Olivier Hinnewinkel, CISAC

Olivier Hinnewinkel, Director General of CISAC, discusses the organisation’s activities in China and gives a sense of the current climate for copyright in a country renowned for its rampant piracy.

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 26 Mar 2014
  • min read
Meanwhile, earlier this year, the International Confederation of Authors and Composers Societies (CISAC) opened a landmark office in Beijing.

The mission of this new Asia-Pacific outpost is to coordinate the protection and promotion of songwriter and composer interests throughout the region.

So, with the gaze of the international music community now fixing itself on China, we spent some time with Olivier Hinnewinkel (left), Director General of CISAC, to learn more about the organisation’s activities and get a sense of the current climate for copyright in China - a country renowned for its rampant piracy.

Hinnewinkel explains how the whole Asia-Pacific region is bringing new opportunities for rightsholders and their collecting societies, and explains how CISAC is working with the Chinese authorities to help implement a new copyright law.

What’s the copyright climate like in China at the moment?
They are currently reviewing copyright law over there. From the highest ranking Chinese authorities it is clear that China no longer wants to be perceived as a country of piracy and instead wants to be seen as copyright friendly.

Why did you decide to set up an office there?
A year ago, we thought it was the right time to become involved in this and bring our expertise in international copyright law to China. When I first joined CISAC two and a half years ago I was coming from Asia, where I had lived for six years. It made sense to me to move our regional office from Singapore to Beijing, where I knew we could lobby the institutions, the government and the copyright department to make sure we had the best possible version of copyright law, which could be implemented by 2015.

This issue is not only pertinent to the creative industries. China is seen as the country that copies everything – there are even fake Apple stores in Shanghai. However, things are changing. CCTV, the country’s biggest television station, has created a copyright department to ensure the music they use is actually being declared.

There is a lot of piracy, but I think there is a strong will from the government to change this attitude and ensure that copyright is better understood and implemented in the future. That said, we also have to be realistic. Few artists know about copyright over there. Few people who have to implement the law, such as the police, understand the issues, and it will take some time for copyright to be fully implemented.

How important is the Chinese market?
Well, the Asia-Pacific region, which includes several countries from Australia to India, represents 18.6 percent of the overall CISAC revenue. For the first time, this region’s revenue is going to overtake the United States. It is a developing market that will bear fruit and this is where growth will be. Copyright is certainly being challenged but, very often in developing regions, it is not very well understood.

What is the potential for overseas songwriters in China?
There is great potential for revenue in the short and medium term if a new copyright law is passed in 2015. But you need three things for copyright to be effective: first you need a law; then you need to implement that law; and finally you need respect for the law. But as I’ve seen in the past, when China decides something, it all moves very quickly.

How popular is overseas repertoire in China?
In an audiovisual capacity – meaning cinema – the majority of music is internally produced, the same with radio. But we should not underestimate the culture of new media in China. Some outsiders think that access to new media is not possible but this is not the case. There are media services that are just as powerful as Google, satisfying a population of more than one billion. These certainly give access to foreign content and I think that, as well as trying to ensure the licensing of concerts, radio stations, TV channels, we should also partner with the Baidu’s of the world – those Chinese digital service providers that have a far more interesting reach.

What does the CISAC office hope to achieve?
When you decide to open shop in Beijing, the political capital of China, you know you are there for lobbying purposes. We are working with government but also collective rights management organisations so we can help them develop expertise. Another aspect of our work is to raise awareness with Chinese creators themselves. Everything is connected. If creators understand their rights, they will claim their rights and open up the debate, which will have consequences for foreign creators who are also getting played in China.

What are the biggest international challenges to copyright in 2014?
Copyright is being challenged all over the world. We are being very active in Europe, in Brussels, and we are very active in all the hotspots including Africa and Latin America. But I have to say, it’s about ensuring that politicians understand the economic value of the creative industries. Once they do understand this, and recognise how many jobs they bring, it’s then about ensuring that creators know their rights and fight for them.

What are CISAC’s views on the current EU copyright debate, and how do you see that unfolding?
It surprises me is that the directive [on best practices for collecting societies] has been barely voted through and we now have a consultation on copyright that has come out of nowhere. I have a lot to say about it, because it not only opens debate on how to manage copyright law but it also opens debate on copyright itself.

When you look at what I just said about China, Brussels has a responsibility to Europe, but it goes beyond Europe – if Brussels damages the notion of copyright in Europe it will have far-reaching consequences. So they have a big responsibility. It’s very interesting to see they are challenging rules on copyright which, from the CISAC perspective, are absolutely fine in Europe. So why discuss this? Copyright is a human right; there is no reason for more discussion around its validity.