6 April 2023CopyrightMuireann Bolger

Italy’s antitrust watchdog to probe Meta

Alleged abuse occurred during talks with artists’ rights society | Meta did not renew licensing agreement with the body last month | Watchdog alleges the move led to adverse implications for competition.

Italy's antitrust authority has launched an investigation into  Meta concerning the alleged abuse of its position during negotiations over the rights to music posted on its platforms.

The  Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato (Italian Competition Authority— AGCM) confirmed the development in a  statement released on Wednesday, April 5.

The investigation concerns the breakdown in talks with  SIAE (the Italian Society of Authors and Publishers, the main Italian collecting society for artists’ rights).

Meta, the parent company of  Facebook,  WhatsApp, and  Instagram, did not renew its copyright licence agreement with the SIAE last month. This means that all songs listed under SIAE’s books have been inaccessible on Meta’s platforms since March 16.

According to the watchdog, Meta may have exploited its bargaining advantages by requesting SIAE to accept an unfair economic offer without providing the relevant information to assess the economic fairness of the offer.

After interrupting the negotiations, Meta removed from its platforms all musical content by artists represented by SIAE, preventing its use by consumers.

The authority believes that Meta’s “alleged abuse of economic dependence could also have a significant impact on competition in the affected markets,” and may have caused “great harm” to consumers.

“Meta’s conduct not only could significantly hamper SIAE’s competitiveness on the affected markets, but it could also prevent the authors represented by SIAE—who are a significant share of all Italian authors—to reach consumers [who increasingly] use social platforms.

“Meta’s conduct could also affect authors represented by other collecting societies but whose rights are co-managed by SIAE,” said the watchdog.

It added that Meta’s conduct in allegedly blocking the access of SIAE’s musical content to Meta’s platforms could also negatively affect the remuneration of such musical works.

“[The] alleged abuse could also significantly limit consumers’ choice, who could be deprived of the chance of using musical works whose rights SIAE represents and that are a large share of Italy’s and [the world’s] musical offer,” the authority said.

When opening the probe, the watchdog initiated proceedings that could lead to the adoption of interim measures in accordance with article 14bis of the Italian Competition Act (1990).

The authority noted that the interruption of the talks between Meta and SIAE could immediately affect the competitive dynamics among parties acting as intermediaries of copyrights of musical works—a development that demanded such measures.

These interim measures, it added, were designed to ensure that the negotiating process between SIAE and Meta can restart according to the principles of good faith, transparency and equity.

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