In 2009 Jim McKelvey was a practitioner and teacher of the art of glassblowing and author of a leading textbook on the subject, The Art of Fire. Frustrated by his inability to complete a $2,000 sale of his glass faucets and fittings because he could not accept credit cards he approached his friend, Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter.
From that collaboration, Square, Inc., was born, which revolutionized the world of payment processing by turning any smartphone and tablet into a credit card reader and cash register.
That nexus, between artistry and innovation, is the core of the RightsTech Revolution, and will be the focus of McKelvey’s keynote fireside chat at the RightsTech Summit in New York on September 27th.
In addition to Square, McKelvey is the co-founder of the Third Degree Glass Factory in St. Louis, and a partner in Cultivation Capital, an early-stage investment fund.
He also sits on the board of directors of Calpian Inc., which offers mobile money solutions through its Indian subsidiary MoneyOnMobile, and is an independent director of the St. Louis Federal Reserve.
His latest venture, LaunchCode, is a non-profit organization that aims to grow new talent and create pathways to on-the-job training and employment.
Jim will discuss his evolution from artist to entrepreneur, his strategies for building and growing companies, and the ongoing evolution of the Square Payments Platform.
For information on how to register for the summit click here.
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 Colitreto share his insights into what’s behind the recent spike in the complexity of music rights.
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.
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.
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.
Nathan Lands, co-founder and CEO of blockchain-based rights registration platform Binded, Virginie Berger, CEO of Pan-European music rights licensing hub Armonia Online, dotBlockchain Music co-founder Benji K. Rogers, and Dubset Media CEO Stephen White are just a few of the leading rights-management pioneers you’ll meet at this year’s RightsTech Summit in New York.
The summit will be held September 27th at the Museum of Jewish Heritage at Battery Place in lower-Manhattan, as part of the 3-day New York Media Festival. The preliminary agenda for the conference has now been posted on the RightsTech Summit website.
The future of machine-to-machine rights management
Metadata and unique asset identifiers
Authentication, provenance and rights registries
Licensing hubs and online marketplaces
Overcoming resistance to sharing ownership and rights data
Copyright reform and technology
Investing in rights-tech and copyright-backed assets
Trusted data vs. trusted databases
Plus keynotes, special presentations and fireside chats.
Click here for information on registering for the RightsTech Summit and/or the New York Media Festival.
Interested in speaking? Contact Paul Sweeting (email@example.com). For sponsorship and RightsTech membership opportunities, contact Andi Elliott (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The RightsTech Summit is joining the New York Media Festival this year. The one-day Summit will be held on September 27th as part of New York Media Festival’s three-day event series. Other events over the three days include the Digital Music Forum, the NY Games Conference, and the Future of Television. All events will be held at at the Museum of Jewish Heritage at historic Battery Place in New York City.
Guest post: Last week at the terrific inaugural RightsTech Summit, a wide range of very knowledgeable people came together to discuss the current state of digital rights management, and more importantly, the direction that new technologies are taking this field.
Songwriter and producer, former record label and ASCAP executive, and “recovering CPA” Tim DuBois sat for a fireside keynote chat with RPG Strategies principal Jon Potter at the inaugural RightsTech Summit on July 26 in New York. Among the topics they discussed was the critical role that technology can play in making sure the right people get paid for their work in the music industry.
“I’ve been lucky enough to sit at just about every chair at the table,” within the music business, DuBois recalled. “Anytime that money passes through an organization unnecessarily I get scared. And I have a right to get scared because I’ve worked at most of those organizations. So I know whereof I speak.”
Dozens of technology, law and music professionals gathered at the Japan Society in New York on Tuesday for the inaugural RightsTech Summit, determined to brainstorm how partnerships between tech companies and content creators could drive smarter rights management and monetization.
Rights tech, like freight forwarding and other under-the-radar industries, is unsexy but wholly necessary, and profitable if done right. Most music-tech startups tend to focus on “first-mile” problems in artists’ careers, such as discovery, marketing and crowdfunding. The last mile—what happens when finished musical works are digitized and, in Rogers’ words, “drop off a data and revenue cliff”—has remained largely untransformed.
On July 26, Digital Media Wire (DMW) and Concurrent Media Strategies will present a RightsTech Summit in NYC to address a digital blind spot you may not know about.
If you think attribution when the term “Rights” comes up in the context of digital media, then you’re not seeing an important aspect as far as how tech breakthroughs have impacted content distribution. For now, let’s chat with conference co-chair Paul Sweeting, Principal of Concurrent Media Strategies, LLC, to get a download on the subject.
Last week’s announcement that the U.S. Copyright Office had successfully accepted a bulk submission of notices of intent (NOIs) for compulsory mechanical licenses in electronic form marked a major milestone, both for the Office and for Music Reports Inc., which delivered the NOIs on behalf of music streaming service Guvera.
Music Reports has been working with the Copyright Office for more than a decade as part of the Office’s fitful, and at times halfhearted, effort to upgrade the creaky, pre-digital process for submitting and accessing music publishing information to at least 20th century standards if not quite 21st. Last week’s successful test run on the Office’s new, electronic submission system, involving about 100 tracks, is believed to be the first such hand-off.
“We’re now ready to start doing this at scale. It’s a big, big step,” Music Report’s VP and general counsel Bill Colitre told RightsTech.com.
But it was only one step toward solving what Colitre says is a much bigger problem: the vast and fast-growing amount of music being released on digital platforms today for which publishing information is not available, if it was ever collected in the first place.