Music Terminology – Unnecessarily Confusing for Licensing?

August 4, 2020

James: In terms of the digital music licensing process, there seems to be disagreement over certain terminology and whether some of these terms should even exist. For example, a publisher I was working with recently told me that “geo-locking” is impossible, and they prefer to call it “geo-targeting”. What are your thoughts on this?

Lynden: I think music terminology like this is indicators for pre-contractual negotiations. So, basically, it’s just a way of sense checking what exactly the scope of use is, and I think it’s up to the individual how they interpret that. So, if I’m doing anything online, I will always assume it’s global. Then I might ask whether the paid media is geo-locked to the UK (meaning that they’ve gone online and it’s global, but the sponsored ads will be limited to a particular territory, i.e. the UK). And these ads are really targeted now. You only have to go on your Instagram to start feeling like someone’s following you around. So that is something that we ask, just to take into account ‘Ok, so we get that it’s online, it’s global, but really the reach is only probably going to be Britain’. That just gives you a sense of scale.

Now, with any negotiation, these are all things that you have to make a decision on. You can’t go back to someone and go ‘oh well, you said this is only gonna be the UK’ when it’s blatantly been promoted in France or Germany if on your final contract it’s a global agreement. That’s down to you to make sure you get the right value for that track and you as a negotiator stick to your guns on whatever point it is that you want to make.

So, I think, if I was going to be specific, I would say that geo-locking should put a wall up and that activity should be within the particular territory. Geo-targeting is literally sort of a meaningless piece of music terminology. It’s just pointing certain content at particular locations but there isn’t a wall, it can spread. But I think anyone entering into an online deal has to accept that once it’s online, it can be recorded, shared, moved beyond borders. In the back of your mind, you have to always be aware of that.

J: Ok, so do you think the rights holder community should work together to establish standard digital music licensing terminology?

L: I think there has been an attempt to do that. Certainly, I’ve tried to do that with the Guild of Music Supervisors and we did involve a bunch of rights holders in that process. But, ultimately, like any contract, there’s never anything standard. You know, I think in the UK there is a sort of unofficial standardisation of terminology because it’s sort of been driven by a handful of majors and then it peppers out to all the other parts of the industry. But as soon as you pick up an American contract it’s like you’re now in another world of hell because those contracts are not easy to read, I don’t think. And you do need a lawyer to read that with you because the language is on another level. I don’t think it’s plain English and I don’t think they make it easy for people.

So I think it would be incredibly difficult to standardise anything, but I think there’s certainly a willingness within rights holders to learn and knowledge-share, and I think maybe geo-locking is not the best example. There’s more technical words like DTO (download to own) or DTR (download to rent) or MPUs and NVODs…there’s loads of language like that, and that’s where we do need to come together because we’re learning on the job and it’s terrifying sometimes, not really understanding what these things mean.

So we’ve got our own glossary and we add to it virtually every month. I think 10 years ago we were talking about pre-rolls and now I haven’t used that word for about 5 or 6 years. It’s more VOD, DTO, DTR, all these acronyms, and they’re all kind of scary. I don’t just work on UK deals, I work internationally and that’s where it starts to get fun because they have all sorts of ways of describing things. So as soon as we learn a new phrase, we just wang it in our glossary and we just hope that gets shared around.

I mean, there probably should be some sort of centralisation but who would own that? I think it should be owned by the rights holders but it’s very difficult for us to set policies and structures because we are in competition. It probably would have to be a partnership with the Guild or some kind of meeting of minds within ad agencies as well. I would suggest that it be advertising community that should be setting the glossaries for the media that they’re using, and then that should be adopted by the music industry and music supervisors because that’s where the language is coming from. I don’t think it makes sense for the music industry to necessarily define the words that are coming from the media, but we will give our interpretation.

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