Copyright Governance Danish Style: Is This “Hygge” in Action?

Used with permission

My wife and I recently visited Denmark, a country we had only briefly stopped in years ago in order to take our (then) very young daughter to the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. But of course there is so much more to Denmark than Tivoli, or Lego, or Danish pastries, or all of the other clichés that we become used to. While no country is without some problems, Denmark comes across to a visitor as a laid-back, clean, tolerant and efficient country. It consistently ranks as No. 1 or 2 on Transparency International’s anti-corruption index (New Zealand being its main competitor) and honesty is valued. Danes pay some of the highest rate of tax in the world, but seem to feel that they get their money’s worth. In fact, one of the main attributes of “Danishness” is its reputation for happiness. In surveys Denmark is repeatedly found to be one of the world’s happiest countries and the Danes among the world’s happiest people. Various theories have been advanced for this outcome, including relative income equality, a well- structured social safety net (thus a reduction in anxiety levels), a high degree of mutual trust and an innate sense of well-being incorporated in the Danish term “hygge” (pronounced hyügeh, as I learned after initially mangling the word to the incomprehension of my Danish friends).

Several books have been written on the topic of what makes Danes so happy (despite their high taxes and miserable climate). In Meik Wiking’s The Little Book of Hygge, he identifies a number of areas where the sense of hygge is developed, such as the use of light (candles everywhere), togetherness, food and drink, clothing and a sense of home. Hygge is about feeling safe and trusting those you are with. Helen Russell, a Brit who with her husband spent a year in Billund, the home of Lego, has written an amusing and insightful book titled, The Year of Living Danishly, in which she explores the attributes of this “most trusting nation”. Part of the national psyche, it seems, is doing things together, such as gathering to sing traditional and increasingly not-so-traditional songs, sometimes with complete strangers, in an activity known as “morgensong”. Now that’s what I call a collective spirit.

And this finally brings me to copyright, and the Danish collective rights management cooperative, Copydan. Denmark, along with other Scandinavian countries, applies a form of collective rights management called ECL (extended collective licensing). As explained in a research paper from the Swedish Ministry of Justice, the main features of the ECL system (which may differ slightly among the individual Scandinavian countries) are the following;

  1. a) The system presupposes that the right-owners in particular fields are grouped together in organisations that are representative in the field concerned and that are mandated to conclude contracts on their behalf.
  2. b) Following free negotiations, a representative organisation of right-owners concludes a contract with a user or a group of users on a certain type of exploitation in a certain field.
  3. c) The copyright law then prescribes that such a contract applies also to right-owners who are not members of contracting organisation, usually subject to certain safeguards for the outsiders.
  4. d) On the basis of the contract and the provisions in the law, the user at issue may use the material covered by the contract knowing that he or she may not be subjected to infringement actions.
  5. e) Right-owners who are not members of the contracting organisation shall be treated in exactly the same way as the members.
  6. f) In addition, such outside right-owners usually have a right to individual remuneration and in many cases (depending on what is said in the national legislation, which differs in some respects) also a right to prohibit the use of their works under the terms prescribed.

In short, collective rights are managed by a collecting society for all creators in a given field, whether or not the author is a member of the society or not. It is a kind of “default membership” except that individual authors have the ability to opt-out if they wish, except for educational licensing. This ECL system laid the groundwork for the management of rights in Denmark through Copydan.

Copydan is actually seven different organizations grouped under one roof in Copenhagen, representing six different Copyright Management Organizations (CMO’s) authorized by the Danish Copyright Law, plus a common support group. The organizations are Copydan Writing, Archives, AVU-Media, VISDA, CulturePlus and World TV. The organization originated in 1977 and now has about app. 70 employees across all its constituent associations.

Copydan Writing (Copydan Tekst & Node) has existed since 1980 and is owned by authors, writers and publishers of texts and sheet music. Copydan Archiv manages and licenses a repertoire of archival TV content. Copydan AVU-Medier (Media) is the collective rights management society for the licensing of film and TV for use by educational institutions and for cultural purposes (museums, libraries, etc.). Copydan VISDA (Visual), administers reproduction rights for Danish and foreign artists (in Denmark) including for certain photographers, draftsmen, graphic artists, and illustrators. Copydan KulturPlus (CulturePlus) manages the blank media levy, while Copydan Verdens TV (World TV) collects and distributes license fees for cable retransmission and other broadcasts involving Danish and foreign content. The final and seventh organization housed at Copydan House is “Faelles Foreningen”, which translates roughly as the Copydan Community Association. It is the back office function that supports the other six CMOs with IT and system development, and the constituent organizations contribute to its operating budget. Each organization has its own area of focus but the common thread is protection of copyright and management of rights.

The one major area of rights management in Denmark not represented within Copydan is the music industry (except for publication of sheet music), namely management of rights and collecting licensing fees for performers, composers and song-writers. This is managed through an organization named KODA, which has managed music rights since the 1920s. Nonetheless, while not covering all areas of copyright, Copydan is an interesting model of cooperation. While each of the CMOs within Copydan has its own issues (Culture Plus for example, is concerned that Danish law does not require a levy on the sale of certain digital devices), they share a common perspective of protecting the rights of creators, be they artists, authors, film-makers, photographers and so on, and are not only co-located in Copydan House, but share common services. Compare this to the situation in most countries where the CMOs operate pretty much independently of each other, sometimes even competing.

The Copydan model has developed over time and seems to work quite well for Denmark. Could it be replicated in other countries, and what is the secret ingredient that makes it work so well? Perhaps it is the spirit of cooperation and trust—part of the hygge phenomenon—that apparently exists in the Danish psyche that has enabled this form of management model to work successfully, or is it just good old Scandinavian practicality in terms of cost-saving and efficient administration? I prefer to think that there is an innate cultural factor behind the ability to work together for a common goal, despite different challenges—the “secret sauce”; hygge. In their photo on the CulturePlus website, the entire Copydan staff all look very happy being and working together. Who knows, maybe they even engage in Morgensong?

© Hugh Stephens, 2019. All Rights Reserved.

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