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EMI takes digital rights back from ASCAP

By | Published on Wednesday 4 May 2011

EMI Music Publishing

EMI Music Publishing has taken the administration of the digital performing rights in its April Music catalogue away from US collecting society ASCAP and will now license the 200,000 songs in it to digital services directly. The so called ‘performing’ rights in the April Music songs will now be managed, and licensed out, by the same people within EMI who already handle ‘mechanical’ and ‘sync’ rights with relation to those tunes.

EMI says that by bringing the management of performing rights into the same unit as mechanical and sync rights it is simplifying the licensing process for digital service providers. Though said providers are unlikely to concur.

As there is no obligation for music rights owners to licence digital services, there is no obligation for them to do so through a collecting society either. As a result, the major record companies have, in the main, chosen to directly license digital services rather than using their collecting societies, what would be PPL in the UK. This means every digital service must do a separate licensing deal with all four majors, plus a deal with Merlin for the big indies and various aggregators for the smaller independents.

With regards publishing rights, most of the publishers have decided in many cases – especially with regards performing rights (ie what streaming services need) – to license digital services through their collecting societies, so PRS in this country, and ASCAP and BMI in the US. This means Spotify et al only need to get one licence, from the collecting society, rather than doing deals with every individual publisher.

If EMI’s move in the US sets a precedent, and more publishers choose to licence all kinds of digital services directly, then the list of licences any one digital service requires will double in size. Given bosses at digital providers reckon there are already far too many different licenses required for their services, I don’t see them welcoming this development. EMI wouldn’t comment on whether it would apply the same policy to its other American publishing catalogues, or catalogues in other territories.

Digital licensing remains a hot topic within the music business, with some of the opinion that the future is all digital rights being licensing through collecting societies – so that digital service providers can license themselves in the same was radio stations do – ie via collecting societies (the music business is, in the main, obliged by copyright law to licence radio collectively). Others do not concur, and this debate will be had at The Great Escape next week with both viewpoints represented.

In the meantime, EMI big cheese man Roger Faxon stuck with the line that taking performing rights away from collecting societies simplified the licensing process. He told reporters: “The digital world demands a new way of licensing rights in musical compositions. Today we are embarking on that new way. We are reunifying the rights in many of the songs that we represent. By bringing these rights back together our aim is to reduce the burden of licensing, to create greater efficiency and importantly to reduce the barriers to the development of innovative new services. That absolutely has to be in the interest of everybody involved in the process – songwriters, licensees and consumers alike”.