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Business News (more headlines) 05-31-2014

The Finnish Musician's Union: Fight Over Internet Music Rights Goes To Market Court

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Two sons of late Albert Järvinen, best known as guitarist for the Finnish rock'n'roll band Hurriganes, have taken Universal Music Finland to the Market Court of Helsinki over internet music rights. The subpoena states that the original record contract from the early 1970's does not allow for Universal to offer the music in internet music services without a separate authorization. Universal is required to take out the first Hurriganes albums from the internet services, pending a fine of 100 000 euros.

Universal, like all record companies, maintains that as the owner of the master recordings it has the right to distribute music through various channels. The record contract stipulates, however, which rights have been transferred to the company by the artists, and in which ways it is entitled to utilize the music. The subpoena stresses that as internet rights are not covered by the contract, the company cannot just grab them.

Ahti Vänttinen, the President of the Finnish Musicians' Union, does not buy the reasoning of the record companies: "It is a well-known fact that when record companies themselves license music for various uses, they are very strict on license terms. Regarding artists' rights, they do not seem to be so nitpicky. In Sweden, the musicians' union and artists have already sued three record companies over internet rights in old record contracts."

Union lawyer Per Herrey of the Swedish Musicians' Union shares the frustration: "It´s time for the recording industry to stop behaving like the internet pirates, hijacking the rights of the artists, and leaving them with hardly any compensation whatsoever. Record companies need to raise the standard beyond shortsighted profit-making and gain some real respect from people who love and consume music."

Benoît Machuel, the General Secretary of the International Federation of Musicians (FIM) considers such litigations inevitable: "The recording industry has systematically ignored what is written in the old contracts on transfers of rights. They have taken a calculated legal risk trusting that artists can once again be kept silent.

As Spotify and other digital services do not produce a reasonable income share for the artists, such court cases are to be expected in many countries. Internet rights need to be specifically acquired from the artists through negotiations, including the royalty base. FIM considers that 50/50 is an equitable starting point for the income split between artists and record companies in digital music services."

The case focuses on 1970's recordings of Albert Järvinen for the Love Records label. The rights of the albums have been transferred to Universal through business transactions. The fight over internet rights is primarily a matter of principle, as music services result only in hundreds of euros per year for the heirs of Albert Järvinen.

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