Copyright in US is by far the most byzantine and difficult for technology companies to navigate when trying to bring a new digital music product to market. The licensing process and costs have stifled innovation. That might be changing.
The US Justice Department was petitioned by ASCAP and BMI for changes to the regulatory agreements that govern their performance licenses. The DOJ recently advised them they are denying their request and with an additional kick to the balls, added the requirement of a 100% licensing policy. This means that any single songwriter, even if he or she is only one of 10 credited writers, can license the entire work.
Current hits often are collaborations with many artists credited. The digital age has ushered in a level of collaboration on music creation unlike anything we have ever seen. The ability for any one artist to license the work creates the potential for digital platforms to negotiate with the rights holders for the best rate. This could erode royalties.
But it also makes it easier to license works. Currently one of the biggest issues in music licensing is the lack of a trackable publishing database. As rights are bought, sold, bartered and traded, keeping track of who owns what makes this really hard. Having to only seek one owner to license the rights will open up the market, but at what cost to artist incomes.
“Congress is clear in the Copyright Act that each individual co-writer is authorized to license the whole,” said Gregory Barnes, the general counsel of the Digital Media Association, a trade group that includes tech giants like Pandora, Amazon and Google. “Congress created that rule to promote efficiency.”
The NY Times had a good writeup you can read here.