A copyright collective (also known as a copyright collecting agency, licensing agency or copyright collecting society) is a body created by copyright law or private agreement which engages in collective rights management. Collecting societies have the authority to license copyrighted works and collect royalties as part of compulsory licensing or individual licences negotiated on behalf of its members. Collecting societies collect royalty payments from users of copyrighted works and distribute royalties to copyright owners.
Authors of literary or artistic works as well as holders of related rights enjoy exclusive rights to authorise or prohibit the use of their works. In cases where the rights cannot be enforced vis-à-vis individual members of the public or where individual management would not be appropriate, given the number and type of uses involved, right holders are granted a remuneration right instead. These rights are typically managed by collecting societies.
The underlying idea of collective rights management, whereby copyright and related rights are managed collectively, is widely shared and collecting societies have a key role in all developed countries. Because of historical, legal, economic and cultural diversity among countries, regulation of collecting societies and the markets where they act vary from one country to another. In Europe collecting societies require their members to transfer them exclusive administration rights of all of their works. United States and Canada have less restricting rules as members maintain their rights simultaneously with collecting societies. In the United States, a distinction is made between a copyright collective (which dictates prices and terms for the individual copyright holders it represents) and a collecting society (which allows individual holders to set those terms).
Copyright collecting societies in the European Union usually hold monopolies in their respective national markets. Some countries create a statutory monopoly, while others recognise effective monopolies through regulations. In Austria, the Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers (Gesellschaft der Autoren, Komponisten und Musikverleger, AKM) has a statutory monopoly. German law recognizes GEMA as an effective monopoly, and as such, the burden of proof is on the accused infringer that a work is not managed by GEMA.
Collecting societies are effectively an organization handling the outsourced function of right management. Right owners transfer to collecting society rights to: 1) sell non-exclusive licenses; 2) collect royalties 3) distribute collected royalties 4) enter into reciprocal arrangements with other collecting societies 5) enforce their rights. Collecting societies also negotiate license fees for public performance and reproduction and act as lobbying interests groups.
Collecting societies sell blanket licences, which grant the right to perform their catalogue for a period of time. Such a licence might for example provide a broadcaster with a single annual authorisation encompassing thousands of songs owned by thousands of composers, lyricists and publishers. The societies also sell individual licenses for users who reproduce and distribute music. For example, Apple must submit the download reports for the iTunes Store, which are used to determine their royalty payments.
In the U.S. and Canada, when dealing with works that are performed (such as music) these groups are called performance rights organisations or PROs. Other organizations such as artist rights groups license and collect royalties for the reproduction of paintings of living or recently deceased artists whose work has not yet entered the public domain. There are also collectives that collect royalties for copies from magazines and scholarly journals such as Access Copyright in Canada.