One of the more basic questions in music is also one of the most vexing: “Who owns the rights to this song?”
Although the digital music industry’s internal plumbing requires an accurate answer, too often the information is not known to everyone or slow to move through the pipes.
Now, Verifi Media, a media rights data management service, is helping answer that question. On Tuesday (Feb. 1), the New York-based startup announced a partnership with four companies that represent various places on music’s value chain. The Verifi Rights Data Alliance marks the beginning of an effort to bring together various entities to create a streamlined system for sharing data on music catalogs. The initial alliance members are Warner Music Group, music streaming service Deezer, music distributor FUGA, and Unison, a Spanish copyright management system.
Verifi Media’s portal is a “dynamic data engine,” says CEO and co-founder Ken Umezaki, a mechanism to share data across parties and manage changes to the data. To do this, Verifi Media aggregates historically disparate data sets — recording data, artist data, musical works data — and effectively translates and stitches together different parties’ data. The result is a composite data layer that’s a complete repository with input from multiple parties that has been vetted through Verifi’s data services. This process creates what Umezaki calls “the best truth” that is comprehensive across recordings, compositions and participating companies.
There have been failed attempts over the years to create a comprehensive, public and global database of music rights information, whether the Global Repertoire Database or the International Music Registry. Verifi Composite isn’t such an effort, says Umezaki. Instead, members of the Verifi Rights Data Alliance retain ownership of its data and choose the data it wishes to share with others. That gives record labels, publishers, performing rights organizations and distributors the ability to keep their proprietary databases while collaborating to ensure other parties have the latest accurate information.
For alliance members, collaborative data allows publishers to know which recordings are associated with a particular composition, which in turn allows streaming services to pay royalties accurately and transparently to songwriters and publishers.
“Those are the kinds of things we are trying to build with real people, with real data, and solving real, tangible problems that each of our clients face,” says Umezaki. “It can take between 12 and 18 months for the music world to have a full understanding of who owns what rights after a catalog acquisition.”
Also, cleaner data can lead to a reduction in so-called “black-box money,” the unallocated royalties that collection societies eventually distribute to rights holders based on market share.
Data accuracy could also help unlock value by facilitating new uses of music. “There are more opportunities to license music than ever before whether it’s gaming, the metaverse or NFTs, as well as the traditional stuff that comes across the [user-generated content] platforms,” says Umekazi. That kind of “single-use licensing, sort of discrete licenses for specific uses,” he says, is impossible in a digitally distributed world if parties aren’t certain who owns what rights.