Initial thought: imagine if Meta were to take similar action against artists registered with ASCAP or BMI (the leading American performance rights organizations) and removed those agencies’ music catalogs from its platforms. To mention a few: Lady Gaga? Gone. Taylor Swift? Gone. Billie Eilish? Gone. John Williams? Gone. This post is the base of my decision to distance myself from Meta’s platforms. I cannot and will not support any opportunist and autocratic organization that perpetuates strong-arming and bullying and disregards intellectual and privacy laws under the blatantly questionable guise of “safeguarding” the people they pretend to “protect.”
THE ISSUE AND THE MEDIA RECAP
On March 16, Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook, removed SIAE’s (Società Italiana degli Autori ed Editori, i.e., Italian Society of Authors and Publishers) repertoire from its platforms. The move was prompted by a failure to renew a licensing contract between the two parties. Facebook will block contents that include music from the SIAE-controlled catalog. Instagram will mute them unless users select a different song from the music library. The impact has been felt on reels and stories.
SIAE issued a press release that reads: “The association is being asked to accept Meta’s unilateral proposal, regardless of any transparent and shared evaluation of the actual value of the repertoire. This position, along with Meta’s refusal to share relevant information for a fair agreement, evidently contrasts with the principles established by the EU copyright law. SIAE has continued to seek an agreement with Meta in good faith, despite the platform having been without a license since Jan. 1, 2023.”
Meta has yet to issue a formal press release taking an official position on its actions following the failure to renew the licensing contract with SIAE. An unidentified spokesperson for Meta told the media, “Unfortunately, we have not been able to renew our licensing agreement with SIAE. Protecting the copyrights of composers and artists is an absolute priority for us. For this reason, starting today, we will start the procedure to remove the songs of the SIAE repertoire within our music library […]. We believe it is a value for the entire music industry to allow people to share and connect on our platforms using the music they love.”
John Phelan, Director General of ICMP (International Confederation of Music Publishers), said, “Meta must obey the law and take a full and fair license for the music it wants to use and profit from. If it does not, it breaches Italian and EU law, namely Article 17 of the EU Copyright Directive. […] ICMP stands right behind FEM [Italy’s Federation of Music Publishers] and all our songwriters and composer colleagues in the Italian music sector to ensure these goals are secured.”
A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE BASED ON REALITY
Now that the “clear as mud” dance of smokescreens and blame games is out of the way, let us talk about what has been known for quite a while. The Meta spokesperson said that “protecting the copyrights of composers and artists” is an absolute priority for the company. SIAE said that “authors live thanks to copyright,” inferring that they get paid royalties on the usage of their creations. So, the conclusion is that they are on the same page, right? Not so fast. Anyone in the music industry for half a minute knows that, at best, those are incredibly superficial, misleading, and sugar-coated positions that conceal factual truths. Let us look briefly at SIAE and Meta beyond the “superficial.”
SIAE is a legal monopoly in Italy granted by the State to act as a copyright collection agency, protecting and mediating authors and publishers registered with it. The fact that it is a monopoly questions the actual fairness of such an organization. Almost two-thirds of artists registered with the SIAE receive royalties totaling less than their registration fees. Among many other eyebrow-raising issues, the SIAE regulates the money it receives from the music royalties’ redistribution system. A large part of the management rights for music tracks is entirely entrusted to the SIAE, which is also tasked with safeguarding the interests of musicians. If it reads as too much power, it is because it is.
In other words, no different than any other unchecked, unregulated, self-governing company in the world – the only interests it seems to safeguard are its own. If this sounds like a harsh statement, ask the artists themselves. For many, it is an uphill battle, but until recently, they had no option but to be registered with the SIAE. Since 2011, there has been an alternative copyright-collecting agency called “Soundreef,” they also issued a complaint over the Meta-SIAE SNAFU, as it is affected by proxy.
Meta Platforms, Inc. doing business as simply “Meta,” a multinational technology conglomerate, has been known for debatable business practices. Numerous lawsuits have been filed against the company, both when it was known as Facebook, Inc., and as Meta Platforms. To mention a few: from the persistent infringements of the rule on privacy to antitrust lawsuits, from poor working conditions to excessive exposure to, and risk from, social media, from failed disclosure of financial and contractual declarations to – a few months ago – being fined €390 million for violations of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation.
WHY IT SHOULD MATTER MORE
Both companies involved in this dance of blame and self-interest are throwing “moral” and “championing” words at the media, and their user and client base, in the name of “protection” and “safeguarding” artists’ rights. I do not see any of those terms applying here. For many artists, social media has become a means to share the fruit of their creativity while being aware of the copyright bending of the rules. They do own their works as composers and authors by law. So perhaps the risk of failure to receive fair pay from royalties on social media could be seen as an offsetting in favor of exposure and inviting users and listeners to purchase their music.
Meta’s move to remove an entire music repertoire from its platforms because of a failure to reach a fair and lawful agreement with the SIAE proves that both entities are not in the least concerned with the artists’ interests either of them is purportedly “safeguarding and protecting.” Meta’s strong-arm, bullying decision is nothing short of insulting to artists when one reads its justification for doing so. The same goes for SIAE: no matter their whining outcry, they bear responsibility just as much. Artists’ content, music, and thereby part of their livelihood (passive through social media yet active as a fair quid pro quo) were removed from Meta’s platforms because why? Yes, you got it – as a show of overbearing, crushing, illogical “safeguarding” by these two entities.
The “only” collateral damage is the artists themselves: their music is silenced – canceled. Respect? Safeguarding? Protection? Not.
The initial thought also becomes the final: imagine if Meta had taken a similar action with ASCAP or BMI and removed their music catalog from its platforms. Uh oh. Ignoring Meta’s actions and SIAE’s inactions presents a danger. It is a cautionary tale and, if not decried, will not stop any entity from going further. Thinking of the maxim “ignorance of the law does not excuse,” let us put it this way: silence implies consent. It won’t be long until staying silent will result in perpetuating wrongdoing. So, wait silently or speak up.