The Relative Incompetence of the Music Industry

Perhaps in the days of paper forms and typing pools it was excusable that the music industry shied away from line by line accounting in favour of statistical sampling and pro rata share outs of royalty pools. An additional copyright in those days meant a collective investment in administration that could be disproportionate. Now however the source of the largest imposition of cost is maladministration by copyright owners, leading to disputes and disambiguation. Yet it is still common for businesses and societies or other collective organisations to cry about burdensome complexity as they plead an increasingly feeble case against complete transparency in copyright administration.

Here’s Nic Garnett, in a report to WIPO about proposals for an International Music Registry:

To a degree a key question in rights management has changed. Before, RMOs needed to ask: “Is this data worth collecting and processing?”. In the digital environment the question can become: “Is there a legitimate reason for not processing all the relevant data?”

(RMOs are Rights Management Organisations)

This would have been a farsighted question to have asked in 1995, and right on the money for industry leaders to be asking in 2000. The fact that Nic, a highly experienced and knowledgeable copyright lawyer and consultant, is asking it in 2012 is strong evidence for the miserable failure of the music industry to make itself fit for business. Nic should know why this is so as he was CEO of IFPI during much of the 1990s, but he’s also enough of a diplomat not to point any fingers.

I can’t fault Nic’s list of music industry failings:

  • The necessary data systems are lacking
  • Music industry priorities are still, to a degree, shaped by out-dated structures designed for out-dated business models
  • There is insufficient interoperability between systems in different sectors of the music industry
  • There is even less interoperability with corresponding data systems outside the music industry’s core functions
  • There is little or no rights management infrastructure in emerging markets and what there is, is incompatible with systems in other markets

At this point the average music executive’s eyes start wandering, as though they have found themselves locked in a cupboard with a nutter. But imagine if other industries were afflicted with the same lax and stupid attitude to their basic infrastructure. What if car companies couldn’t manage to provide a set of standard wheel sizes to tyre companies? What if shoe lace manufacturers couldn’t or wouldn’t sell b2b to shoe makers or shoe shops, so you had to visit two shops to get a functional pair of shoes? What if a new and fabulous plane required an extra 100m of runway but the manufacturer couldn’t be bothered to tell the airports? Imagine if eBay decided it was far too much trouble to process any transactions under $10, so it would roll them up and divide the pool pro rata?

The music industry as a whole probably looks much like a failed state, such as Somalia, Chad, or Sudan, but thankfully with fewer guns. Reform is proving just as intractable as we move into the second decade of systemic incompetence. Nic’s handwringing at WIPO is a chronicle of failure, not a hopeful sign of reconstruction and recovery.

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