Business

CISAC Completes Upgrade of Music Coding System

Björn Ulvaeus
Hutton Supancic/Getty Images for SXSW

Björn Ulvaeus speaks onstage at Featured Session: Creator Credits: Providing the Missing Links during the 2019 SXSW Conference and Festivals at Hilton Austin on March 14, 2019 in Austin, Texas. 

CISAC, the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers, has centralized the assignment and administration of International Standard Musical Work Codes (ISWC).

Previously, those codes, which already have been assigned to 52 million song compositions, had been handled by a network of 54 registration agencies in 79 countries.

The ISWC administration switchover began in July with over 100 collection management organizations now participating in the new system, according to CISAC which commissioned Spanish Point Technologies to develop the new registration scheme. The rest of the publishing community and digital music platforms are expected to roll over to the new ISWC system shortly.

“The upgrade of the ISWC could not come at a more timely moment for songwriters and composers, who are now depending more than ever on digital income for their livelihoods,” CISAC president Björn Ulvaeus said in a statement. “ISWC is one of the most important identifiers in the music industry and I'm delighted that the upgrade is now completed and is being implemented across the sector. It will track music works better and faster and help put more money more quickly into creators’ pockets. The key now is to make sure the system really does go global – it needs to be universally applied to bring the potential rewards it offers to all players”.

According to the CISAC announcement, the new system dramatically reduces the time it takes to assign ISWCs, which in effect translates to within hours of a work’s release. That means that songs streamed on digital services can more easily be monetized. Moreover, the new system enhances song tracking automation, which will save societies time and resources that in turn should increase remuneration back to creators, according to CISAC.

Music publishing royalties from digital licensing rose 27 per cent to €2.1 billion in 2019, according to CISAC, and now accounts for about 22 per cent of all music publishing collections. The digital income stream becomes more crucial to songwriters now that performance revenue from bars, concert halls, restaurants, hotels, and stores have shrunk dramatically due to the pandemic.

"At a time when creators need digital revenues more than ever before, we are launching a major upgrade to the ISWC system, which will lead to massive improvements in the way music works are identified and licensed," CISAC director-general Gadi Oron said in a statement. “The new system will save time and costs for all parties and most importantly, will help deliver more royalties to creators. We are now working closely with our partners across the music sectors to make sure the upgraded system is used universally across the digital music market.”

ISWC is not to be confused with the ISRCs, or International Standard Recording Codes, which are assigned to recorded song masters. In fact, matching ISWCs to ISRCs is integral to ensuring songwriters get paid when their songs are played and matched to recordings. The whole music industry eco-system, with trillions of micro transactions each year is dependent on all of these codes working in conjunction with other codes like CISAC’s IPI or Interested Party Information for songwriters.

CISAC began developing the ISWC coding system in the mid-1990’s, by creating an industry working group, under the guidance of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO),  an international standard-setting body that helps all types of industries, and is composed of representatives from various national standards organizations, according to its website. The first music title to receive an ISWC code was Abba’s “Dancing Queen,” in about 1999, CISAC’s director of business Sylvain Piat tells Billboard in an interview.

The other big benefit that ISWC centralization provides is helping to avoid duplications and inaccuracies that sometimes find its way into the marketplace. For example, if a song was written by multiple authors from different countries who belong to different collection management organizations, sometimes a work would inadvertently be assigned more than one code. According to CISAC, the new system will end the current practice of having ISWC codes allocated by individual societies, “a practice that leads to many data integrity challenges,” according to CISAC, which operates as a trade group for 232 member societies in 121 countries around the globe.

Previously, if a song had two authors and one is in Singapore and the other is in the U.K. and each is a member of their respective country’s society, sometimes the same song would be entered twice and the system wouldn’t catch it immediately because the title or the songwriter’s names might have been spelled differently in each data entry.

Now, the new system can immediately flag similar data, stop the second society from entering it and flag it back to them so that the data can be immediately cleaned up and duplication is avoided, Oron tells Billboard in a phone interview. "Before hand, when the ISWC’s were being assigned at the societies level, we couldn’t stop these type of problems but now we have many tools to stop duplications."

“A dynamic global music industry needs, more than ever before, to be constantly monitoring, adapting and improving the tools we have to secure speedy and accurate remuneration for creators and music players around the world,” the Brazilian Union of Composers CEO and CISAC board chair Marcelo Castello Branco said in a statement provided to Billboard by CISAC. “It was imperative for CISAC to formalize an upgraded ISWC that soundly responds to the growing and unstoppable music streaming challenges we face today."

In Germany, GEMA CEO Harald Heker lauded the launch of the new ISWC management system saying, according to the CISAC press release, "The ISWC is a key standard for international data and payment exchange. To fulfill its important role, the ISWC requires a future-proof management system supporting the accuracy of data."

The societies embracing the new system are all over the globe. For instance, in Korea, KOMCA’s secretary general Giseob You noted his organization immediately began assigning ISWCs with the new system for KOMCA works, following its launch in July 2020. He cited its "new ability to accept and process non-roman characters as well as to allow central and real-time assignment has provided enhanced accuracy and speed in work. I believe the new system will certainly contribute greatly to KOMCA's collection and distribution."

Likewise, digital services also chimed in applauding the move. “We applaud CISAC’s much-needed and long-awaited modernization of ISWC,” Spotify senior director of licensing Victoria Campoamor said in a statement, also provided by CISAC with its announcement. "We hope to see dissemination of this very important work identifier across the whole ecosystem, including labels and licensees, so that royalties can reach songwriters in a faster, more efficient and more accurate way."

Music publishers are also coming to the party. "The new ISWC system will lead to significantly faster creation of codes and increased sharing of codes between the different stakeholders," Sony/ATV Music publishing senior director of global administration Alex Batterbee said in a statement. “That is good for creators and good for the whole digital market."

Finally, Spanish Point CEO Donal Culen added in a statement supplied by CISAC to Billboard, “We are proud that CISAC has chosen Spanish Point and our matching engine software as the foundation of the new ISWC system. Our matching engine uses the latest cloud and AI [artificial intelligence) technology to help creators worldwide get paid quicker and with great accuracy.”