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PRS confirms Global Repertoire Database “cannot” move forward, pledges to find “alternative ways”

By | Published on Thursday 10 July 2014

Global Repertoire Database

UK collecting society PRS For Music confirmed this morning that the grand Global Repertoire Database project has run aground, though said that it remained “committed to the principles of a single point of works registration” and hoped lessons learned from the GRD could be employed in future song ownership data ventures.

The GRD was the most recent bid by the music publishing sector to create a central database that documents the owners, beneficiaries and administrators of lyrical and musical copyrights, enabling licensees to more easily identify who controls any songs or musical works they wish to make use of, and facilitating the more efficient distribution of royalties to the corporations and/or individuals who are due payment.

With no statutory obligation to register copyright works in most territories, accessing that information is often tricky, and while the collecting societies – which collect and distribute royalties when collective licensing is employed by the publishers – are sitting on a big chunk of that data, no one society has the uber complete database, and much of that information isn’t public domain anyway.

The need for a central database has become ever more pressing in recent years as the number of licensees of music booms, while the per-play royalties paid by some of those licensees are tiny, meaning extra efficient royalty distribution is required.

Meanwhile legislators, even those who have been friendly to labels and publishers asking for new measures to combat online piracy, are regularly calling for a simplified licensing framework in the music business, and a central database of copyright ownership info is essential to achieving that ambition.

The GRD was initially backed by all the big publishers, most of the significant publishing sector collecting societies, and some of the digital players who need access to the data. ICE, the joint venture between PRS For Music and Swedish colleting society STIM, was appointed as a technology provider, Deloitte were handed the business development role, consultations took place, reports were issued, and offices opened.

But rumours have been rife that the GRD venture was in the process of unravelling since earlier this year as the project started to miss its self-set deadlines. Some also noted that as various collecting societies moved into multi-territory licensing in the digital domain – they having generally previously only provided licenses in their home territories in the live, broadcast and public performance space – joint ventures were being formed that had their own central database elements. So that a number of mini-GRDs were now in development in addition to the uber-GRD. Which wasn’t necessarily the best use of resource.

As then late last month word came in that the GRD had collapsed, with sources telling Music Week earlier this week that, after £8 million in investment, the venture had been “scrapped due to a fall-out of collection societies over funding”. And this morning PRS, as one of GRD’s key backers, confirmed the project was no longer moving forward.

The society said in a statement: “We are disappointed the GRD cannot move forward as planned, though we remain committed to the principles of a single point of works registration and reconciliation of ownership shares under broad stakeholder governance. These principles remain key to the efficient processing of multi-territory licences and accurate distribution of royalties across all usages of creative works. We are actively studying alternative ways of achieving these goals, taking full advantage of the learning gained from the GRD project to date”.

Quite what those “alternative ways” might be remains to be seen. Many felt that for the GRD to work pretty much everyone involved in music publishing needed to be involved – which they more or less were – but it seems unlikely anyone is going to whip up enough consensus anytime soon to launch a similarly joined-up approach. Yet if different societies develop competing central databases, will they be willing to share data? Because if not you end up with several central databases none of which are a central database.

One possible alternative, therefore, is to go the opposite route, force the publishers and societies to make their databases public domain, and then let third parties develop the uber-database for song rights, and let the market decide which one best does the job. Some argue that having the societies involved in this venture at all, beyond becoming data providers, is counterproductive, because if and when the publishers start licensing digital services directly, an efficient repertoire database would render the societies redundant in that domain. And with the bigger societies all busy expanding their digital and multi-territory operations, they won’t want that.

Though whatever “alternative ways” PRS and the other collecting societies come up with, the International Confederation Of Music Publishers, which brings together the music publishing sector’s trade bodies worldwide, is hoping to proceed with GRD Lite, based on some of the specifications developed for the main GRD project. The ICMP hopes that if it can get the streamlined database off the ground, it might tempt the collecting societies back into the venture down the line.

Its Chair Andrew Jenkins told Music Week: “Everybody knows that the industry needs a Global Repertoire Database, and that the only efficient way to cost-effectively manage data is with a single, reconciled, authoritative database. Anyone who has seen the results of the Deloitte data assessment during the recent GRD process knows that the time for a GRD is now”.

He goes on: “The GRD certainly didn’t fail because it wasn’t the right thing to do. We have to try to move forward with those who are willing to build a ‘GRD Lite’ – a GRD in small steps if you like – which could develop over time into the Global Repertoire Database we always should have had”.