ASCAP and BMI announced last month that they’re working together to create a “single, comprehensive database” of musical works from their combined repertories. But critics—including a congressman who thinks a government-run database would be better—say without all the performance rights organizations included, it wouldn’t be much of a resource for radio stations and other music users. And that idea now isn’t so far-fetched. ASCAP and BMI’s competitors, SESAC and Global Music Rights, aren’t ruling out joining forces with their rivals.
SESAC has not yet been approached by either ASCAP or BMI to bring its catalog into the database according to a source. But it appears SESAC would be open to the idea. “For such a database to be of value, it would need to include all industry participants,” an insider said.
GMR said it too would be willing to integrate into the ASCAP-BMI database. “GMR is transparent regarding its repertoire and will provide it to anyone seeking a license. In keeping with that, GMR is happy to discuss being part of an industry solution to the perceived database issue,” the company said in a statement.
The revelation by ASCAP and BMI that they’ve joined forces on building a database with IT teams already testing the combined data sets in a cloud platform ahead of a planned phased-in rollout took the industry and Washington by surprise. It came just days after Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) introduced the Transparency in Music Licensing and Ownership Act (H.R. 3350). He accused ASCAP and BMI of “grasping at straws” with the creation of their database which he sees as an end-run around his proposal that would require PROs to provide the information needed for the creation of a database for music and sound recordings to the U.S. Copyright Office. That database would be updated on a real-time searchable basis and be available—for free—to any radio station looking to see whether it holds all the needed rights to play a song. The bill also specifically puts limits on the ability of rights holders to sue an over-the-air radio station that makes a “good faith” effort to secure those rights for copyright infringement.
“If BMI and ASCAP were serious about establishing a music database, not only would they have spoken to my office and other interested members of Congress about their plans, but they would have also included their fellow PROs in the initiative,” Sensenbrenner said.
The Radio Music Licensing Committee expressed similar concerns. RMLC executive director Bill Velez last month called the joint venture by what are typically two rival organizations “encouraging” but the fact that SESAC and GMR wouldn’t be included “greatly limits” any value the ASCAP-BMI database would have as an authoritative tool. “It may be a step in the right direction of transparency, but we’ll have to reserve judgment until we get a chance to actually ‘kick the tires’ of the new initiative,” Velez said.
Knowing which songs require a license from which of the performance rights organizations has long been sought after by the RMLC. Without a reliable database to tap into it has limited radio’s hand in negotiations and forced broadcasters to ink deals rather than face the prospects of not being covered and facing a copyright infringement lawsuit. “If ASCAP and BMI were to add the other PROs, it would become more useful to us,” a radio industry source said.
While SESAC and GMR may be open to joining such a database, the question of whether ASCAP and BMI would entertain such an idea remains. While they’ve indicated they are open to adding other companies, some industry players are skeptical. “It’s about control,” said an insider, who added, “Traditionally they have not been open to working with SESAC.” He predicted this reluctance would likely extend to GMR, saying the upstart music licensing firm would likely gain further credibility if it’s allowed to sit alongside the other veteran players.
ASCAP and BMI have said they’re already analyzing, testing and reconciling the data from each organization and hope to launch the first phase of a database by the fourth quarter of 2018. Any integration of SESAC and GMR’s repertoire would likely come with a demand that they help cover some of the costs of building the platform. Negotiating such financial terms would likely further delay the other two firms from joining the database according to industry players.
Meanwhile, Billboard reports that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the National Music Publishers’ Association are also working on a separate database of their own which reportedly does not include tracks in ASCAP and BMI’s combined 20 million song repertoire. That effort formed in the wake of the attempt by the PROs to create what known as the Global Repertoire Database three years ago amid in-fighting among the various entities.