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CISAC outlines ISWC advancements in latest annual report

By | Published on Thursday 26 May 2022


CISAC – the global organisation for song right collecting societies – has published its annual report, which includes updates on various lobbying efforts around the world, and its involvement in debates and campaigns around livestreaming, fair remuneration, the copyright status of AI created works, and moves by some media firms to pressure music-makers into agreeing to complete buy-out deals.

It also includes an update on developments around the ISWC, the unique identifier for musical works that is managed by the global organisation. This is relevant to the ongoing economics of streaming debate, especially in the UK where the government has instigated a working group looking into music rights data issues and the impact those issues have on the payment of streaming royalties.

Many of the stakeholders involved in those discussions – including songwriters, music publishers and, via the MMF’s recently published Song Royalties Manifesto, artist managers – have called for further changes to the way ISWCs are issued for new songs and then shared with streaming services.

Currently, when recordings are delivered to those streaming services, the song contained in the recording is not specifically identified. That means streaming services don’t actually know what songs they are streaming.

So each month they have to send their licensing partners on the songs side of the business complete usage reports, where recordings are uniquely identified by the record industry’s identifier, the ISRC. Then the music publishers and collecting societies have to match those ISRCs to ISWCs in retrospect, and then identify which ISWCs they control in each market, and therefore which streams they need to be paid for.

Many writers and publishers argue that record labels and music distributors should provide an ISWC with each recording as it is delivered, so that post-stream matching would no longer be required.

However, labels and distributors counter that when they release new tracks, the ISWC for the song often hasn’t been issued. Meanwhile, it can be hard for labels and distributors to identify ISWCs, and for DIY artists who write their own music, chances are ISWCs will never be issued for those works.

Therefore to overcome some of the music industry’s current data challenges, ISWCs need to be issued much faster, and need to be much more widely available to DIY Phase artists and those hobbyist musicians releasing music via DIY distributors.

Some work in that domain has been underway for a few years now. CISAC upgraded its ISWC system back in 2020, and – its new annual report states – “has made steady progress during 2021/22 in extending its global music identifier across the value chain”.

The 2020 update, it adds, “has led to tighter integration in the assignment of ISWCs by member societies over the last three years”.

“In the last two years societies have taken the opportunity of the new modernised system to redesign their allocation procedures, benefitting from improved web services which allow for the central assignment of ISWCs as part of their local registration processes”, the annual report goes on.

Resolution and allocation services run by CISAC are also helping, it adds. “Publishers have also started to make more extensive use of the resolution service to validate existing ISWCs in their databases or retrieve ISWCs missing from their back catalogues”.

“Publishers also have access to the allocation service, with the support of societies. This allows an ISWC to be assigned before the work is fully registered with the society, and before the work documentation is circulated to the network of sub-publishers throughout the world. In this way, the ISWC is fully documented even before the musical work is used”.

Looking ahead, it goes on: “CISAC aims to provide new services that will be made available to other parties in the music industry, including music platforms and tech companies offering services to societies. These new services include an automated access to the ISWC database, in addition to the current website that is available to the public. The objective is to further disseminate the ISWC throughout the value chain, and with greater accuracy”.

You can download the CISAC annual report here.