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Universal Music Publishing to publish catalogue data

By | Published on Monday 30 June 2014

Universal Music Publishing

Ah, data, data, data. Universal’s music publishing company has pledged to make its entire songs catalogue accessible via its website, including the facility to export a list of every musical work owned or controlled by the major music publisher. It’s that level of functionality that makes this move stand out; some other publishers do already allow users to browse their catalogues online, but not usually to extract that kind of data.

The lack of a central database that tells licensees which companies control or represent the copyrights in songs and recordings, on even a national let alone global basis, has become more of an issue in recent years, as a result of both the growth of a grassroots sync market, and the rise of the digital music sector, where publishers licence digital platforms directly, rather than licensing the labels which release recordings of their songs (as with CDs).

Although copyright ownership data is an issue for both the record industry and the music publishing sector, most see the problem as being bigger in the latter domain, with publisher information generally harder to access online than label info, plus of course there is a lot more co-ownership of copyrights in the publishing world.

Of course, the ambitious Global Repertoire Database project was meant to be addressing that problem, though some publishers and digital service providers have started to become frustrated with the slow progress in that domain. Meanwhile, pressure continues to rise in the political community (and elsewhere) for music licensing to be simplified, and copyright ownership data is a key part of that process.

In the US the issue has arisen again as part of the debate over whether the publishers should be allowed to withdraw from the collective licensing system in the digital domain, so they can cut direct deals with the likes of Pandora rather than providing licenses via their societies BMI and ASCAP.

Pandora has complained that if the likes of Universal withdraw from the BMI/ASCAP licensing arrangement it creates issues, because it’s hard for the digital service to work out what songs are represented by the major (the distribution of publishing royalties to the right publisher/songwriter having always been the collecting societies’ problem to date).

That puts even more pressure on the company to do a speedy direct deal with the publisher, so that it doesn’t find itself unknowingly streaming songs no longer covered by its BMI/ASCAP licenses. And that, Pandora would likely argue, is another reason the music publishers should be obliged to continue licensing online radio services through their collecting societies. Universal’s data share, therefore, is likely designed to cancel out one of Pandora’s arguments in this dispute.

Confirming that his company would be making its catalogue data available in a very flexible way, initially for US repertoire and eventually on a worldwide basis, Universal Music Publishing Group’s VP Of Operations Michael J Sammis told Billboard: “As the licensing environment changes, we want to be transparent, and responsive to the needs of licensees and users. A comprehensive song repository helps ensure UMPG is positioned to best serve those licensees both now and in the future”.