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ASCAP, SACEM and PRS collaborate on blockchain initiative

By | Published on Monday 10 April 2017

Data, data, blockchain, data. Data, data, blockchain, data. Blockchain, blockchain, BitCoin, blockchain. Data, data, blockchain, data. That was pretty much every music conference last year, wasn’t it?

Three song right collecting societies – America’s ASCAP, France’s SACEM and the UK’s PRS For Music – last week announced “a groundbreaking partnership to prototype a new shared system of managing authoritative music copyright information using blockchain technology”. Which probably makes as much sense as all those talks about the blockchain you sat through last year. Do you get it yet?

Everyone agrees, of course, that the music industry needs a super one-stop database of some kind that clearly states what song is contained within each recording (so, which matches the ISWC code that identifies a song with the ISRC code that identifies a recording), who wrote the song, who appears on the record, and who controls all the respective rights. If such a database could be built, the bloody blockchain is one way that that constantly updating music rights data could then be distributed around the internet.

Various parties are attempting to build such a database, some of which are dabbling with a blockchain-based solution.

That includes the collecting societies, which are probably sitting on the best music rights data as of now, even if no one society has the complete database; there remain inconsistencies between different societies’ information; the linking of songs to recordings is still early days; and most societies are nervous of making too much data public domain, not least because it could reduce their power and influence.

The ASCAP, SACEM and PRS project is seeking to “model a new system for managing the links between ISRCs and ISWCs. Establishing robust links between these two pieces of data offers a practical solution with enormous potential for improving the processes of royalty matching, which will in turn speed up licensing, reduce errors and reduce costs”.

The three societies add that the aim of the project, which also involves IBM, which SACEM recently allied with on data initiatives, is “to prototype how the music industry could create and adopt a shared, decentralised database of musical work metadata with real-time update and tracking capabilities”.

But hey, I promised you some blockchain nonsense, and where’s the bloody blockchain in all of this? Well, the various parties are “leveraging the open source blockchain technology from the Linux Foundation – Hyperledger Fabric – to match, aggregate and qualify existing links between ISRCs and ISWCs in order to confirm correct ownership information and conflicts”. Boom, top points for blockchain brilliance everybody. Though please note it’s early days. However, say the three societies, “the project is proving to be an exciting reference point for future industry blockchain solutions”.

Aside from being transatlantic, the project is also interesting in that it brings together SACEM and PRS, which are respectively leading players in two rival collecting society hubs in Europe, ie Armonia and ICE, which are in turn both involved in simplifying digital licensing and improving the efficiency of processing streaming data and royalties.

In case you wondered, ASCAP boss Elizabeth Matthews is “excited” about the project; SACEM chief Jean-Noël Tronc is “very excited”; and PRS top dude Robert Ashcroft sees the venture as a “huge opportunity”. Surprisingly no one was “THRILLED”.