Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

EMI Music to Developers: Take My Music, Please

It’s easy to beat up the music industry for being intransigent and stupid when it comes to technology. Because the music industry is so often intransigent and stupid when it comes to technology.

So let’s take a minute to praise a big music label for something that — on paper, at least — looks pretty flexible and clever. EMI Music is offering developers a way to leapfrog onerous licensing negotiations and just start building cool stuff with the label’s songs.

The idea: Developers building an application that needs music can sign up for access to a “sandbox” which will let them play with a pool of the label’s songs. And after a minimium of hoop-jumping, the “OpenEMI” plan is supposed to let developers bring their stuff directly to market, without having to track down rights holders, negotiate rates, etc.

EMI has precleared a selection of about 12,000 songs — 2,000 from its general catalog, another 10,000 from its Blue Note jazz label, and a few artist-specific catalogs from bands like Gorillaz and the Pet Shop Boys — and has worked out a standardized fee for all of them, via a revenue split.

The label takes 60 percent of net revenue and uses that to pay rights holders; 40 percent is split between developers and the Echo Nest, a Boston-based music tech company that helped cobble the deal together and which provides developers with tools they might use to build their apps. EMI and Echo Nest say developers should end up with the lion’s share of that 40 percent.

Given that Citigroup, which ended up owning EMI after financing a disastrous private equity deal, may or may not be selling the company any day, it’s always possible that this kind of offer may disappear if and when new management shows up.

And there are a few catches, but they seem doable — for instance, the deal requires EMI to act as the publisher for any apps that eventually make it to venues like Apple’s iTunes or Google’s Android Market. So, at least on paper, it looks like an attractive way for developers to get their hands on music without having to worry about breaking the law or hiring lawyers.

The program won’t do you any good if you want music that EMI doesn’t own. And a pool of 12,000 songs won’t do you any good if you’re trying to create a comprehensive music service like Spotify, which features some 15 million songs. Instead, think of applications that incorporate music, like Disney’s Tapulous, or any other Rock Band-like game. Developers might eventually want to use music that isn’t in EMI’s pool, but it seems plenty deep enough to get going.

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