Collecting societies are consortia of authors (or other rightholders, such as publishers or film producers) who have banded together in order to jointly exercise rights that individually can only be administered with difficulty, if at all. Their purpose is to grant licences and to collect and distribute to the beneficiaries the remunerations due to them.
Although the law provides that certain copyright claims can only be administered by collecting societies, these are not official authorities, but rather organisations funded by their members. Collecting societies do not perform statutory tasks, nor are they run by the state.
Collecting societies manage the rights and claims that, for practical or legal reasons, authors are unable to manage themselves. They enable users to clarify rights easily and give rightholders a means of exploiting their copyrights in the first place.
In principle, the law leaves it to the author to decide whether and under what conditions they allow others to use their work. However, there are exceptional cases where the law allows use without the author being able to object. These ‘exceptions of copyright law’ are the consequence of the social reasons for restricting property rights. In compensation, the law generally grants the author a remuneration claim, which can normally only be administered by a collecting society.
The key characteristics of collecting societies are as follows:
1.) Collective exploitation of rights: The position of the individual author is strengthened by the joint administration of their rights.
2.) Management on a fiduciary basis: Collecting societies are committed to the interests of their members.
3.) Non-profit basis: Collecting societies do not have any financial interests of their own; all revenues – after deducting the actual costs for management of the rights – are distributed to the rightholders.
The rightholder can in principle choose a collecting society from among those that represent rights in their category of work (e.g. visual arts). A German artist can therefore choose whether to join VG Bild-Kunst or the French ADAGP or any other art society in the world. The international network of the companies ensures that every society represents its rights.
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