Data

Tuning Up: Tackling the Ever-Growing Complexity of Music Rights

The fragmented and often opaque ownership of musical works and sound recordings has confounded industry participants and would-be licensees for decades. But according to a recent study by rights administration services provider Music Reports, Inc., the most decade has seen a rapid acceleration in that fragmentation, as new genres, new formats, and new distribution channels have spurred new modes of songwriting and opened new avenues for artists. We asked Music Report’s vice president and general counsel Bill Colitre to share his insights into what’s behind the recent spike in the complexity of music rights.

Bill Colitre

Music Reports recently performed an analysis of Billboard’s top 10 hits from the 1960s through to the present using the Songdex® database, and published a press release about the project. The analysis revealed a marked increase in the number of both composers and publishers involved in hit songs over time, especially since the 1990s.  Notably, the number of publishers associated with these hit songs increased faster than the number of composers, such that the average song now has about six publishers and four composers.

The release sparked some interesting discussion on various comment boards. Some commenters made note of often repeated anecdotes about ‘non-songwriters’ being granted songwriting credit undeservingly. Although there is undoubtedly truth to some of these anecdotes, there are also a number of more common explanations for the increase, many resulting from the evolution of popular music genres and business practices in the last three decades.

The 1990s, for example, saw at least two significant developments that contributed to the complexity of modern song credits. First, hip hop became a mainstream genre—one in which musical works often incorporated samples from earlier works.

Commonly in these cases, the publishers of the sampled works have agreed with the creators of the newer songs on shared ownership of the resulting works. When this happens, the rights structure incorporates the composers and publishers of the sampled song along with those of the newer work.

The other important development in the ‘90s was a resurgence of pop, after two decades dominated by artists who largely performed their own works.

Pop music has a long and celebrated tradition of collaborative songwriting. But whereas in earlier eras it tended to be practiced by famous duos (from Gilbert & Sullivan down through Goffin & King), who tended to work for a single publisher, from the 1990s onward it has been practiced by an increasingly cross-pollinated group of professional songwriters working in various combinations, often with contributions from the superstar performing artists with whom they work regularly.

Moreover, regardless of genre, recent decades have also seen an increase in the prevalence of “co-publishing” agreements. In these arrangements, a songwriter may be represented by a large publishing administrator who owns a portion of the writer’s work, while the writer also owns a piece of her work through her own music publishing entity.

This second entity is typically also administered by, but legally separate from, the first publishing administrator, which manages both catalogs together. All of these entities add to the number of “publishers” who may be associated with a single song.

To add to the complexity, those distinct entities may share a common licensing administrator (i.e., the person responsible for granting the license), yet have separate arrangements for where to account (e.g., in the publishing administrator’s case to the administrator, while in the songwriter’s case, to her own publishing company). And each entity may have a different “care of” address for payment (e.g., the specific address for the administrator, on the one hand, and the address of the writer’s business manager, on the other hand).

To this common arrangement we can also add similar arrangements resulting from 360 label deals, so-called “creative joint venture” arrangements, and of course producer deals involving songwriting credit.

Infinite Variety

As if all of these horizontal sharing arrangements didn’t create enough fragmentation, the so-called “bundle of copyrights” is almost infinitely divisible by law, such that different territories may be managed by different publishers or “sub publishers” and different rights types may also have alternative administrative arrangements.

For example, print rights may be administered by one party, while performance rights are managed by another, and mechanical rights by a third. Just emerging now is an even narrower fragmentation of specific rights types.

For example, whereas ‘mechanical rights’ might have historically been handled by one administrator as a class, now we are beginning to see one administrator claiming ‘traditional mechanical rights’, while a second administrator claims those mechanical rights associated with ‘internet streaming and limited downloads’.

A similar fault line is appearing between ‘traditional synchronization rights’ and so-called “UGC streaming” synchronization rights.

In short, the music publishing business has evolved a truly phenomenal degree of complexity, and the reasons for this complexity are widely varied (some better than others).

It is easy to be frustrated by this Gordian Knot of a problem.  But while newer (and perhaps simpler) solutions are sought for future works, there is no responsible way to slice through the world’s great repertoire as it currently exists.

The efficient licensing of, and accounting for, the music being enjoyed by listeners today can only be accomplished by honoring the choices made by today’s rights owners through careful attention to the rights structures they have agreed among themselves.  At the same time, care must be taken to vet the reported claims of those rights owners, which sometimes conflict (and more often by mistake than from fraudulent intent).

As difficult as all this may be, happily there are already common sense solutions in the market.  Modern relational database systems like Songdex, curated by teams of dedicated musicologists and technologists, are able to manage all of the dimensions of complexity called for by this music industry, and do so at scale.

Rapidly ingesting direct, electronic feeds from every publisher able to deliver them, accepting any file format for letters of direction and related repertoire updates from those who cannot, and making available the world’s most effective online song registry and claiming system for unmatched sound recordings, Songdex is at the forefront of this effort.

As a comprehensive, neutral registry combined with a licensing transaction and payment settlement platform, Music Reports currently manages the task of tracking billions of transactions a day across more than a hundred million sound recordings embodying tens of millions of compositions, through the coordinated efforts of at least six organizational departments of humans, and a dozen supporting IT systems. As we often say here, it’s not the database, but the organization that meets the challenge.

To conclude, the modern profession of songwriting and the administration of musical composition rights are growing in complexity. There are more composers contributing to compositions (both together and across time, through sampling). Their publishers are creating new and more intricate methodologies for maximizing returns across an increasingly global marketplace that is adding wholly new channels of distribution almost every year.

One day the business may return to a less fragmented state through technology. Until then it should be no surprise that a complex business requires complex data management solutions.

Music Reports is a member of the RightsTech Project. Both Colitre and vice president of IT business development Michael Shanely are scheduled to speak at the RightsTech Summit on September 27th in New York. Click here for information on registration

Momentum Builds For Music Database, But Controversy May Follow

The music industry has been discussing and debating for years the merits of creating a comprehensive, publicly accessible database of musical works and sound recordings and the ownership information attendant to each — something that does not currently exist. But various multi-stakeholder efforts to compile such a catalog have faltered amid disputes over cost, control, and access, most spectacularly the ill-fated Global Repertoire Database initiative spearheaded by a group of music publishers and performance rights organizations.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner

The need for such data, meanwhile, has only grown more acute, as the volume of new recordings being released each month as exploded and music streaming services churn through vast catalogs, leading to an eruption of disputes and litigation over the proper payment of royalties to rights owners.

Momentum seems to be building, however, behind renewed efforts to compile the universal look-up catalog, although controversy is already bubbling up around some of those efforts. Last week, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee’s Intellectual Property Subcommittee introduced the Transparency in Music Licensing Ownership Act, which would instruct the U.S. Copyright Office to compile an open, comprehensive database linking metadata about sound recordings with metadata and ownership information about musical works so that users of sound recordings would be able to identify and locate the current rights owners of the musical works involved. The bill would also appropriate money to compile and maintain the database.

To encourage rights owners to register their works with Copyright Office for inclusion in the database the bill would also limit their ability to bring legal action against alleged infringers if the rights owner has not provided up-to-date information to the Copyright Office.

“Across the country, businesses and establishments play or perform music for the enjoyment of their patrons, but the process of ensuring they are legally able to do so, as well as those who hold the license to the music or recordings being played are fairly compensated, is convoluted and difficult,” Sensenbrenner said in a press release. “The Transparency in Music Licensing Ownership Act is a step forward in simplifying the process and helping business owners to identify copyright holders in one easy location to ensure they comply with licensing and payment requirements.”

How far Sensenbrenner’s bill will go in the current congress is an open question. Very little legislation in moving on Capitol Hill these days amid gridlock over health care reform and the multiple investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. It’s also possible the effort could get dragged into the still unresolved controversy over the appointment of a new Register of Copyrights, a position sill unfilled since the previous Register, Maria Pallante was removed last year by the new Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden.

But Sensenbrenner’s bill seems to have lit a fire under other music industry stakeholders who already make commercial use of elements of the data the bill would make public. On Wednesday, the two leading PROs in the U.S., ASCAP and BMI, announced plans to combine their respective catalogs of musical works into a single, unified database and to make it available to others in the industry.

“ASCAP and BMI are proactively and voluntarily moving the entire industry a step forward to more accurate, reliable and user-friendly data, ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews said in a press release. “We believe in a free market with more industry cooperation and alignment on data issues.  Together, ASCAP and BMI have the most expertise in building and managing complex copyright ownership databases.”

Sensenbrenner immediately blasted the move, however, as an attempt to preempt his legislation.

“If BMI and ASCAP were serious about establishing a music database, not only would they have spoken to my office and other interested

Robert Kasunic, Associate Register of Copyrights and Director of Registration Policy and Practice, U.S. Copyright Office

Members of Congress about their plans, but they would have also included their fellow PROs in the initiative,” he said in a statement. “With their announcement today, they are grasping at straws; trying to maintain power over a failing process that only serves their interests, not those of the American consumer.”

The upcoming RightsTech Summit, which will be held September 27th in New York City, will tackle the daunting data challenges music industry and other media sectors face today as digital platforms strain legacy rights management and licensing systems, as well as the renewed efforts to create a comprehensive music rights database.

Executives from Rumblefish and the Harry Fox Agency, Music Reports, and other private companies making commercial use of the data targeted by Sensenbrenner’s bill will discuss the benefits and drawbacks of data sharing and the technological challenges associated with making it available.

The summit will also feature a one-on-one fireside chat with Robert Kasunic, Associate Register of Copyrights and Director of Registration Policy and Practice at the U.S. Copyright Office, who will address copyright reform efforts in the U.S. and elsewhere, including the Transparency in Music Licensing Ownership Act.

For information on registering for the RightsTech Summit, click here.

 

What does Spotify’s decision to share user data mean? 

A recent Spotify ad campaign plays on how well the digital music-streaming company knows its users’ tastes. The ads, found plastering New York City subways, showcase Tweets where listeners extoll how a Spotify playlist knows them well – “like former-lover-who-lived-through-a-near-death experience-with-me well.”

But Spotify will no longer just use this intimate knowledge of a user’s musical palate to generate personalized playlists. It’s now using that information as a powerful leveraging tool for advertiser dollars: Spotify announced this week that it is opening up user data collected from its 70 million free subscribers for programmatic, automated advertising.

Source: What does Spotify’s decision to share user data mean? – CSMonitor.com

Canadian Music Rights Company Acquires Royalty Collection Startup 

Audiam, a company that collects missing streaming royalties for songwriters such as Bob Dylan, James Taylor and Metallica, has been acquired by a Canadian performing rights group.

The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada, whose clients include star acts from R&B’s the Weeknd to rock band Nickelback, bought Audiam as part of its effort to more efficiently identify its clients’ compositions when they are played on digital services such as Spotify AB, Apple Inc.’s Apple Music, Pandora Media Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube—and to pay them for all such instances.

Source: Canadian Music Rights Company Acquires Royalty Collection Startup – WSJ

OPINION: Blockchain really only does one thing well

No new technology since the dawn of the internet has captured the imagination like blockchain. Designed to run unregulated electronic currency, the blockchain is promoted by many as having far broader potential in government, identity, voting, corporate administration and healthcare, to name just some of the proposed use cases. But these grand designs misunderstand what blockchain actually does.

Blockchain is certainly important and valuable, as an inspiration for brand new internet protocols and infrastructure. But it’s a lot like the Wright Brothers’ Flyer, the first powered aeroplane. It’s wondrous but impractical.

Source: OPINION: Blockchain really only does one thing well

Sustainability And The Future Of Music

It should now be abundantly clear that the data identifying recorded music and its split ownership rights is a key component linking the money flow between Great Music and Engaged Fans.  Without clean data, no one knows who created what, how to license what from whom, who to pay, or how much.  The messiness of music rights data is our industry’s “hair shirt” and I’m not sure how much longer we can collectively stand to wear it.

Now that there is consensus that streaming is here to stay, it should also follow that systems need shoring up.  This particular problem is best solved from within the industry itself or at least by companies who view labels, publishers and artists as their customers rather than the DSPs – a fundamental requirement for business alignment in who is working for whom.

Source: Sustainability And The Future Of Music – hypebot

Tribune CEO Peter Liguori Talks Up Gracenote at Investor Conference 

At a Wall Street conference on Wednesday, Tribune Media CEO Peter Liguori wasn’t asked about a dispute with Dish Network that escalated the day before, choosing instead to talk up Gracenote, the company’s metadata service for identifying and recommending music and TV shows to consumers.

“Gracenote is currently in 75 million connected cars,” said Liguori. “We can give you a fantastic service and, I dare say, in a weird way, better than Sirius XM Radio.”

Source: Tribune CEO Peter Liguori Talks Up Gracenote at Investor Conference – Hollywood Reporter

In Open Music Initiative, a Possible Rights-Tech Blueprint

headshot-final-200x300With this week’s announcement of the Open Music Initiative (OMI), the music industry is once again embarking on an effort to solve a problem that has long-vexed the business, but particularly since the rise of streaming services: the lack of a shared, secure and trusted way of knowing who owns what and what they’re owed for the use of their music.

Spearheaded by the Berklee College of Music’s Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship (BerkleeICE), along with the MIT Media Lab, brings together a wide range of music industry stakeholders, including the major record companies, music publishers, streaming services, rights organizations, artists representatives and technology developers, among others, to develop a technical framework for data exchange that will enable interoperability of systems and services throughout the music rights ecosystem.

“It’s not a secret that the infrastructure of the music industry, especially the one around creative rights, has not evolved to accommodate for the ways that music is being created and consumed today,” BerkleeICE founding managing director Panos Panay said in a statement. “We want to use the brainpower, neutrality and convening ability of our collective academic institutions, along with broad industry collaboration, to create a shared digital architecture for the modern music business. We believe an open sourced platform around creative rights can yield an innovation dividend for creators and rights holders alike.”

Another key objective of OMI is to avoid the mistakes and pitfalls that have sank previous industry efforts to establish a standardized rights-management infrastructure, such as the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) and the Global Repertoire Database (GRD).

“There are a couple of words that a verboten around here,” Context Labs CEO and Berklee Trustee Dan Harple told RightsTech.com. “One of them is ‘database.’ We are not building a database. A ledger is not a database. There may be databases that interoperate with OMI, but we’re not building a database.”

Open Music Initiative: Majors Labels and Top Music Streamers Sign On 

Berklee College of Music’s Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship (BerkleeICE) today announced an ambitious Open Music Initiative (OMI) designed to simplify the way that music creators and rights owners are identified and compensated. It will combine BerkleeICE’s expertise in the music industry with the MIT Media Lab’s expertise in decentralized platforms to to develop an open source framework for music rights and their associated uses in all media forms.

In layman’s terms, OMI doesn’t want to create a centralized database of music; but rather a standardized way of tagging and identifying music and rightsholders so that various databases can communicate with each other and verify information.  Better tracking means more money for artists, labels and publishers.

Source: Berklee Launches Ambitious Open Music Initiative, Majors Labels and Top Music Streamers Sign On – hypebot

Music Industry and Technology Leaders Join Leading Academic Institutions to Launch Open Music Initiative

Berklee College of Music’s Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship (BerkleeICE) announced today a groundbreaking initiative called The Open Music Initiative (OMI) to dramatically simplify the way that music creators and rights owners are identified and compensated – a thorny issue that has challenged the music industry and stifled creator incomes and industry revenues since the dawn of the digital era. The effort will combine BerkleeICE’s expertise in the music industry with the MIT Media Lab’s expertise in decentralized platforms to help advance the development of open source frameworks and innovation related to music rights and their associated uses in all media forms.

In addition to BerkleeICE and researchers from the MIT Media Lab Digital Currency Initiative, the OMI working group also includes researchers and faculty from University College London and other leading academic institutions. Operational and strategic guidance will be provided by IDEO, the global design and innovation company, and Context Labs, a media tech company that is leading and coordinating the technical platform for the project.

Source: Press — Open Music Initiative

Get the latest RightsTech news and analysis delivered directly in your inbox every week
We respect your privacy.