Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Midem 2012 (part 3) -- Progress towards a global repertoire database

By Emmanuel Legrand

If songs are at the core of the music business, the way in which these songs can be identified has become a crucial issue for the industry.

The new digital eco-system has created an infinity of new uses for songs, and made the complex process of identifying works even more relevant. In other words, the metadata that is attached to songs is the crucial element that will allow songs to be identified and, eventually, remunerated.

As a result, one of the most ambitious projects undertaken by the music industry in recent years has been the building of a global repertoire database (GRD) that will regroup in a comprehensive and standardised manner all the music works created in the world.

The GRD, as it is known, was given a full review at Midem on Tuesday Jan. 31, during the International Publishing Summit organised with ICMP, the global organisation for music publishers.

“If GRD did not exist, it would have to be invented,” joked moderator Stephen Navin, chief executive of the UK’s Music Publishers Association.

The project, started in 2008, is moving on, and in February, recommendations should be published by consultancy group Deloitte on the way forward to building this database. A working group, encompassing rights holders and technology companies has been working for the last couple of years.

“There are still a lot of issues up in the air, noted Jane Dyball, SVP international legal and business affairs at Warner Chappell Music, who added that there was “a real commitment to make it happen”. For Dyball, the GRD will will be a much-needed tool at the service of rights holders and digital services alike; even if the road to get there might be a bit bumpy. “Anything that changes status quo presents some concerns to some people,” she said. “What we have to do as a group is always to focus on the opportunities.”

Jez Bell, director of licensing at Omnifone, agreed with Dyball that there was always a risk for the process to slow down or stop, but it has not happened so far. For Bell, the different stakeholders working on the project “managed to maintain momentum throughout process – it gives us confidence that something is going to happen.”

Sacem’s director of organisation and information systems Michel Allain outlined the vision behind the project. “We have a consensus on what it will be and what it will not be,” he said. There were, he added, three keywords to explain what the project is about. First, it is a database, no less but no more, in that it is not a distribution system or an accountancy system. Second, it is global and has the ambition to cover all territory and all usages. And last, it is authoritative.

At the end of the process, the GRD will be, according to Allain, “a unique place where you can have data that is accurate and has been validated”.

There are still challenges: for example, how can the database deal with various languages, and what will be the place of domestic repertoire in the project. Another issue, says Omnifone’s Bell, are funding issues.

On the upside, the GRD should give online platforms the tool to process payments to rights owners “quicker and more accurately”, according to Omnifone’s Bell.

The same theme was picked by Karen Buse, director of international at PRS for Music in the UK. For Buse, it is about “the quality of data”, which will allow for “speedier and more accurate distribution for our members”.

Speaking from the perspective of a technology company and users of content, Sami Valkonen, head of international music licensing for Android at Google, the GRD will be about “efficiency in paying invoices”. “Imagine a world with GRD in which we can simply go to the GRD and pay and process quickly,” he said.

For Valkonen, one of the challenges faced by the proponents of the GRD is the governance and ownership structure. Valkonen goes as far as saying that the GRD should be seen “as a public good that benefits everyone. “There should not be anything in GRD that is proprietary,” he said. For him, it should be there, funded and available to everyone. 

This topic, it is understood, is one that creates friction within the GRD group, since both publishers and collecting societies are known to view their data as “proprietary” rather than a “public good”. And, according to one person aware of the situation, some rights societies have seen with moderate enthusiasm Google acquiring rights management company RightsFlow and integrate it into YouTube to serve as back office for royalties tracking and payment. “They fear that combined with the GRD, Google could compete directly with rights societies for the collection and distribution of royalties,” explained the expert.

Another fear is that the GRD would first and foremost be a vehicle for the big publishing companies. But the participants to the panel tried to lift that perspective. “This levels the playing field for the small publishers and the smaller societies,” said Bell. In addition, he said, the fact that CISAC is part of the discussions ensures that in the end, the repertoire from all the different rights societies should also be taken in to account.

Veteran publisher Ralph Peer II, chairman and CEO of US-based peermusic, concurred. For independent publishers like him, the GRD creates indeed a level playing field that “will be useful to the indie community”. But Peer warned that the GRD could also fail if the infrastructure is built and nobody joins in and provides repertoire.

Dropping for a while his neutral hat of moderator, Stephen Navin assured the audience that “all publishers are absolutely committed to the database” and that it will become a reality.

Reflecting the general mood in the room, PRS for Music chairman Guy Fletcher spoke from the audience and said that it was absolutely crucial that the project came to fruition. “It cannot be a no go: let’s get on with it and do it.”

(For those who were not there -- and those who were -- the complete Midem coverage can be found on the trade show's blog)



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