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How data can save the music industry

By Charlotta Hedman

In the 80s Nic Garnett was working as a copyright lawyer in Asia, trying to keep bootleg cassettes off the shelves. It was a mission that proved difficult if the shelves then stayed empty, after the pirated products had been removed.

– We had to make sure that affordable, legitimate products replaced those we removed. Otherwise the bootlegs would be back on the shelves almost straight away.

Today it is more difficult to distinguish a pirated product from a legitimate one. There is a lot less about an mp3-file that screams piracy than there is about a physical product with a photocopied cover. But Garnett believes there are tools for fighting piracy in a post-Napster world – one of them is metadata. Garnett doesn’t believe this will eradicate piracy, but he does believe that copyright is as valuable and necessary as it was when it was first invented, arguably even more so.

– The creative industries haven’t managed to completely figure out a way to make copyright work in a new environment.

Garnett explains that copyright provides the framework to extract economic value out of the creative process. However the laws protecting copyrights aren’t working at the moment, the same regulation that worked in the 20th century isn’t working in the 21st century.

Back when copyright was still working there was a scarcity of physical products. Today it is near impossible to stop music or movies from being shared. This is why, Garnett explains, value is shifting from the ability to exercise control over copyright to having information and data about how the work is being used. According to Garnett metadata holds one of the keys to getting back to legitimate markets. Rights-holders can develop, own and deploy metadata and with the help of this information extract economic value. The problem is the creative industries aren’t necessarily doing enough yet to work together and get on the data bandwagon, instead a lot of metadata systems are being developed by third parties. Something that according to Garnett means the music industry is potentially missing out on financial gain.

There are several companies analysing and refining data for the music industry, like Gracenote and Decibel. However the real data giants are companies like Facebook and Google.

– From a technical point of view, if Google decided to run copyright for the world, they could easily do it with their information processing capability, explains Garnett.

This would mean coding up music and movies and providing an information management service. Google already tried to do a similar things with books, which lead to expensive and lengthy lawsuits between the associations like the Authors Guild of America and Google.

Google started digitising books in 2004, but authors became worried when users could view snippets of copyrighted books for free. Google were asked to pay a hundred million dollar settlement to rights-holders in 2008, but that didn’t stop the case from being in and out of the courts in the States, Europe and China. In the most recent development in the case a federal judge in the US rejected the earlier settlement saying

“while the digitization of books and the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many, the ASA [Amended Settlement Agreement] would simply go too far. It would permit this class action — which was brought against defendant Google Inc. to challenge its scanning of books and display of ‘snippets’ for on-line searching — to implement a forward-looking business arrangement that would grant Google significant rights to exploit entire books, without permission of the copyright owners”.

This ruling in effect means that Google wont be able to sell copyrighted works through Google Books. Although according to Garnett, this is probably not a huge blow to the company.

– They are more interested in the content and the information.
– If Google decided to create a global copyright database it would mean a private American corporation has all that information, that sort of power has not been seen before.

The solution, according to Garnett, is for the creative industries to preempt this and create their own “global music grid”.

– It is important to coordinate data and push the system into global markets. The communications industry have managed to do this successfully. It is possible to phone a friend in India, because the mobile network is standardised. There is no reason why we can’t do the same for data.

Third parties like Google, Facebook or companies like Gracenote and Decibel could then fit into the system.

– It’s a better basis to protect music and for working with value-add partners. Meta-data will help create new services that people will want to pay for, just like we needed to get legitimate products back on the shelves in Asia, says Garnett.

Nic Garnett is a solicitor who is consulting with WIPO among others. He has worked with copyright for over 30 years. He will be speaking at the Music 4.5 data event on the 18th of April.