Leslie Chong is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.
Deloitte, a global consultancy firm, has recently begun putting together a global copyright database that is aimed at simplifying the current system being used to calculate and distribute royalties in the music industry. Formally referred to as the “Global Repertoire Database” (GRD), it has been supported by industry heavyweights such as EMI Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing, iTunes, Amazon, Nokia, STIM, SACEM and PRS for Music.
The purpose of the GRD will be to cut down on excessive administrative costs (which some estimate as amounting to approximately $135 million annually) that could instead be returned to songwriters and publishers, while also making music more affordable for consumers. Furthermore, the database is aimed at fighting the rampant piracy of music over the Internet. As Francis Gurry, Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), stated in a her opening address at a recent international copyright forum: “The absence of alignment of legal forms and the expectations of actors in the online environment exacerbates the problem of piracy, as expectations can be satisfied more easily through illegal than through legal means. To achieve the needed alignment, a simple, speedy system of global licensing is necessary… A global repertoire database is an idea whose time has come.”
In our current system, a royalty fee is to be paid to each individual who has licensing rights to that song every time a song is purchased or played. Collective agencies will administer this copyright by collecting a fee (which is collected from the user when they purchase or play the song) and redistributing it to the rightful license holder (for example, SOCAN is a collective agency in Canada for the music industry). The purpose of the GRD will be to have an international authority responsible for collecting royalties from each country where a licensed song has been played – a process that aims to simplify the current process by providing a comprehensive listing of all the necessary licensing information (for example, it will include the name of the individual(s) or label who owns the rights to any given song and the appropriate distribution of the royalty fees to be paid).
Currently, in order to use music on various platforms (including through a mobile device, internet and television), a user would be required to pay a different collective agency for each of these platforms. This has resulted in a complex music rights clearing process – a system where users may want to pay royalties but genuinely have no idea who to pay and which has been blamed for hampering the development of new online music services from entering the market. The European Commission has advocated for this unified system since 2008 given the existence of many collective societies in the European Union, and some have suggested that an alliance with WIPO would help extend the database’s reach. Deloitte estimates that it will take up to two years to complete and once finalized it will mark the first database to be used for asserting and managing global ownership and copyright of musical works.