If you missed part one, “Jim Griffin: Music Moves Rear Ends, Heads and Hearts,” CLICK HERE.
In this 2nd and final installment of NEKST’s Jim Griffin visit, the industry advocate continues his theme of being an, “agent for constructive change.” Just ahead, Griffin offers several recommendations to increase revenues for the creative community as he calls for anti-trust law changes and the creation of a comprehensive copyright database.
Griffin closed our interview humbly saying, “I don’t want my words to end the debate, I want them to start it.” Presenting the bold ideas spread across the two parts of this interview Griffin is sure to get his wish.
NEKST: If NEKST offered you a music industry magic wand, what changes would you make?
Jim Griffin: A few things which come to mind. First I’d let music loose from the anti-trust shackles and consent decrees that keep everyone from working together smoothly. It’s ironic that we learn to share and work together in kindergarten and yet the music industry isn’t allowed to do that. President John Kennedy signed the Sports Marketing Act of 1961 that allowed teams to market together in ways that otherwise would have violated anti-trust laws. It freed up baseball, football, basketball and hockey from some of the constraints that hindered group marketing. Today sports teams work hard to get on basic-tier cable because then they get paid even by people that don’t watch the games. We can only imagine sports in the same predicament as music with the referees, the players and the owners at each others throats over how to market, sell and price each activity. Instead, what we see today is a finely-tooled machine that works together. Sports owners in the NFL, Major league baseball and the NBA pool their revenue and then share the proceeds which incentivizes teams to work together. This same approach could create a strong future for music. Making it faster, easier and simpler to pay for music, media and art is good for the economy.
NEKST: Would you use your magic wand to improve record keeping?
Jim Griffin: A predicate for a sustainable economy in art, music and media is a clear public record of those works and the associated claims. We’ve got to know who to call if we expect people to get licenses and where to send the check. Overall our databases are in terrible shape. Those that exist are not public nor are they comprehensive or authenticated. And yet we do have three very good globally unique identifier codes. They are the ISRC for sound recording; ISWC for the song; and ISNI for name identifiers. You might wish to obtain a license to use a song, a sound recording or both. To facilitate that process we need to be able to cross reference or data match between ISRC and ISWC, but that does not exist so even when we know what sound recording was used, there’s no automatic lookup of who should be paid for the use of the song. Therefore, it often goes unreported and unpaid. It is inexcusable that we do not have a publicly assessable cross reference between sound recordings and songs that references the unique codes that represent each of them. Even forgetting the money for a moment, the history of art and culture demands that we record and enumerate far more information about these cultural treasures than we do currently. I would like to see a proper public registry eventually include the instruments that were used and the people involved—even behind the scenes—along with those making claims to involvement with creative works.
NEKST: Would that help streaming services?
Jim Griffin: When Pandora, for example, uses a song they need to be able to report that use unambiguously using a unique number, just like you do everyday with your American Express card or brokerage account. If we are to bring a fiduciary duty to the proceeds of art, music and media we need global identifiers. But music use is still reported semantically using artist, song title, album title, etc. so it is no surprise that these terms often fail a match. And when the match fails the money falls into a black box of unattributed income. Our goal should be to see the black box contents dwindle to zero. Music copyright money is meant to incentivize creation and if it does not get back to the creators then it’s anti-copyright.
Our goal should be to see the black box contents dwindle to zero.
NEKST: Does anything like this database exist in other industries?
Jim Griffin: Absolutely. There is a pubic registry of Domain Names. Anyone can make them available and register them, so the price is quite low and the registration happens instantly. Other assets like cars and houses are all recorded and referred to with great specificity. But today’s copyright office demands $55 and you must wait 13 months for a result. It is a tax both in time and money on the very act of registration and even then the registration does not include the names of the performers to be paid by Sound Exchange. It also does not include the song if it is a sound recording, or any unique unambiguous numbers and finally it fails to record the history of our culture. Nashville and the rest of our industry should be upset.
We absolutely should apply fiduciary care to music proceeds
NEKST: The technology to create this database doesn’t seem complicated?
Jim Griffin: It is so easy in 2015 I’m shocked it doesn’t exist. Why doesn’t it? Because some participants in today’s music royalty game benefit from lost funds because they divide the black box money according to their market share. In other industries lost money gets turned over to the state. It is called escheatment. If a bank loses track of the person to whom money is owed the funds are sent to the state’s Attorney General. If a gift certificate goes unused the money is not kept by the proprietor, they forward that money to the State Attorney general. They do that because as a society we have determined that those who lose money should not benefit from the loss of the money lest they gain an incentive to lose it. And yet those who lose the money of artists, songwriters and sound recording participants get to keep it. So even if we want to think of songs and recordings as property, we never apply a fiduciary care to the division of the royalties. We absolutely should apply fiduciary care to music proceeds because for so many it really is their life blood, the money they need to live.