A graphic illustration of music industry madness

13 Aug 2010

Earlier this week, Pure unveiled a new music download service, letting anyone with a Flow-branded radio buy music directly from the device.

Alongside systems such as Spotify and Last.FM, FlowMusic is hoping to encourage listeners to keep it legal by making it as easy as possible to buy tracks – which I’d say is the right tactic to discouraging music piracy. Make it easy, keep it cheap.

However, there's one area constantly throwing a wrench in the works: sorting out the rights.

At the FlowMusic launch, Pure’s CEO Hossein Yassaie shared a slide showing the complicated mess his company had to decipher when it came to paying out royalties to the various parties involved. He said this one slide took three hours to be explained to him. (Click image to enlarge.)

“I didn’t believe it at first… being an intellectual property company we understand licensing,” he said. “But I have to say I have never seen anything as complicated at this.”

And if that doesn’t make your eyes bleed and your mind start to leak, it’s worth noting that’s the dumbed-down, simplified version. As Yassaie said: “There were times along the way I almost gave up.”

Despite clearly trying -- and getting PRS for Music onside -- Pure couldn't sort out all of the rights issues before launch, with debate remaining over who gets paid for streaming songs. Director of connected services Pete Downton said: "This is new ground in the industry... we're trying to find a model that works for everyone. If we wait for the copyright legislation written in 1709 to be amended to reflect the reality of technology today, we'll be waiting a long time to launch these services, but we start from a fundamental position that we respect copyright."

And there's the problem. Even if a company can figure out the tech side and come up with an appealing commercial idea, sorting out the licensing can knock the whole thing down. Ever notice how songs in your Spotify playlists quietly get greyed out and won’t play? That’s over rights issues.

The musicians, songwriters, and yes, even marketeers in the music industry deserve to get paid for their work. But somehow rights need to be simplified or the industry risks causing those music companies trying to encourage legal downloads – such as Pure – to give up and leave music distribution to the pirates.

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