Establishing a global solution to solve the myriad of issues resulting from the disjointed organization of music metadata, copyright ownership and licensing remains one of the most arduous pain points to in the music industry.
Does the recent news that U.S. PROs ASCAP and BMI are working on a publicly-available, combined music rights database hold the key to a comprehensive and global solution to this enduring problem? According to the PROs, the database will “deliver an authoritative view of ownership shares in the vast majority of music licensed in the United States”.
Incorrect or incomplete metadata causes a vast array of damaging problems. Among them, a lack of transparency and accuracy in the tracking and distribution of song usage, which can result in copyright owners missing out on royalty payments. Furthermore, Performing Rights Organizations (PROs) use a massive range of proprietary systems. So even when metadata is present and complete, there are still many cracks for royalty payments to fall into before they reach their rightful owners.
The majority of music industry experts believe that the only comprehensive solution for this massive problem lies in developing a single, unified database that pairs compositions with recordings, to be used by all PROs globally. And although opinions vary as to which technology or combination of tools will work best for this purpose, such as Blockchain, a deep analysis of the current situation makes it abundantly clear that a universally-consolidated system is vital for efficiency and accuracy moving forward.
So, what are we waiting for?
The technology exists to make this dream a reality, and the benefits are broad and clear for everyone in the music industry, including artists, publishers, labels, and PROs.
Unfortunately, while many countries have a single PRO, there are four organizations in the United States representing the performing rights of songs, which has further fragmented the data. While the initiative by ASCAP and BMI to more closely align their databases may be a move in the right direction, the exclusion of the other two American-based PROs — SESAC and Global Music Rights — would result in an incomplete set of data even within the U.S. market, let alone the world.
And this is really just the beginning of the concerns throughout the industry. The ASCAP/BMI partnership is only the latest in a long line of efforts to create a centralized and transparent database for music compositions, and to date, none of them have succeeded.
Are ASCAP and BMI just reacting to the recent announcement that Congress may soon create a central, unified music database? Many industry experts believe that a model that includes government ownership of such a system will create disastrous results. Such as limiting the remedies available to copyright owners to bring infringement actions for copyright violations if they don’t support the database with their information, as one example. So, maybe the ASCAP/BMI announcement primarily illustrates the organizations’ attempt to keep the government out of metadata and rights management, as opposed to marking a genuine shot at developing a comprehensive system.
Either way, this news doesn’t appear to hold the key to a complete solution. But here’s the thing: the required technology and expertise is already here. In order to achieve absolute accuracy and transparency moving forward, we must adopt an efficient, globally-accepted technological solution, thereby allowing the industry to leave this long-standing problem in the dust.