The complexities of music licensing and copyright in the digital age were highlighted at a “lunch and learn” event presented by Avenue Bank yesterday (10/2) at the Nashville’s Entrepreneur Center. Panelist/speakers at the event, which EC mentor Joe Galante helped organize, included Clearbox Rights’ John Barker, BMI’s Jody Williams, and entertainment attorney Malcolm Mimms.
Part of the day’s mission was to educate and ostensibly to shed light on problem areas in the music industry for the entrepreneurial crowd. Avenue Bank’s Ron Cox moderated the discussion, noting that he had been hearing an “ongoing, repetitive theme of questions around copyright.”
Barker explained the fundamentals of copyright including creation, protection, length of term, and revenue structure for songwriters with publishers. He further broke down the types of licensing for copyrights and described the differences between copyrights for songs versus sound recordings. When it came to digital music and licensing, the opportunities (and complexities) multiplied.
“The licensing scheme in today’s digital world is so complex, that’s what it looks like.” Barker motioned to a slide with an incredibly dense spiderweb of connections between entities in the digital, publishing, performing rights and creative worlds.
Williams underscored the importance of the performing rights organizations, collecting on behalf of copyright owners and licensing businesses. “If music is being played and money is changing hands, it’s licensable,” said Williams. He also acknowledged BMI payouts from terrestrial radio have been declining due to the economic slump.
However, Williams referred to the digital landscape as the “wild, wild west” and said it had shown an impressive 27% growth for BMI in the last year.
Mimms introduced what he called the “Siamese twins concept,” referring to the different sets of rights guaranteed for sound recordings versus songs. The tension between the two, he said, is a “constant tug of war.”
Also discussed at the gathering were online streaming rates versus iTunes downloads payouts, right of publicity for an artist’s brand, and the accountability issues that plague Pandora and Spotify.