Who Owns That Song? ASCAP & BMI’s New Joint Database Will Tell You

ASCAP and BMI have finally unveiled a new joint song data platform, reconciling songwriter and publisher information between the performance rights organizations in an easy-to-search way.

With the new comprehensive SONGVIEW database, in songs where each PRO has a share, the listings on each organization’s website will now mirror the other’s.

This marks a critical step towards a comprehensive, centralized database assigning correct ownership to rights holders — something that has become increasingly complicated in the current music industry, as songs tend to have multiple writers often with different publishers and different PROs.

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The PROs put over 20 million songs through the reconciliation process to build the song platform. Now songs that have been processed are marked with a green check, which means their data is consistent at both PROs’ song databases. If a song doesn’t have that mark, that means the teams maintaining the platform for their respective organization are doing further research in order to reconcile the differences.

“This project is all about providing greater transparency for everyone who relies on this copyright data to guide important business decision,” ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews said in a statement. “Drawing upon our 185 years of combined ASCAP and BMI expertise in managing complex and dynamic copyright data, we have built a convenient new digital tool for anyone who licenses music.”

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“When two companies that are fierce competitors come together on a project this ambitious to address a need identified by the marketplace, it says a lot about how important greater data transparency is to both of our organizations,” BMI president and CEO Mike O’Neill added in a statement. “Today’s launch is a good first step in the ongoing evolution of transparent and accessible data, and I am pleased with what we have accomplished so far to meet the evolving needs of the music industry.”

While the combined, reconciled database is now about to see the light of day after three years in the making, “it turned out to be an incredibly amazingly complex thing” to build, O’Neill told Billboard. “When you have two companies combining 185 years of data and then designing a reconciliation system that can take that data, map it and push it back to both websites so that both show the same information, that’s an amazing feat.”

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Of the 20 million works submitted to the SONGVIEW center, “the vast majority have been reconciled, but we still have a low of work to do,” says Allison Smith, BMI executive vp distribution, publisher relations and administration services.

This system “took a village to build,” says ASCAP executive VP and chief strategy and digital officer Nick Lehman. “I have been involved in building a lot of platforms in my career, but this was more challenging because it sits in between two existing platforms. But the work was worth it, ASCAP and BMI executives say, because now they both offer new capabilities heretofore unavailable.

Whereas previously, on either site, one could only find a songwriter’s catalog of songs registered with the PRO, with SONGVIEW users cans see a publisher’s entire catalog. (Although the larger ones may take some time to load, says O’Neill.) If a publisher’s song information is not listed correctly, adds Smith, they should contact the appropriate PRO.

At the bottom of each song, there are also three tabs (ASCAP) or buttons (BMI) that will allow users to see the data through SONGVIEW, with the middle tab or button allowing users to see works in the respective PRO site they are on, including split works; while the final button or tab will show songs that are 100% owned by the PRO site the user is on.

Besides ASCAP and BMI, in the U.S. there are two other mainstream PROs: SESAC and Global Music Rights, which are not a part of the project — although some hope that they may be one day. But as things stand now with SONGVIEW, whenever possible, it will list which other PRO has a share in a song, and if it doesn’t list the PRO, at the very least it will show what what percentages are outstanding and thus owned by other PROs.

Both Lehman and Smith concede their work in updating the SONGVIEW database will never be complete do to the influx of new music that’s created daily, but they also say they are willing to listen to rights holders about ways to improve the platform going forward. SONGVIEW also plans to eventually enter music written for audio-visual programs through the reconciliation center. Up to now, that body of work has been held back due to there being a lot of nuances to how its data is registered, which is typically from cue sheets.

“This release is our first iteration of SONGVIEW,” Matthews said in a statement, “and we are committed to enhancing this new platform as our industry evolves.”

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