SESAC on track with computer rights plan

SESAC, the smallest of the three U.S. performing rights societies, is taking a giant step toward leveling the playing field by introducing a computerized “per-play” music rights tracking system.

The 63-year-old organization has inked a deal with Broadcast Data Systems to gather data on music and commercial airplay by radio and television stations that will establish, for the first time, an actual “per use” or “per-play” approach for the licensing and the monitoring of its use.

SESAC will introduce the new system on a genre/niche basis, beginning with Spanish-language music in the U.S. (including Puerto Rico), via SESAC/Latina, a new subsidiary which will serve as a self-contained Spanish-language performing rights organization.

“This is definitely one of the fastest-growing areas in popular music,” said SESAC co-chairman Stephen Swid. He added that the deal with BDS is for 20 years, and gives SESAC exclusive rights to the service for Spanish-language broadcasts.

The system is much more precise than the blanket and per-program licenses employed by the American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers and Broadcast Music Inc.; rather than pay for the rights to broadcast an entire catalog, the SESAC/BDS system will allow Latin broadcasters to pay only for Latin music, a genre that is not broken out for licensing by ASCAP or BMI.

The BDS technology is based on a nationwide network of computers that monitors broadcast stations and cable outlets in the top 100 markets across the U.S. Each monitor accesses a constantly updated library of thousands of digital electronic song “fingerprint” patterns in memory.

When the computer recognizes a song being aired that matches the one in memory, it notes the outlet playing it, and the date and time. Currently it monitors more than 8 million hours of broadcast time annually.

BDS prez Martin Feely said his company had held exploratory talks with ASCAP and BMI for the past couple of years, but that agreements couldn’t be reached because of the sheer size of those societies and the relative satisfaction of its members regarding payment methodology.

However, the two performing rights giants could possibly get involved with the BDS system for other genres; a spokesman said the agreement between BDS and SESAC essentially gave SESAC a “first refusal” option on other genres.

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