New Kids on the Blockchain

Three of the largest music collection societies in the world, ASCAP, SACEM and the PRSforMusic have announced a partnership to prototype a new shared system of managing music copyright information using blockchain technology.

What is blockchain? It’s a digital ledger of transactions, contracts, identity management, music codes – basically any kind of data that needs to be recorded and verified as having happened. However, a blockchain isn’t just stored in one place – it’s distributed (not copied) across thousands of computers all over the world. It was devised in 2008 by the mysterious person(s) known as Satoshi Nakatomo and it forms the basis of how Bitcoin works.

Digital records are bound together in blocks then bound together in code and chronological order into a chain using algorithms. The encryption process is known as hashing and is carried out by hundreds or thousands of computers. If they all agree on the answer, then each block receives a unique digital signature. Once it is updated, it cannot be altered, it can only be added to, and it is updated for everyone in the network at the same time.

The societies are hoping to manage the links between music work and recording codes (ISRCs and ISWCs), which will, in theory, speed up licensing and reduce errors and costs. The problem of managing music industry metadata has grown enormously due to decentralised rights distribution and the rise of online and digital channels. Blockchain technology therefore has the potential to offer a solution and unlock value for authors and performers.