ASCAP and BMI Just Made the Biggest Commitment Yet to a Shared Licensing Database

ASCAP and BMI Just Made the Biggest Commitment Yet to a Shared Licensing Database
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Last week, Congress offered a plan to create a global, centralized music database.  Now, ASCAP and BMI are taking a giant step towards that goal.

Last week, Digital Music News reported that Congress re-sparked plans to create the world’s first central, unified music database.  Previous efforts to create an authoritative database have failed miserably.  Music data, along with ownership records and music licenses, remain in disarray.

Sadly, promising plays like Spotify are getting pummeled by licensing issues.  Even worse: a centralized, comprehensive music licensing database could have prevented those problems — and a flurry of expected lawsuits ahead.

In a desperate attempt to fix metadata attribution problems plaguing its platform, Spotify acquired blockchain startup Mediachain Labs.  Last year, the Swedish streaming platform paid the NMPA $30 million to settle a lawsuit over unpaid royalties.  This year, the company also paid indie songwriters $43.4 million to cover unpaid mechanical licenses.

In addition, independent publishers have started their own lawsuits, with possible damages crossing into the billions.

But maybe the industry can work its own problems out.  Enter ASCAP and BMI, who have just announced plans to create a comprehensive music database.  Or, at least the first steps of it.

The aggregated database will cover musical works from the combined repertoires of the nation’s two leading performance rights organizations (PROs).  That means that a giant percentage of data involving performance rights will be in one place.  Potentially, other PROs like SESAC and Irving Azoff’s Global Music Rights (GMR), could also jump in.

It’s the kind of snowball effect that the industry — and Spotify — desperately need.

As for this initiative: the joint database feature song ownership data from ASCAP and BMI.  It will have the following information:

  • Song and composition titles
  • Performing artist information.
  • Aggregated shares by society for ASCAP & BMI
  • International Shared Work Codes (ISWC) and other unique identifiers.
  • IPI names and numbers.

Copyright, technical, and data experts from ASCAP and BMI first started work on the project a year ago.  The comprehensive database will also indicate where other PROs may have an interest in a specific musical work.

ASCAP and BMI hope that the project will serve as a foundation that can evolve.  Later, both organizations hope to include “a broader range of music information across the entire industry.”

Both organizations are currently analyzing, testing, and reconciling data.  Teams from ASCAP and BMI will address incomplete or incorrect song registrations and share splits.  They will also address US representation of international works as well as complicated ownership disputes.

Ideally, anyone can access this database, from anywhere.  Currently, teams from ASCAP and BMI are testing combined data sets in a cloud platform.  The results of the analysis will serve as the foundation for the shared music database.

Speaking about the project, ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews said,

ASCAP and BMI are proactively and voluntarily moving the entire industry a step forward to more accurate, reliable and user-friendly data.  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.  With our combined experience, we are best positioned to make faster headway in creating a robust, cost effective market solution to meet the needs of the licensing marketplace.

BMI President and CEO Mike O’Neill added,

This is an important solution for the marketplace created by the experts who know their data best.  We have always advocated for data transparency and supported the need for a user-friendly and comprehensive solution that would benefit music users and music creators alike.  While BMI and ASCAP remain fierce competitors in all other regards, we recognize that our combined expertise allows us to create the best solution for our members and the marketplace.  We’re excited by our momentum and the promise of what this database can become in the future.

Phase One of the shared music database will launch by the end of 2018.  The first phase will include the majority of ASCAP and BMI’s registered songs.  Both organizations promise to build a “user-friendly” and “searchable” database.

Future phases of the project will explore customizable, interactive API solutions, and the inclusion of other databases.

So that’s not everything.  But it’s a start.  And a huge action towards licensing sanity in the music industry.

6 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    Well, this certainly sounds a lot better than that “Transparency in Music Licensing Ownership Act” that was just announced. It can never be truly comprehensive, though. We’re only talking about performing rights in the US, and while that is generally a good proxy for other rights types and territories, that’s often not the case. I’m not confident they’ll be able to provide reliable info on SESAC and GMR works. HFA had the same issue. Their data is probably pretty good with respect to publishers who are affiliated with HFA. Beyond that though, it starts becoming spotify. Er, I mean spotty.

    This does sound better than what’s currently publicly available now, so I applaud their efforts. We’ll see what happens in the next year or so.

  2. Anon

    Global rights databases, blockchain, transparency…this article hits all the current industry buzzwords. I’ll believe it when I see it.

  3. Paul Resnikoff

    What if this is the foundation, and it becomes a legal requirement to register works against this database? If you’re not registered, you don’t get paid. That’s maybe where Sensenbrenner et al in Congress can make this work (public+private partnership).

    • Anonymous

      So if a song isn’t registered, it essentially would provide music users free reign to use that song without any license and without paying anyone any royalties. Well, that’s just wonderful! I’m sure no one will have any objections to something like that.

  4. Anthony

    What about including whether a song is usable on platforms like YouTube, Facebook, SoundCloud, Mixcloud, etc.? YouTube’s policy database is invaluable to content creators. I would love to see a similar database that specifies the policies for all major platforms.

    • Anonymous

      If the platform is Facebook, I’m fairly sure the answer is “no” across the board. But I like the way you’re thinking. Knowing which songs have all the publishing and master licenses in place (performance, mechanical, synch, etc.) to be made available as user generated content on each platform, without having to worry about DMCA takedown notices, copyright infringement claims, etc., know of any restrictions with respect to those songs (can’t be synched with certain things, political ads, etc.), knowing the songwriters are getting properly compensated. I doubt ASCAP and BMI would be able to tell you anything beyond performance rights status, but that does seem like a worthwhile goal for someone to come up with.