Athens consultant Declan Rudden, who became interim CEO of Autodia to get the society running. He helped make reciprocal agreements with international societies and court publishers, as well as compete with EYED, a government-controlled entity that was designated as the temporary successor to AEPI. (Some major publishers originally signed with EYED but most of them are now with Autodia.) One day, as Rudden and team were putting together desks in the Autodia office, it was raided by the Greek department of labor and fined for keeping employees after 5pm without notifying them in advance. (This is illegal in Greece, but raids are uncommon.) “They did everything to make our life difficult,” remembers Rudden, who runs the consultancy SaorServices.
Gradually, the local team took over, and Autodia took in more than 4 million euros by 2019, then more than 12 million euros by 2022, as the pandemic subsided. “The contribution of CISAC was very important,” Panagiotopoulou says, in terms of funding, legitimacy and lobbying both the Greek government and songwriters themselves.
Greece is still a contested market. “Market share is a matter of disagreement,” says EDEM COO George Myzalis. (Panagiotopoulou says Autodia has more than 85% market share, but the respective royalty collection numbers imply a lower number.) Along the way, the technology company Orfium, which has some operations based in Athens, almost entered the market as well, but it ultimately withdrew. (The company operates in other sectors and did not respond to a request for comment.) Right now, venues and broadcasters in Greece need licenses from both Autodia and EDEM, especially if they want to play both the international repertoire that Autodia dominates as well as the Greek compositions that EDEM tends to have.
Some big publishers believe that the growing success of Autodia limits the possibilities for the kind of direct licensing model that they see as more efficient. One idea that at least some of them favored was to establsh EDEM as an organization that would offer more optionality by requiring less exclusive grants of rights – and a model for what they believe could be a more efficient future for the publishing business. As Autodia grows, that is becoming less likely – which some publishers see as a wasted opoortunity and other societies and some other publishers and songwriters see as a win for the current structure, which for all of its complexity offers more of a balance of power between big players and small ones.
The only things most executives seem to agree on is that the situation in Greece is far better than it was under AEPI and that it is getting better, even if it’s not where it should be. “AEPI was a disaster,” says Peermusic European president Nigel Elderton. “Autodia have their act together and they’re paying royalties through and they’re starting to grow.”
At a time when the traditional collecting society model is being challenged by direct licensing and a growing number of for-profit royalty organizations, both the other societies that supported Autodia and the publishers that favored another model agree that the implications of the society’s success go beyond Greece. Now that CISAC has showed it can help turn around a society in a market that’s perceived to be dysfunctional, it could potentially do so again.
“This was 10 times harder than I could have imagined,” Oron says. “But we’ve proven to ourselves that we can do it. Whether we can do it in other countries depends, but we have proof that we can do it.”