by Olivia Brown, Communications Intern
When Jarrod Bramson of the indie-folk band The Solvents discovered that someone named Aron Lyrd was passing off Solvents songs as his own and selling them on iTunes, CDBaby and Amazon, he was understandably frustrated. As Bramson explained on his website:
“I joined a website called sonicbids.com because I wanted to submit an application to Bumbershoot. I was looking around the site, checking out other services they had to offer. I came across this company that helps artists submit their music to television and movie producers. I was interested so I started looking a little deeper. I noticed that at the bottom of their page, there are comments from artists that have submitted. For some reason or another, I noticed this guy, Aron Lyrd. His profile picture was him in a ninja suit with some nunchucks!
…..he just made me laugh for some reason. I had to check out his music…
…so I click on the featured song “orange ambition” on his E.P.K.(electronic press kit) and… MY SONG CAME ON!!!”
Upon further investigation, Bramson realized this nunchaku-bearing, big-talking musician was an amalgam of no less than five fairly distinct and acclaimed bands; all of the music Lyrd was selling appeared to be other people’s sound recordings with the song titles and artist data changed. Bramson contacted the digital retailers to try to have his appropriated songs removed from Lyrd’s catalog with mixed success. As of this week, CDBaby and iTunes have both yanked the infringing tracks, but they remain available for purchase at Amazon.
In cases like Bramson’s, where it’s tough to be sure if the offending party is really who they say they are, assembling the necessary information to issue a takedown request can be tricky. If data regarding the copyright holders (real or claimed) for a particular song aren’t readily available, the process of proving who owns what can become unnecessarily muddy. For instance, Lyrd was also passing other musicians’ work off as his own — if Bramson or anyone else wanted to tip off those artists and rightsholders, but couldn’t find the ownership info, it could be more difficult to make the case.
The Solvents’ situation, which is far from unique, highlights why accurate ownership information is so important in a dynamic digital environment. One way to solve these issues would be a global music registry (or registries), which would serve as a one-stop shop for information pertaining to the various copyrights held on any given track. Keep in mind that there are two copyrights in music: the composition copyright (think notes on paper; this usually belongs to publishers and songwriters) and the sound copyright (music captured on tape or hard drive; this is typically owned by the label, but sometimes the artist). Ideally, information regarding both composition and sound recording copyrights would be available within searchable, global informational databases.
Such databases do exist, but not in any comprehensive, easily-searchable form. Certain entities manage a lot of data on their own. On the songwriting/publishing side, there are performance rights organizations like ASCAP, SESAC and BMI, as well as the Harry Fox Agency. On the sound copyright side, there’s all the proprietary data held by the labels, as well as information managed by SoundExchange — the nonprofit that collects and distributes public performance monies for digital plays. Private companies like Google have large, functional databases such as YouTube’s Content ID, but that’s less of a publicly-searchable system than it is a means to verify and authorize uses on behalf or rightsholders. Lastly, there’s the good old Copyright Office, which is in the midst of a daunting task of digitizing their records (which obviously include a lot more than just musical works).
Streamlining all this information would serve several worthy purposes. First, artists who have had their music appropriated without permission by people like Aron Lyrd would likely have an easier time getting these unauthorized uses removed from digital outlets. People who want to lawfully use a piece of music could more quickly determine whom they need to go to in order to obtain the needed licenses. Ideally, the database would also be user-friendly enough to help people who are genuinely uninformed about copyright and licensing — and who might otherwise inadvertently infringe on others’ work — better understand the conditions under which they might use a composition that they do not own. Most importantly, there is the hope that better information sets would inspire more more efficient licensing, and therefore more rightsholders and artists could get paid for more lawful uses.
There are some international efforts in the vein of a global music registry that are gaining traction — namely WIPO’s International Music Registry and the Europe-based Global Repertoire Database and Societies’ Council for the Collective Management of Performers’ Rights (SCAPR). The concept is out there (and has been for a while), but the fact remains that the implementation of global registries seems to be perpetually 3-5 years off.
As the world’s biggest generator and exporter of music, shouldn’t the American music industry show some leadership here? It seems to us that there’s a real opportunity for the US to innovate in a way that benefits US rightsholders, artists, tech companies, users and the global music community alike.
We have the foundation, there just needs to be the right incentives. Pooling all of the music industry’s copyright information into comprehensive databases seems difficult on the surface, but it is a logical step in untangling the messy world of digital music. Making life easier for rightsholders and artists is important, as is getting more folks paid more often. Then there are the benefits such as system would bring to new music services that might otherwise get bogged down in a mess of figuring out who needs to be compensated and for what.
FMC has been floating the idea of comprehensive authentication databases for years. At this point, it’s high time to look at what systems could help our entire music ecosystem function more efficiently, while reducing the number of Aron Lyrd-type incidents that come up. A functional registry for music would be one such system. Will the US music industry take the initiative?
(Image courtesy of The Solvents)