Google, Music and Copyrights

Fast on the heels of announcing Google Music, Google has now acquired RightsFlow, a company founded to help artists and labels get paid for the use of copyrighted music. While Google has said it plans to integrate RightsFlow into YouTube, it doesn’t take much of a sleuth job to see how valuable this will be to Google Music too.

At the heart of it, RightsFlow tracks songs and labels.  Their database now includes more than 30 million songs, from nearly 10,000 labels.  RightsFlow technology can then identify when a song’s been played, determine quickly how much is owed for the copyrighted use, and facilitate the transaction working with established digital music services–or when a song is used as the soundtrack to say your grandparents’ wedding anniversary video.

YouTube’s been scrutinized for the unauthorized use of copyrighted material facing several lawsuits since its founding in 2008. Because YouTube doesn’t view videos before they’re posted, they rely on the copyright holders to issue a takedown notice pursuant to the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  RightsFlow can certainly make it easier to facilitate this exchange.

Does that mean fewer fun amateur videos?  Probably not.  The Digital Millennium Copyright Act has been tested in court, and for the random fun vid, most content owners haven’t pursued payment. Google positioned its RightsFlow acquisition as supporting  “more music for you all to enjoy, and more money for the talented people producing the music.”  The money will come from somewhere, so changes are clearly afoot.  However, just as Apple muscled the traditional label model to change by enabling the ability to purchase a song at a time, copyrighting for actual use instead of using a tired blanket licensing approach is sure to better serve musicians and users alike. This change will help make the whole pie bigger, not just the copyright slice.

It is high time technology was brought forth as a superior alternative for determining and preserving the earning rights of authors and performers without squelching the very sharing which builds business for labels and musicians as well. With the power of Google now behind RightsFlow, the days are surely numbered for the tired formulaic guesses as to who is owed what under the blanket licensing plans.  RightsFlow is now poised to shake the foundations of traditional music licensing models in a big Google-sized way.

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