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Antonio Onetti: 125 years of SGAE and author’s rights in the era of platforms and AI

The General Society of Authors and Editors of Spain (SGAE) is celebrating the 125th anniversary of its founding. Its current president, Antonio Onetti, highlights the resurgence of the organization after overcoming a challenging period. He discusses the rights of audiovisual authors, the role of major platforms, and the legal framework related to AI being established by the European Union.

With close to 120,000 members (authors, music publishers, and heirs), SGAE represents over 4 million rights holders, with a repertoire exceeding 80 million works in 180 countries.

In a reflection on the current situation, Antonio Onetti, who has been SGAE president since April 2020, emphasizes "the resurgence of the organization after overcoming a challenging period."

In 2024, as SGAE celebrates its 125th anniversary, how would you describe the current situation of the organization?

The organization is now firmly established in 2024 and operating at full capacity. SGAE has gone through a challenging period, but since 2020, we have worked to restore normalcy and institutional prestige, focusing on our primary function: collecting, distributing, and protecting authors and their works. It is public knowledge that we have achieved this, and we feel that the anniversary celebration is not only about the milestone itself but also about it occurring under the best conditions in decades in every aspect.

What are the most notable achievements SGAE has experienced in recent years?

Above all, the institutional stability that has allowed us to achieve advancements in membership, regulatory matters, and economics while regaining trust in our institution. Five years ago, SGAE was expelled from the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC) and faced a warning from the Ministry of Culture about the withdrawal of its management license, which could have led to SGAE's closure. In 2021, we successfully rejoined CISAC, and the Ministry withdrew the warning. The measures taken by this Board have always focused on the common good, ensuring that our authors receive a fair and proportional distribution of rights according to the success of their works, as mandated by legislation. We have reclaimed our natural position as a management entity both nationally and internationally. Currently, we are the tenth-largest entity worldwide, managing audiovisual, musical, and performing arts repertoire across all media and modalities. With Cristina Perpiñá-Robert joining as the CEO since April, we are confident that we will continue to grow and enhance the services we offer to all members.

You recently mentioned that SGAE has regained the level of revenue from 15 years ago. What were the main challenges overcome to achieve this performance?

Firstly, the coronavirus pandemic, which had a devastating impact on cultural production and consumption. Authors need the audience to connect with their works as directly as possible. Film shoots, cinema premieres, industry events, awards ceremonies—during the pandemic, these couldn't proceed normally, and rights collection suffered significantly. During this time, we supported our members through various aid programs, especially those most affected. Additionally, we improved all our revenue collection mechanisms through the modernization and digitization of our systems and resources in various technical areas, from the registration and documentation of works to data processing and operations for quick and transparent distribution, resulting in increased efficiency that logically contributes to economic results.

Rights in line with technological advances

The audiovisual sector has undergone rapid changes with the emergence of platforms, altering both production models and the distribution of works. The process of engaging with platforms involves understanding their dynamics and properly valuing the works of associated creators. Equitable rights for authors in the face of significant platform benefits and transparency in emission data remain challenges, both in Spain and globally.

How does SGAE perceive the current state of intellectual property in the audiovisual sector, especially concerning major platforms?

After the emergence of platforms, the audiovisual world has changed rapidly over the last decade, affecting both production models and the distribution of works through cinema or television windows. Major platforms are a crucial support for the work of our audiovisual members. We must continue working with them to ensure that the works of our members receive the economic and moral recognition they deserve for their authorship. It's an ongoing improvement process. We are trying to engage with platforms and understand better the value of our audiovisual members' works within them, to better explain their revenue. However, there is still a long way to go, in Spain and globally, to ensure that the rights of our authors are fair and proportional to the enormous benefits of these platforms, and also in terms of transparency in emission data.

Various entities representing audiovisual authors highlight the need to adapt to a global market. In this regard, how is SGAE working to adapt to this new scenario and ensure a fair competition framework for all players in the audiovisual sector?

At SGAE Audiovisual, we are working in this new scenario of global coproduction. We have provided mid-level training for our authors and proposed, within CISAC, the creation of a working group to collaborate with other international entities. We also work with AVACI, of which we are an observer member, and recently hosted one of its executive committee meetings at our headquarters in Madrid. We share the goal of expanding the remuneration rights of audiovisual authors worldwide, backed by legislation and with management entities in all territories capable of collecting, distributing, and signing bilateral agreements with entities from other countries. Unfortunately, Anglo-Saxon rights are far from what we have achieved over the years throughout the European Union. Therefore, we must continue protecting it from practices foreign to us, such as buyout contracts that strip our authors of their rights.

In terms of revenue and rights distribution, how has SGAE improved transparency, and what specific measures have been implemented to ensure more effective rights distribution?

Among various measures aimed at optimizing fairness, balance, and traceability of audiovisual works' rights, we have implemented the separation of funds in the distribution of author rights. This allows for a differentiated distribution of audiovisual music, scripts, and direction. We have also introduced quarterly distribution for audiovisual rights for our members and managed societies. Overall, since 2020, we have limited the amounts generated by nighttime music on television, which has been SGAE's main issue in the last decade. Although it did not originate in the audiovisual field, it affected the functioning, prestige, and credibility of the entire society. Currently, the author’s rights for both music and audiovisual content on television are proportional to the audience and advertising they generate across all time slots, from prime time to early morning.

You have emphasized the importance of protecting creators as "the soul and reason for the industry's existence." What initiatives and specific measures is SGAE taking to ensure the protection of creators in the current audiovisual landscape?

From a regulatory standpoint, Spain is among the European Union countries with a high level of protection for its audiovisual authors. On a domestic level, we have contracts with all users operating in our country, with rates similar to those in the rest of Europe for both television and platforms. To manage all of this, we have strengthened a highly specialized team in the Audiovisual Division of our society, dedicated exclusively to the individualized support of our audiovisual members, providing them with training, promotion, legal advice, and various forms of collaboration, with our physical infrastructure at their service in the seven branches we have across different areas of the state.

At the end of 2023, the EU proposed advancing a law to regulate Artificial Intelligence. What is SGAE's current stance regarding the regulation and protection of author’s rights in an AI-driven environment?

We believe that the market alone is not sufficient. As has happened throughout history, a new technology has emerged where protected content is utilized, and thus, there is a need to progress urgently in the current legislative framework. We must ensure fair and proportional compensation for our authors based on the dissemination of their works through the use of artificial intelligence. The innovative, creative, and original work provided by a scriptwriter or director cannot be replaced by a machine. Therefore, it is not about hindering technological development but about regulating and defending authors' rights in various creative processes, where AI functions as a source of new works or as a simple tool, the limits of which are still to be discovered.

Image concept - Generated with Midjourney / Plenary session at the European Parliament. EFE - LA RIOJA

By Ulises Román Rodríguez


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