Transparency in Music Licensing and the Statutory Remedy Problem

The music industry pie is sufficiently large that technology companies and content companies can and should work together. A crucial first step toward achieving that would be the creation of a comprehensive “rights” database, ideally one that serves as a global effort.

An open, transparent and fully monetized catalog – such as those already provided by the International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) for sound recordings and the International Standard Work Code (ISWC) for musical compositions – would be the easiest method to attribute appropriate royalty payments to the appropriate artists.

Other initiatives include the Digital Data Exchange (DDEx), which catalogs output by setting a standardized supply chain of communications, but this process has been arduous and has not picked up steam.

Finally, the service Kobalt acts as a global identification system, allowing artists to receive real-time information on how their music is being distributed on a worldwide basis. It already serves 8,000 songwriters and artists, who are responsible more than 40 percent of the Billboard Top 100.66

But much more work is needed. It may be time to take this burden out of the hands of companies and into the public realm, via crowdsourcing. Wikipedia, which at its inception was considered unreliable, has since become the dominant encyclopedia of the digital age. By following a similar model and allowing the public to contribute, independent and self-publishers will have control.

No one is as invested in an artist’s work as the artist himself or herself. No one gains more from an artist being adequately compensated than the consumer. Intermediaries have served their role for a century, but it may be time for a truly disintermediated market in music. It’s had a rough start, to be sure, but as the disintermediated market gains popularity, the public can be entrusted to find and reward both the best art and the best systems for distributing that art.

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