Italy Announces Meta Antitrust Investigation, Expresses Need for ‘Interim Measures’ Amid SIAE Licensing Dispute

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A nighttime shot of the Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II bridge in Rome, Italy. Photo Credit: Christian Nordmark

Less than one month after Meta pulled a number of Italian creators’ music amid a licensing dispute with the Italian Society of Authors and Publishers (SIAE), a government agency has initiated an antitrust investigation into the Facebook and Instagram parent.

The Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) just recently announced its probe of Meta, which SIAE said had been negotiating a new licensing deal for some time before the impasse entered the media spotlight. But soon after the prior pact expired at 2023’s beginning – and with even a temporary agreement having evidently failed to come to fruition – SIAE publicly claimed that Meta had “unilaterally” made a lump-sum proposal.

“However, SIAE had always officially communicated to Meta of the impossibility to accept the offer since Meta had never shared the fundamental information necessary for a fair negotiation,” SIAE told Digital Music News. “Furthermore, Meta refused to share information requested by the European Copyright Directive, citing its internal policies as the reason for the impediment.”

Subsequently, the global publishing industry decried Meta’s alleged “unsurprising strongarm tactics.” As part of this criticism, it was stated that the Menlo Park-based company – which revealed another massive round of layoffs last month – would be in violation of the EU Copyright Directive’s controversial Article 17 if it failed to “take a full and fair license.”

Now, as mentioned at the outset, Italy’s three-decade-old competition regulator is formally investigating Meta, which officials maintain “could have unduly interrupted the negotiations” and “denied to SIAE all the information needed to carry out negotiations” under Italian law.

Moreover, by allegedly withholding the latter information and calling on SIAE to accept the take-it-or-leave-it offer, Meta might “have exploited its bargaining advantages,” per the Italian Competition Authority.

Meanwhile, with SIAE-repped music having been pulled from Facebook and Instagram, an “alleged abuse of economic dependence” on Meta’s end may “have a significant impact on competition in the affected markets and cause great harm to consumers,” according to the government agency.

“Meta’s conduct not only could significantly hamper SIAE’s competitiveness on the affected markets [all of Europe and certain other countries], but it could also prevent the authors represented by SIAE – who are a significant share of all Italian authors – to reach consumers that more and more use social platforms,” AGCM officials wrote.

Finally, Meta could have likewise limited consumer choice with the takedowns, per the Authority, which disclosed that it’s pursuing the potential “adoption of interim measures” designed “to ensure that the negotiating process between SIAE and Meta can restart according to the principles of good faith, transparency and equity.”

At the time of this writing, Meta (which has announced the end of Reels bonus payments) didn’t appear to have addressed the investigation via a release. Italy’s recorded music industry is said to be growing far quicker than the global market, and the nation of roughly 60 million residents has blocked ChatGPT over privacy and data-security concerns.