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Online music to get ID tags
15:16 Monday 10th February 2003
Source: Reuters

As music is increasingly sold online in the form of downloads, a new scheme aims to track sales so that it's possible to know how much musicians are owed in royalies

A music industry trade body has launched electronic identity tags to keep tabs on Internet music sales in a bid to compensate musicians and songwriters as more of their works become available online.

The Global Release Indentifier, or GRid, is a code akin to the Universal Product Code (UPC) bar code found on a CD or cassette tape in stores.

The aim is to track each time a record label, online retailer or distributor such as Microsoft's MSN or Italian Internet service provider Tiscali sells a song in the form of a Web stream or download.

Such tracking initiatives are considered vital to an industry that is reeling from lost sales compounded by a slumping global economy and the growth in online music piracy.

With the GRid initiative, resellers would be charged an annual fee of 150, for which they can issue an identity tag to millions of songs sold online.

Each track will be distributed with an individual GRid serial number. Like a bar code, it will be reported back to rights societies and collection agencies so that artists can be compensated for sales.

The International Federation of Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) have been developing the standard for the past two years.

"If this is done properly, the artists and authors of music will be paid adequately for the sale of their works online," said Paul Jessop, chief technology officer of the IFPI.

He added the GRid initiative is a voluntary system, and that the fee would, initially at least, be covered by the resellers.

Jessop cautioned that GRid is not designed, nor is it intended for, keeping track of songs that wind up on online file-sharing networks, a major source of music piracy.

The music industry blames the popularity of such networks, including Kazaa and Grokster, where millions of consumers swap songs for free, for the decline in recorded music sales.

On Monday, the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) reported a 3.7 percent decline in recorded music sales in the fourth quarter of 2002, traditionally the strongest selling period.

In an effort to provide consumers an alternative to illicit file-trading sites, the major record labels, including Sony Music, Warner Music, Universal Music, EMI and Bertelsmann, have begun selling more of their music online.

But music officials have complained that sales-tracking systems in place at the moment need to be standardised so that online sales, though small at the moment, can be better recorded.

"It's our ambition to evangelise this to the independent music labels and the new generation of online music distributors," Jessop said. "I would expect they'll be part of the second wave of adoptees."

"At first sight, this looks like a really good thing," said Gavin Robertson, general manager of MusicIndie.com, research and development and licensing arm of the Association of Independent Music, a trade body representing 700 independent music labels.

"The industry is really in need of interoperable identification tags and this technology appears to really fill a gap," he said, adding that the independent labels group would consider adopting the GRid technology.

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