C’MOn C’MOn – Music Publishing

January 2016

Music publishing



Ahh, music publishing. While the Collective Rights Management Directive technical review by the UK IPO is still underway (coverage of the Directive on the 1709 blog here), discussions on music publishing are lively.  Today a group of researchers, industry and policy makers gathered at Birkbeck workshop to debate recent research on music publishing.
We started with a trip down memory lane with Fiona Macmillan and Jose Bellido presenting on the history of Collective Management Organisations (CMOs). Granted by access by PRS for Music to the PRS legal archives, the researchers detail the evolution of PRS from the early 1900s. As is often the case, starting a CMO ain’t easy, and the early days of PRS required negotiation with other organisations (including a boycott in 1918 by the Amalgamated Musicians’ Union) and recruitment struggles. PRS’s early litigation was very strategic, typically successful and ran about one case per year from the early 1920s to the early 1940s. (These cases likely represent only about 10% of disputes, with the rest settling out of court.)

Interestingly, the young PRS was very protective of its reputation, and took pains to set the record straight in the reporting of the cases and brought actions for libel. While PRS was a bit late to the CMO game, they were innovative in their data management in the UK. The researchers argued that while CMOs, and PRS, altered the idea of the music industry itself (defining both the concept of the industry, and intangible rights), many of the challenges associated with managing intangible assets persist.

In case you missed that detail above, PRS granted the researchers access to the archives. Something that PRS should be commended for, and something that the research (and possibly policy) community would like to see more of.

Again looking at collective licensing, Dennis Collopy then described the strange relationship between creators and publishers. Content owners are in a battle over copyright in the US, and may be losing. There appears to be a covert attempt by technology companies to take publishers out of the music licensing system. Collopy argued that the value chain is under unprecedented pressure to change. Another interesting point – Europe makes up nearly 60% of collective licensing income, whereas the US is only 22.2% (figures from Collopy, available here.)


Curious international differences mean that CMO administrative costs (the deductions made on licensing fees before they are distributed to creators) vary tremendously across the EU. Some CMO administrative cost figures (paraphrased from Collopy):


  • UK: PRS For Music, 11% generally
  • USA: ASCAP, 11% generally
  • Germany: 20% + cultural deductions 10%
  • France: 22% + cultural deductions 10%
  • Italy: SIAE, 18.7% + cultural deductions 10%
  • Belgium: ~35% deductions including cultural


Transparency remains an issue. Artists can audit their publisher’s books but not their collecting society. A recent report on transparency in the digital music business suggests calls for more transparency are gathering speed. Another problem, and one that Pete Jenner regularly discusses, is that, while music registries are incredibly important (they match songs to the correct owners), a high number of songs are mis-registered (one in six according to Collopy). This high error rate may result in royalties not reaching their intended recipient (a problem that could be solved by good metadata.)


Could the 1% break free?  As technology companies consolidate the distribution of music, it may be more efficient for the top artists to have their own societies. The long tail has been repeatedly rejected as a myth, or even, should be renamed the ‘long tale.’ Kobalt, the indie music publisher popped up again (discussed here).


It will be interesting how this research translates into reality.  With codes of conduct discussions ongoing, changes in the market and business models for CMOs, what will happen next?


Your Katonomist got her claws out and asked the workshop, “why should we care?” A lot of discussions in music, and indeed any creative and cultural industries, are emotive.  The disruption to the music industry is largely the reduction of transaction costs and changes in bargaining power — market forces which no sector escapes.  Why is music different? I suspect the answer is that it isn’t. However, what is different is that the cultural importance of the music sector makes it ripe for special pleading and passionate arguments. Hence alarmist reactions and huge political power. Yet, I’m equally passionate about IP, so perhaps I’m just calling the kattle black…
Posted By Nicola Searle to The IPKat on 12/09/2015 http://ipkitten.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/cmon-cmon-music-publishing.html

No Comments

Comments are closed.