The European Commission published its plans yesterday to facilitate the licensing process for online music services across the 25 member states of the European Union.

The aim of the recommendation approved by the Commission is to break the current monopoly that licensing agencies like collective rights management societies have in their domestic markets.

Internal market commissioner Charlie McCreevy, whose department drafted the recommendation, said Wednesday that he wanted to "foster a climate where EU-wide licenses are more readily available for legitimate online music service providers." The move would help new European-based online services take off, he said.

Freedom of choice

As well as helping online service providers, McCreevy said that move would also benefit content creators and rights holders because it would give them greater freedom of choice to use the most competitive licensing agency to market their products. It would maintain the value of copyrighted works so that content is "not available on the cheap," he said.

However, the commissioner's decision to issue a recommendation instead of legal command has attracted critics. With a recommendation, member states decide how to incorporate the Commission's proposed general principles into national legislation. Other more binding forms of legal instrument such as a directive or regulation would restrict countries' ability to preserve the current dominance of the licensing agencies and collecting societies on their territories.

Download services face more delay

Luc Delany, a director at the European Digital Media Association (EDIMA), said: "We're very disappointed with what the Commission has produced, both in terms of the nature of the instrument and the content of the document. Being a recommendation has far less reaching implications from substantial legislation point of view and the content is not as robust as possible."

EDIMA's members include:, Apple, MovieSystem, RealNetworks and Internet service providers.

McCreevy said that he would closely monitor the online media market's development: "If I am not satisfied that sufficient progress is being made, I will take tougher action."

According to the Commission, the market for downloaded music is expected to reach $660 million in 2005, double its value in 2004. It also quoted analysts saying that digital music sales could reach 25 per cent of record company revenues in five years' time.