Unison Touts ‘Milestone’ Appeals Court Ruling Against SGAE, Acknowledges Push for Damages

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Barcelona, Spain, where SGAE rival Unison is based. Photo Credit: Ansar Naib

Unison is touting a recent Barcelona appeals court ruling handed down as part of a long-running legal battle with Madrid’s Spanish Society of Authors and Publishers (SGAE).

Barcelona-based Unison, which bills itself as “the first private music rights manager created in Spain,” reached out with word of the appellate court decision involving 125-year-old SGAE. As described by the far newer of the CMOs, ostensibly the first “to use blockchain technology from inception,” the confrontation dates back to a 2017 SGAE probe initiated by Spain’s competition regulator.

In brief, that inquiry produced a 2022 ruling against SGAE and followed several adjacent investigations (some concerning conduct from the early 2000s) into alleged corruption at the organization. SGAE was in 2019 suspended from CISAC, slapped with a roughly $3.4 million fine over anti-competitive behavior, and, closer to the year’s end, faced with a mass exodus of musicians and publishers.

(Notwithstanding these points, SGAE reported relatively positive 2022 financials last summer.)

Returning to the Barcelona appeals court’s decision to uphold the July of 2022 ruling, Unison is praising the judgement as confirmation that “SGAE employed anti-competitive practices to maintain its dominant position in the market” and prevent the formation of competitors.

Meanwhile, Unison has also indicated that it’s entitled to damages under the latest ruling, with the wheels currently in motion “to calculate these damages and receive the compensation.”

In a statement, Unison CEO Jordi Puy emphasized the “milestone” judgement’s broader significance in Spain and across Europe.

“This ruling marks a milestone in the defense of competition in the field of collective management both at the Spanish and European levels,” communicated the Sound Diplomacy co-founder Puy. “It signifies the strong confirmation of our allegations and the acknowledgment of our right to be compensated for the serious damages caused to us by SGAE through its illegal practices.

“This ruling also indicates that we are on the right path and reinforces us in our mission to improve the copyright management sector in our continent in favor of authors and other rights holders,” he concluded.

After this piece was published, SGAE responded to our request for comment, claiming that the competition-regulator fine against it had been “entirely annulled” by Spain’s National Court (Audiencia Nacional) this past December. Moreover, the above-highlighted appeals court decision allegedly failed to account for the National Court ruling but nevertheless affirmed several arguments of SGAE, per the entity’s lengthy English-language statement.

Looking ahead to the future, SGAE said that it would present “numerous legal arguments” to the Spanish Supreme Court.

Lastly, besides noting its push to receive damages, as mentioned, Unison reiterated that the National Commission of Markets and Competition had in early 2022 opened a separate antitrust investigation into SGAE. Though the latter inquiry’s decision is pending, Unison has already kicked off the appropriate “procedures for claiming damages.”