An old, influential, international organization usually wouldn’t miss the opportunity to celebrate its own 75th birthday. These organizations also typically give some information about their origins, however subjective it may be presented, on their webpages under the headline “history”.
Not so with the IFPI, the international lobby group of the record industry (closely affiliated with the RIAA). That their 75th anniversary takes place in 2008 is not only ignored by themselves. In fact, they actively try to conceal and suppress information about when and where they was founded. Copyriot today has the pleasure of telling the history that the IFPI does not want you to know – and of showing how they try to supress it.
This is a shortened and slightly edited version of a post in Swedish from yesterday. For quoted sources, see the end of this post
The year when the phonogram industry first convened to found an international federation was 1933. The place chosen for this congress was Rome. Obviously, the companies founding IFPI were not too concerned that Italy already since 11 years was a fascist dictatorship under Il Duce, Benito Mussolini.
The choice of fascist Italy was hardly a coincidence. Already the year after, 1934, the IFPI returned for their next conference, this time to the small north Italian tourist resort of Stresa. Specially invited guests came from CISAC, the France-based international for collecting societies representing composers and music publishers, which had decidedly opposed the IFPI’s aspirations to award phonogram producers their own set of exclusive rights in recordings, as they had feared it would weaken the status of their copyrights. At the Stresa meeting, however, the IFPI succeeded to persuade the CISAC to support the idea of giving the phonogram producers their exclusive rights through a separate international convention.
CISAC emphasized, however, that such a protection should not be designed in a way weakening the rights of proper copyright holders. Also the Italian government showed interest in such an solution to the question and appointed a special commission to draw up a proposed convention.
As this quote indicates, it does not seem like it was only the nice Mediterranean climate that caused the IFPI to locate their first activities to fascist Italy. Rather, this very regime showed extraordinarily willing to fulfill the IFPI’s wishes.
In 1939 – at a time when Italy’s fascist regime had allied completely with Nazi Germany, and had enacted racial laws excluding Jews from universities – the “International institute for the unifying of private law” in Rome convoked an expert committé to draw up concrete proposals for an international conventions protecting, amongst other related things, the exclusive rights of phonogram producers. [Justitiedepartementet, 1953]
Thus, the committé members were beyond doubt either loyal or blindly uncritic to the fascist regime. As their leader was appointed a Dr. Ostertag, who had just quit his job as director of the Berne Convention. Soon he had a proposal ready. This time – probably because Mussolini’s Italy was about to enter a world war – the Swiss resort of Samedan was chosen for the first committé meeting.
The outcome was a proposal to bring together the proposed rights of phonogram producers and those of performing artists in one single convention. This turned out to be very significant for the continued evolution leading forward to the laws which, still today in 2008, regulates the international music economy.
The continued work on the Samaden proposals was interrupted by the second world war. After the end of the war, it was resumed in the framework of the Berne union, which in 1949 decided to send out the Samden proposals to different government for comments. The next decisive meeting was held in October 1950 in Lissabon.
Lissabon? Why – five years after the victory over fascism in most of Europe – choosing the fascist dictatorship of Portugal as the place to continue a work which was initiated in the fascist dictatorship of Italy?
Well, let’s say it was just coincidence. But the convention texts which, with great effectivity, were drawn up at these meeting were clearly no certainties. Quite the contrary, they competed with parallell attempts to get an international convention securing some kind of exclusive (collective) right in recordings for the performing artists, taking place within the framework of the ILO, supported by the musician’s labour unions. This process however cared less about the wishes of the phonogram industry. Rather it aimed to protect working opportunities for live musicians, which they regarded as threatened by “mechanization”.
This process seemed to have been slower, including more interests than only experts and industry lobby groups. In the case, however, that the ILO process had been first to formulate a convention proposal, it is fully imaginable that the evolution of international copyright law would have taken another direction. Maybe musicians, but not record companies, would then have been regarded as rights holders who could legitimately collect licens fees for music playing in radio or in any loudspeaker in the public sphere.
But that was not how it turned out to be. The expert committees, assisted by Italy’s fascist regime, had worked faster – to the pleasure of the record industry. The Samaden proposal lead forward to the “Rome Convention for the Protection of Performers, Producers of Phonograms and Broadcasting Organisations“, finally signed in 1961 and today an intergral part of international copyright law. It is thanks to that convention, for example, that record companies can claim damades from The Pirate Bay.
(Still, only composers and music publishers are proper copyright holders in music. However, the “neighbouring rights” statuted in the Rome Convention today has come to play an at least as powerful role.)
By the way, we can note how George H.C. Bodenhausen, one of the leading law professionals who during the fifties worked with the upcoming Rome Convention, referred to fascist Italy’s law about neighbouring rights, adopted in april 1941, as “the most up-to-date legislation” in the field. [Bodenhausen, 1954]
Certainly, this does not make the Rome Convention “fascist”. Nevertheless the convention does have strong traits of corporativism – the official economic model of Italy’s fascist state – which should be very clear for anyone looking at today’s copyright bureaucracy, especially the way in which the economic interests of musical performers’ collecting societies have been institutionally nested with those of the record industry.
One should note that musicians’ organizations originally wanted to institutionalize performers’ rights in recordings in a completely different way – which would probably not guarantee eternal channeling of money to record companies.
No one is claiming that the IFPI, as an organization, held fascist sympaties. However, it definitely seems they took tactical advantage of the fascist regime’s corporativist and anti-unionist policies during the 1930’s – in a process which shaped the international copyright regime still in power.
Today, few know that the IFPI was founded in fascist Italy in 1933. Previously, this fact appeared at Wikipedia’s page about the IFPI:
It was formed /…/ during 1933 in Rome, Italy, under the fascist government of Benito Mussolini by companies mainly owned or controlled by General Electric in the United States of America.
In april 2005, someone removed the mentioning of fascism, but the information about where and when the IFPI was founded remained, for anyone with a minimum of historical knowledge to draw her own conclusions.
Until August 25th, 2006. At that date the page was edited thoroughly by someone with the IP-adress 184.108.40.206, erasing any mentioning about any kind of history of the IFPI. Since then, Wikipedia’s page about IFPI has remained like that.
That “someone” who erased the information about the IFPI’s foundation, was evidently an employee at the IFPI’s London headquarters. The IP address can be traced there.
Why doesn’t the IFPI dare to stand up for its own history?
- Memorandum regarding the Rome proposal of 1951, from the Swedish Department of Justice (Justitiedepartementet), 1953-05-20
- Bodenhausen, George H.C.: “Protection of ‘Neighboring Rights'”, Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Spring, 1954), pp. 156-171
Could anyone research the exact day of 1933 that the IFPI was instituted, it would be very welcome, as we would then know at what date in 2008 we should celebrate the IFPI’s 75th anniversary, if it’s not already too late. Any ideas for how these celebrations could be performed are also very welcome!