News October 27, 2015

Hot Seat: Jeremy Fabinyi – AMPAL

Jeremy Fabinyi is one of the Australian music industry’s top exports of the last 20 years.

When PRS for Music saw its chief executive Steve Porter abruptly leave in the middle of 2009, the U.K. songwriters’ and publishers’ collecting society turned to Fabinyi to temporarily fill the void. Fabinyi became the billion-dollar-man; as acting CEO, he took the helm of a society which generated annual income well-upwards of £600 million, and counted 60,000 members. Until then, Fabinyi’s business cards had carried the title Managing Director for PRS’ sister mechanical rights society MCPS.

The well-travelled executive joined the organization in 2005 following a three-year stint in Paris serving with international authors’ bodies BIEM and CISAC.

Fabinyi’s exploits in his home country are many and varied. Fabinyi was the principal of artist management company Mental Management, which was responsible for the careers of Hall of Famers Mental as Anything and The Wiggles, among others. Ever seen the video for The Nips Are Getting Bigger? Fabinyi shot that.

Prior to his departure for Europe, Fabinyi was Group Managing Director of Festival Mushroom Records and Festival Publishing and Festival Studios.

Fabinyi recently returned to Australia in the role as General Manager of the Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society (AMPAL), a role that brings the exec full-circle. He’d served as CEO of AMPAL in the ‘90s. Early in his career, Fabinyi was a TV reporter.

Jeremy, what do you hope AMPAL will achieve with you at the helm? 

There is no question that the copyright industries are under sustained attack from the anti-copyright movement. The recent report by the Australian Law Reform Commission promoting more free use of copyright is a good example. AMPAL needs to take a leading role in establishing the case for better copyright protection – not weaker laws. We need to make sure that our members are well-informed on the issues and to encourage them to become involved in the debate. We also need to explain the value that music publishers bring to the industry. There’s a popular conception that there will always be music and that the commercial music industry is an impediment rather than a facilitator of the creation of great music. Nothing could be further from reality. Compelling content requires investment, production, talent and marketing; and music publishers are a critical element of that equation.

What are the biggest issues facing Australian publishers today?
The big issues for publishers are similar to the issues that everyone in the content creation business faces – trying to find the right balance of making their content available as widely as possible while at the same time making sure that those who create and those who invest in creation can get a fair return and an incentive to keep creating and keep investing. We keep hearing that copyright inhibits innovation. Copyright is innovation. For many of the new digital services, paying for the products that drive their business are looked on as an unnecessary burden rather than as a cost of doing business.

Is there a need to raise AMPAL’s profile? 

AMPAL does not aspire to becoming a household word. We need to raise our profile within the music publishing community and with the decision makers in government and the bureaucracy.

Where are the big areas of growth for music publishers? 
Assuming the “copyleft” don’t get their way, there are plenty of exciting opportunities for publishers. There are lots of new ways to access music and new services to be licensed. Because publishers were not fully dependent on sales of plastic, they have not suffered to the same extent as the recording industry. Licensing their rights has always been at the heart of their business.

And the weakest links? 
Fragmentation of rights licensing is a double-edged sword. Direct licensing can sometimes mean greater rewards. Sometimes it can mean greater complexity in licensing and the easier we make it for people to get a licence the better.

Are music publishers innovating? 
There has been a number of song writing camps with publishers encouraging co-writes with well known writers. This has lead to some great collaborations and opportunities for developing writers.

Thom Yorke brought a lot of attention to Spotify when he recently announced he’d pulled his music from the service. Where does AMPAL stand on the business model of subscription services?

Music publishers believe in licensing and Spotify were one of those companies that recognised the need to have licences in place before setting up operations so we support them. Whether the Spotify model proves to be in the long term interest of encouraging new music is yet to be seen.

Which countries are setting good examples of how the digital era has altered the way they collect royalties in the digital era? 

Australia has always been at the forefront of embracing new technologies and APRA/AMCOS have always been respected as one of the most responsive collective rights management societies.

The big collecting organisations are likely to be forced to change. The ACCC is taking submissions on APRA’s standard arrangements for licensing. And in Europe, the PRS for Music (U.K.), GEMA (Germany) and STIM (Sweden) are forming a pan-European licensing hub. What change to do you predict will come for the big societies? 

The big collecting societies are beginning to change. Collective licensing is solidly established in Europe but the European Commission has been very frustrated with the inertia of the big societies and has been nipping at their heels. The proposed directive on collective management of rights is an example of this. And the withdrawal of mechanical rights from the European societies by major publishing companies was a seismic development with the ramifications still working their way through the system. However the societies in Europe are still at the heart of the licensing process, albeit with the new special purpose licensing vehicles like the CELAS deal with PRS and GEMA for EMI online licensing. But now we are seeing publishers in the U.S. withdrawing online performing rights from the societies and licensing them direct. We may start to see global deals being done out of the U.S. as publishers become more directly involved in licensing areas which have historically been the domain of the societies. This is a quantum leap in the fragmentation of rights licensing and may well cause confusion in some markets for some time to come. However it is easy to see why publishers in the U.S. became frustrated with the tight regulatory environment that ASCAP and BMI find themselves in – with Department of Justice consent decrees and a series of unfavourable rate court decisions.

You’ve been back in Australia a little while now? What are your thoughts on the biz and music community here compared to Europe? 

I’ve always felt that there’s a strong sense of community in the music business here. APRA is a good case in point – the publishers and writers on the board are committed to getting the best outcome for the membership at large and there is nowhere near the level of animosity and suspicion that plagues some of the societies I’ve been involved with. Australian music continues to score significantly in international markets and although that’s important it’s also important that we continue to produce Australian music for Australians.

Follow @LarsBrandle on Twitter

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