Berklee College of Music joins M.I.T. to fix music rights ownership tangle; music services join in

OMI logo 300wThis year’s music news has been notable for debates and lawsuits about music licensing, rights ownership, and royalty payments. There have been strident calls for change in current digital rights management systems, and class actions focused on unlicensed use of music. The underlying issue is a complex and inscrutable layering of music ownership. Because of the dense and dark music ownership tangle, digital services cannot always identify correct parties for payment when songs are streamed.

Now, the Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship at Berklee College of Music has announced a new plan to address the issue. With the launch of the Open Music Initiative (OMI), BerkleeICE intends to “dramatically simplify the way that music creators and rights owners are identified and compensated.” The institution describes the complex and nefarious challenges of correctly paying for music as “a thorny issue that has challenged the music industry and stifled creator incomes and industry revenues since the dawn of the digital era.”

The actual plan, structure, and technology are unknown. The venture is newsworthy not for specifics, but for a startlingly broad coalition of support from academia, record labels, music services, radio, performing rights organizations, and distribution specialists. A few of the named participants include:

LABELS: Universal Music Group, Sony Music, Warner Music Group, BMG

MUSIC SERVICES: Spotify, YouTube, Pandora, SoundCloud



RIGHTS MANAGEMENT and ADVOCACY: SACEM, HFA, Rumblefish, Future of Music Coalition

Ty Roberts, founder of Gracenote who jumped to UMG as Chief Technology Officer in April, emphasized the need for innovation as the music ecosystem is reinvented by digital listening: “Innovation is critically needed to address the myriad opportunities and challenges facing artists as technological change transforms every aspect of the digital music ecosystem. We are excited about the prospects of collaborating with this diverse and distinguished group of key players to promote development of comprehensive, fair and efficient compensation structures to capture the value generated by music and music-related content, and properly reward the creative talent responsible for it.”

The OMI program will draw on stalwarts of academia to create this open-source system for developing standards of data collection, data reconciliation, and file formats. It will leverage the skills of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, and the effort has researchers and faculty from University College London and other schools involved in the OMI working group.

“We want to use the brainpower, neutrality and convening ability of our collective academic institutions, along with broad industry collaboration, to create a shared digital architecture for the modern music business,” said Panos Panay, co-founder of OMI and Founding Managing Director of BerkleeICE. “We believe an open sourced platform around creative rights can yield an innovation dividend for creators and rights holders alike.”

The Open Music Initiative is actively seeking participation from creators, companies, academic institutions and organizations from across the global music and media industry ecosystem. To learn more about the initiative, how to join, the inaugural event, or the innovation lab, visit the OMI website

Anna Washenko