Indie music body will 'show teeth' to copyright abusers

A new body created to negotiate multimedia deals for independent artists has warned music users that it will aggressively protect its members' rights.

Denouncing musical 'apartheid' where only major label music is the subject of actions, founders of a new network, called Merlin, said they would be tough in their protection of independent artists' music copyrights.

"Up till now the independents' copyrights have not been compensated," Alison Wenham told reporters at music industry conference Midem. She said that Merlin "would show its teeth to bring that attitude to a swift end".

Merlin is a new licensing agency which will represent the interests of independent music labels. Up to 80% of CDs released are on independent labels, Merlin said, yet major labels have been the first to negotiate deals with services such as Apple's iTunes to take advantage of the growing market in downloaded music.

Comments at the agency's launch, though, underlined that Merlin's genesis in the indie market will not make it a soft touch for file-sharers or for websites which make unauthorised use of members' music.

"The form of copyright apartheid being applied to the value of independent rights is unacceptable," Charles Caldas told the Midem conference.

Merlin is a non-profit agency owned by its members, the copyright holders. A board will be appointed in March and the organisation will be funded by administration charges for its service and by contributions from members.

The organisation was started as a part of existing indie body the World Independent Network but it said it will be a stand alone organisation.

The body has been formed to protect its members' interests and to ensure a better deal for indies, who till now have had to bargain with sometimes huge corporations on their own. "[National independent label associations] have shown the collective muscle displayed in disputes and negotiations with the likes of MTV and iTunes and most recently in the European Court's decision to overturn EC approval of the Sony BMG merger," said a Merlin statement.

As well as winning members a better rate for music use, the body also hopes to drum up new business by providing music users with an easy, central hub for rights negotiations. "Services seeking to license a broad range of repertoire across the independent sector have in the past faced a complex, frustrating and laborious task, potentially involving the negotiation of hundreds, if not thousands, of contracts with labels and their distributors and aggregators in a range of territories around the globe," said the Merlin statement.