| 17 Jun 2024
20-TEN Year-ender: Achille Forler, MD - Deep Emotions Publishing

* 2010: The hour before the new dawn for the Music business

In the last decade, music has been one of the biggest victims of the new digital economy and society: the more the consumption of music was growing, the less the music industry has been able to monetize it. The record labels blamed it on piracy and sued school kids and housewives while crystal ball gazers told us that the value of music lies no more in owning it but in owning fans. In other words, the music industry should just play and pass the hat around like in the good old days! Then why not replace the cashiers in the shopping malls with cashboxes and let the customers decide the value of what they take away?

From where I stand, it looks to me that, on the international scene, 2010 will be remembered as the year when the music industry finally found the missing pieces that prevented it until now from taking advantage of the digital economy. The key developments internationally are, by order of importance:

Global Repertoire Database (GRD)

For various, very legitimate reasons, music licensing is a complex and time-consuming affair, but out of sync with the Internet age. Despite the massive licensing problems, which services like iTunes and Spotify faced  - that's the reason these services are not available in most countries of the world -, their success of has made it obvious that the alternative to easy global licensing was… piracy and no money.

The idea of having a global database for all musical works was first mooted in 1991 but the project is of a magnitude comparable to nations surrendering their political and economic autonomy in favour of a world government! Therefore, the official launch, a few days ago, of work on the GRD is the best news that has come out of the music industry for decades. Once completed, all users of music will have an open, transparent, easy access to license all the music of the world. Equally important, it will ensure that the right people are getting paid!

Audio-fingerprinting for television broadcast

While air-check technology, such as Shazam, to monitor accurately radio broadcasts has been around for some years, it was not a substantial improvement on the radio logs that the music industry was getting from the radios themselves; at best, it enabled us to check the accuracy of these logs. But the technology was of great importance to advertisers who could monitor the adverts of their competitors and find out their promo plans.

Unlike radio with its clear-cut audio environment – either/or speech/music - television has an extremely polluted audio environment where the background music is covered by multiple audio sources such as speech, screams, special audio effects, natural sounds, etc. In February, TuneSat launched a revolutionary audio fingerprinting technology that can monitor any number of TV channels and match the background music – however high the audio pollution - with millions of musical works in real time! TuneSat monitors performance use of Universal's 2.5 million copyrights across U.S. broadcast television and its reports show the name of the channel, name of the show, name of the episode if any, date & time of broadcast, metadata of musical work used, duration of use (the service can identify any use above 4 seconds) and the actual recording of the use.

TuneSat will have a massive impact on our business. Without going into complexities, suffice it to say that until now the sharing of the annual blanket license fees that broadcasters paid favoured the most successful composers simply because there was no better method available. The absolute accuracy of this service will ensure that henceforth all composers will get remunerated for even the smallest use of their music.

On the other hand, TuneSat definitively shuts the door to music piracy in broadcast programs. Use above 3 seconds of unlicensed music will be detected. As a publisher, I have always been more concerned about corporate piracy, particularly by wealthy television broadcasters who pilfer the repertoire of our composers. The other day, while surfing channels, I paused a minute on a Marathi serial on one of India's premier networks and heard our composer Hans Zimmer's music used in the background, without license of course. Once TuneSat is implemented globally, anything that goes on air that is not original or properly licensed – no matter when it was created - will be caught.

Since the audio fingerprinting technology recognizes the tune, irrespective of the lyrics, a surprising casualty will be films containing plagiarised songs. Recently, a highly popular Abba song from the 80s was marked up in a Bollywood film of that era that was screened on a cable network; after enquiry, we found that it was a Hindi version that had been lifted by a famous, well-respected composer.

On the domestic front, 2010 will probably go down as the most crucial year for the entertainment industry since independence, the year the foundations for the modernization of the industry were laid by Parliament, in the face of vociferous opposition from the old stalwarts of the industry.

The Joint Parliamentary Committee Report

In India, it was the year of the Joint Parliamentary Committee Report on the Copyright Bill 2010 Amendments. Unanimously adopted by members of all political parties, it is a remarkable document that must be read carefully because it is more balanced, consistent and far-sighted than anything PwC-FICCI or anyone else have produced till now; which goes to show that the best way to find new perspectives is to listen to all sides and carefully study the facts. So far, only one aspect of the Report has received public attention because of the bitter spat between feisty lyricists/composers and considerably worked up film producers. Among the recommendations of the Report, the following deserve to be highlighted:

1) By restricting authors-composers' assignment only to a Collective Rights Society, i.e. Indian Performing Right Society (IPRS), Parliament lays the foundation of a single rights clearance window that will benefit both the owners and the users of music by simplifying the process and reducing the cost of licensing. Owners will have a greater bargaining power while users will benefit from a quick, transparent and global licensing authority.

2) By giving control of the IPRS to authors-composers, Parliament paves the way for the full exploitation of publishing and master rights in lieu of the present system of bundled rights resulting in the Boards of IPRS and PPL being controlled by the same owners, a clear case of conflict of interests which has seen the value of authors' rights eroded in favor of producers' rights: in the last 8 years, the income of PPL has grown from 1 crore to over 160 crores while the income from IPRS has grown from 3 crores to 25 crores. How come IPRS has been doing so badly when its Board members are the same as those on PPL? For comparison, PRS in UK collects 4,700 crores.

3) By recommending the reconstitution of the Copyright Board with full-time members being experts and specialists having the understanding of publishing and entertainment industry and also competition law policy..., the Committee has drawn the logical conclusions from the spectacle of owners and users of music battling it out for years in various courts and ending in the debacle of 25th August.

A note must be added on the Copyright Board's ruling of 25 August on music royalties to be paid by radio stations. No doubt, by ruling on music rights... (sic!) in a dispute between radio broadcasters and PPL, the Copyright Board that has turned a searchlight on its own ignorance of the dual nature of copyrights, hence the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee. But there is another side to this sorry decision that, if it stands, has reduced the value of music by a couple of hundred crores every year: the impaired ability of record labels to monetize music will affect their capacity to buy film music. Since the film industry is attached to the I&B Ministry, film producers' support to the music industry would have moderated the Ministry's unstinting support to the radio broadcasters; yet we have not seen a single film producer supporting the music industry before the Copyright Board.

Without administrative attachment, unable to garner the support of film producers at a critical time, in open conflict with its own constituencies of authors, composers and performers, the Indian music industry has burnt bridges with just about everyone. Had Parliament not intervened, it would have been stranded like a pyromaniac encircled by the fires he has lit.

Achille Forler is the managing director of India's premier music publishing company, Deep Emotions Publishing, a joint-venture with Universal Music Publishing. These are his private views.