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PRS announces plans for new portal offering easy access to song rights data

By | Published on Friday 30 September 2022

PRS For Music

UK collecting society PRS For Music yesterday set out plans to launch a new online portal that will provide easy access to key data linked to the songs catalogue it represents, including the writers behind each song, and important codes like ISWC and IPI.

Figuring out who owns the copyright in any one song or recording can be quite tricky because there is no one stop shop global database of music rights. Instead, the music industry’s collecting societies in each country manage databases of the works they represent, though that information is often not publicly accessible.

This creates challenges for companies looking to license the use of music, especially in scenarios where the blanket licences issued by the collecting societies don’t apply. Plus it makes it harder for artists, songwriters and their managers to spot where there is a dispute over who owns and controls the copyright in any one work, or how a copyright is split between collaborators and co-owners. And, especially on the songs side, those disputes are pretty common.

Issues around music rights data have also added complexities to the way songs are licensed to streaming services and digital royalties paid to songwriters, which means writers generally experience many more delays and admin costs compared to artists as their streaming income is processed. One particular issue there is the linking of each recording to the song it contains – so matching the ISRC that uniquely identifies the recording to the ISWC that uniquely identifies the song.

As part of the processing of digital royalties, various entities – often within or owned by the collecting societies – are matching recordings to songs on a constant basis. But – like the ownership data – that matching data often isn’t publicly accessible. Which makes it hard to spot when different entities have matched the same recording to different songs, or where recordings haven’t been matched to a song at all.

Having more transparency on all that data is always a good thing, and can help to address some of the issues around the payment of song royalties. Some other collecting societies around the world have sought to make some music data more publicly available over the years – most notably in the US – and with this new portal PRS will be making it easier to see songwriter names and key codes for each song, plus what recordings have been matched to each song by PRS and its partners.

Announcing the new portal yesterday, PRS said: “The recent Digital Culture Media And Sport Select Committee’s inquiry into the Economics Of Streaming highlighted the need for greater availability and transparency of industry metadata, and how improvements to the current systems were needed to accelerate the flow of royalties to music creators”.

“By releasing this information PRS For Music is determined to remove key barriers to the flow of royalties worldwide”, it added, “ultimately improving the matching of sound recordings and musical works and increasing the speed and accuracy of royalty payments”.

It went on: “This online tool will give songwriters, composers and music publishers greater visibility and increased control over their data, with the ability to search and download key data about their works – importantly, it will also allow them to highlight any discrepancies”. And not only that, but “the new tool will give digital service providers access to writer information, facilitating more songwriter credits on streaming services”.

PRS boss Andrea Czapary Martin added: “PRS For Music are embracing the latest technologies to build this portal, empowering members to grow the value of their works through better visibility. We’re putting the power of metadata into the hands of creators for their benefit. Clean data directs the flow of royalties and is the key to ensuring that songwriters and music publishers are properly paid for the use of their music and are given credit for their songs. This is fundamental to securing a stronger global royalty system”.

The initial plan is to make data available for over two million works, with millions more to follow. It’s not actually clear quite how many songs are currently available on the streaming services, because while there are stats for the number of recordings in the Spotify and Apple Music libraries, obviously some of those will be recordings of the same songs. But there’s probably somewhere between 30-35 million songs currently streaming away.

A portion of those will have been created by DIY musicians who do not work with publishers or societies and therefore fall outside the system, and are unlikely to be in the PRS database as yet. Which also likely means they never see any song royalties from their streams.

However, initiatives like that announced by US collecting society the MLC earlier this week – to work with music distributors to try to match recordings that have never been linked to a song – could ultimately bring those works into the official databases too.

The UK’s Music Managers Forum has been calling for more transparency around music rights data for years now via the ‘Dissecting The Digital Dollar’ reports and guides it has published in partnership with CMU. Therefore, it has unsurprisingly welcomed the two music data developments announced this week on both sides of the Atlantic.

Its CEO Annabella Coldrick said last night: “The MMF – through our Digital Dollar project, Song Royalties Guide and Manifesto – has long called for increased transparency from all parties in the song royalty chains so artists and writers can ensure they’re being accurately paid. A big part of that is about making music data more readily available. We therefore applaud PRS’s announcement today to create an open song metadata portal to identify the writers behind each work, and linking songs to recordings. We look forward to discussing how we can engage songwriter managers on its roll out in the new year”.

“We also welcome the groundbreaking plan from the MLC in the US to work with music distributors to track down the writers of recordings that have never been matched to a song”, she added. “We hope to see more proactive steps in this direction to greatly reduce the size and impact of the digital black box and ensure writers are paid their streaming royalties quickly and accurately”.

This story is discussed on this edition of our Setlist podcast.