There’s a huge problem facing artists in the age of digital music. Programs for downloading and remixing songs make the process incredibly easy, so DJs and producers are churning out tons of music. Their mashups and remixes are then posted online – and quickly slapped with copyright infringement strikes by services like YouTube and Soundcloud. If you’re a small artist who relies on those websites for distribution, the last thing you want to do is have your account blocked. But at the same time, your remixes and mashups only contain parts of the songs, so the final product is still technically original. Who’s to blame: overzealous artists and labels looking to protect their works, or inspired individuals trying to piggy-back off another’s success? Maybe there’s actually a third culprit: a lack of proper licensing that can ensure both parties share the wealth. That’s where programs like MixBANK come into play.
MixBANK is what’s known as a Rights Management System (RMS), and it’s looking to change the way remixes are licensed. Here’s how it works. An artist or manager will sign up with the service, which will submit their music to an international registry – let’s call this particular song Track X. The artist will indicate how much of Track X they want to open up for usage on which platforms. For example, they could say they want Track X to only get incorporated into remixes on Spotify, but have the original on Apple Music. Then, whenever a remix is uploaded by a different artist to any participating services (Spotify and Apple Music both being partners with MixBANK), that remix automatically gets analyzed by the RMS and licensing rights are assigned according to the contents of the remix. RMSes from across the world are all connected, and that network shares licensing of the remix appropriately. For example, if Remix Y was mostly made up of Track X but also had samples from a Dutch artist, an RMS from the Netherlands called Buma/Stemra would be connected through the network and given partial licensing as well. The final product is the important part: Apple Music can monetize the song, the artist that uploaded Remix Y gets paid, Track X’s creator gets a share, the Dutch artist also gets their cut, and most importantly nobody gets in trouble and the remix isn’t removed.
There are actually huge mashup and remix communities online that could greatly benefit from software like this taking off. Most of these artists post to Soundcloud and YouTube because of the lack of fees, but the way those websites operate leaves the artist liable. They’re what’re called ‘safe harbour‘ sites – a legal term created in the infancy of the Internet that protects sharing websites from being held accountable for what their users share. Look at it this way: YouTube is important for the spread of free information online, so having to constantly battle court cases that threaten their operation wouldn’t make sense if the content in question was only a vast minority of what they actually share. So, websites that share that kind of user-generated content are labelled as safe harbours, meaning it’s not entirely on them to police their users. Of course that’s a bit over-simplified – both YouTube and Soundcloud have automatic detection systems to help rights owners ensure their licensing stays intact – but users are crafty and get around it. That craftiness on safe harbour sites reportedly costs the music industry almost one billion dollars in lost revenue, so you could see why Rights Management Systems are appreciated.
Could MixBANK and other RMSes be the way to go? Early adopters like Spotify and Apple Music point in that direction. The way the system works means that listeners are hardly effected, so it doesn’t necessarily seem like a bad solution to the legal grey-area surrounding remixes. And it would also mean that safe harbour sites like Soundcloud wouldn’t need to pull content that users worked hard on because of potential copyright issues. As usual there’s still some wait-and-see to be done, but things are moving in the right direction to allow everybody to legally create remixes as they please. Ye of Thrones, anyone?