By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe's music royalties societies must now allow artists to sign up to a society of their choice and make multi-country licenses available to the likes of Amazon and Apple after a court backed an EU veto on national monopolies.
On Friday Europe's General Court, its second highest, upheld a 2008 ruling by the European Commission.
Under the current system, each European country has its own collecting society, such as PRS in the United Kingdom and SIAE in Italy, which deal only with songwriters and performers in their own country.
In total they collect around $7.88 billion a year in royalties for more than a million songwriters and performers in the 27-country European Union.
Critics say the system restricts consumers' access to music and hinders the uptake of innovative services offered by online service providers such as Apple, Amazon and Spotify, which are forced to set up many different versions according to country and cannot offer international libraries.
Friday's ruling came after 21 of the collecting societies and their umbrella group CISAC challenged a decision by the European Commission in 2008 that they make it easier for music retailers to acquire multi-territorial broadcasting licenses from a single body instead of several national agencies.
In the same 2008 ruling the Commission said songwriters should be able to choose whichever agency they wanted to collect their royalties.
The Commission's action was prompted by complaints from British online music provider Music Choice and broadcaster RTL that music fans could only buy songs in their country of residence and retailers acquire licenses from national monopolies rather than being able to acquire a pan-European licensing system.
Friday's ruling by the General Court rejected however the European Commission's finding that the collecting societies had colluded illegally in violation of EU antitrust rules, saying regulators did not have adequate proof of wrongdoing.
(Editing by Sophie Walker)