On the back of declining recorded music sales in the UK, the IFPI has announced a new system for tracking digital distribution of music.
The principle is that any legally distributed track – whether streamed or downloaded – will be tagged, allowing accurate tracking of usage and, in turn, accurate payments for rights holders. The principle is fine, the practice will be less clear cut…
Key to the success of this programme will be interoperability. It has to be accepted by all rights bodies, rights holders, and distribution partners and be supported by all relevant technologies. This is the biggest challenge.
Even if all that is achieved, it is still only the framework for a system. Until Europe’s fragmented online rights landscape is clarified, all a tagging system will be able to achieve is to generate a massive database. Decisions need to be made, on a pan-European level, about just how much each rights holder is paid and when. There is still some way to go before the Ďperformance vs recordedí work debate is fully resolved, but hopefully this initiative will push it back up the agenda.
Perhaps an entirely new approach is needed for understanding copyright in the digital domain. In practice the Internet allows a single recorded work to be any one (or all) of the following (even without considering legality);
a digital master,
a mass broadcast,
a personal use copy,
a rented item.
Europeís digital music market needs a solution in place now to allow itís dwindling stock of distribution partners to operate effectively. In the short term at least it perhaps makes more sense to look at charging distribution partners on a percentage of revenue basis and then using offline collection society meta data to distribute revenues among rights holders.
The debate on what copyright means in the digital domain will roll on and on. Unfortunately Europeís digital music market canít wait for it to reach itís natural conclusion.