SUISA: a short history

SUISA's story starts 140 years ago.

SUISA past and present

1883 – First Swiss copyright legislation

The first copyright law enacted in Switzerland contained many deficiencies. At the time, in Switzerland unlike in neighbouring countries, there was no such thing as a collective administration society. However, in 1876 a branch of SACEM, the French society, started granting French authors in Switzerland the same level of legal protection as in France.

1900 – Founding of STV

The impetus for the foundation of a collecting society in Switzerland was given by a music-loving Federal Councilor called Adrien Lachenal. On 30 June 1900, the STV - Schweizerische Tonkünstlerverein (association of Swiss sound artists) was founded in Zurich. The STV was not a proper collecting society; its declared purpose was to create a society for the collective administration of authors’ rights. However, it was committed first and foremost to improving copyright law.

1923 – Founding of MECHANLIZENZ

SUISA’s story truly starts in 1923 with the founding of MECHANLIZENZ, its predecessor organisation, at the time a joint-stock company. The company’s purpose was to license the production of sound recordings. At the time, sound recordings meant music boxes rather than vinyl records which were still in their infancy in 1923.

1924 – Founding of GEFA

On 6 July 1924, one year after the coming into force of the new copyright law and the founding of MECHANLIZENZ, the Swiss society for performance rights, GEFA, was founded in Olten. The society was run by STV, the Swiss association of sound artists (STV), in cooperation with the Swiss society of popular authors, composers, and publishers, the association of Swiss music dealers and publishers, and other groups.

1941 – GEFA becomes SUISA

The new collective administration law of 1941 provided that a single society would be empowered to collectively manage the rights of authors of non-dramatic music, that this society needed State approval, and that it would operate under federal oversight. As a result, GEFA was converted from an association into a cooperative society. SUISA first started operating on 1 January 1942.

1946 – A new branch in West Switzerland

The SUISA branch in Lausanne also incorporated the film department which was - and still is - responsible  for cinema theatres, film producers and television advertisers across Switzerland as a whole.

1958 – MECHANLIZENZ attached to SUISA

MECHANLIZENZ was visibly hard put to gain recognition. Most of its members were also members of SUISA, and they compared the services offered by the two societies. In 1958, MECHANLIZENZ was attached to SUISA but both societies retained their legal independence. The full merger came quite a few years later. The merger agreement was approved by the general meetings of the two societies on 14 June 1980.

1965 - CAE directory (composers, authors, and publishers)

The Confédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Auteurs et Compositeurs instructed SUISA to prepare a list of all composers, lyricists, and music publishers affiliated with one of the authors’ societies. The directory would soon comprise over one million names. Since 1997, this directory has been called the IPI List (Interested Parties Information) and can be accessed online by all rightholders.  

1989 – the Foundation for Music first sees the light

“SUISA-Stiftung für Musik”, the SUISA Foundation for Music, or FONDATION SUISA as it is called today, was established in 1989. Today it is headquartered in the “Maison de la Musique” in Lausanne. It promotes Swiss musical creation in Switzerland and abroad.

2002 – Branch in Lugano

Today, a staff of four employees serves authors, publishers and customers in Italian-speaking Switzerland and neighbouring Italy.

2017 – Joint venture with Mint Digital Services

The principle of territorial rights management does not apply to online music usage. Moreover, online licensing of music usages presupposes that the collective management organisation have at its disposal the requisite processes and IT infrastructure. As a result, many organisations – including larger ones – started setting up what are known as licensing hubs. SUISA established Mint Digital Services in joint venture with SESAC Holdings, a US music rights organisation. The company handles management and accounting for the transnational music licensing business with online providers.

2017 - Founding of SUISA Digital Licensing

Building up the online area is an important step in paving the way for the future. Music usage is increasingly shifting to the internet, and territorial borders are crumbling. As a result, in the future we can expect to see music usage on TV or in concerts managed transnationally by the rights management organisation offering the best service rather than by the collecting societies in individual countries.