The Digitization of Performing Rights

The bussiness of licensing public performance-rights had an important growth during the last  few years after the new millennium. Part of that evolution is thanks to the inclusion of new technologies. All this gave the business more and new possibilities of how to get, collect, and track licensed performances through the country. To have a better understanding of technology´s role in this business, it is necessary to know first the business position during the beginning of the new millennium.

William Velez stablished in his essay Performing-rights collectives that in the years between 1990 and 2000, the competition between organizations like ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC took an important role during the performing-rights history. ASCAP and BMI were sharing 90 percent of the performing-rights market so they didn´t had the necessity of making improvements in their systems, even though new types of music were starting to be included in the performing-rights system. On the other hand, SESAC was the first to launch new technologies to improve counting musical performances, giving SESAC the lead in the mainstream of the radio format.

With the arrival of new technologies, people inside the music business began to think about how this would impact the market of performing-rights in the first years of the new millennium, so they made predictions of how this would have worked.

In my perspective, I partially agree with Velez´s perspective. I agree that new technologies changed the ways music is listened to. he also mentioned that companies will make the transition to new technological methods to get lower cost production. Technological advances open a huge variety of possibilities of how to update systems of tracking objects, including performances. Technologies like the internet helps to develop new tracking methods.

As mentioned before, the internet helps people to develop systems for tracking performances methods, but before that happened, the internet opened new ways to change how people listen to music. The most important change is the use of digital software to improve actions like writing, reading, among others. Those systems expanded into more sophisticated actions like communication with the development of the cellphone, email, etc. That expansion arrives to the music performing rights business. The internet grew to a scale that companies started to create digital platforms which gives clients access to a good amount of music in exchange of a monthly fee. The digitalization of the music has made such a huge impact that ASCAP and BMI joined into the digital world by making licenses contracts with companies like Spotify and Apple.

With the new way to make business, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC made the decision to digitize their tracking systems, for example, ASCAP uses a system called Census survey that allows them to precisely count performances with a low-cost production and it´s conducted using state-of-the-art technology. With the new systems working well, companies started to become stuck with royalty payments because the process of payments remained in the analog world. That problem remained until October of 2018 the Orrin G. Hatch–Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act was signed into law. This proposition modernizes the copyright law and the complete process of performing licenses and helps composers to receive improved royalty payments for their works when they streamed.

The point of this is to notice how everything has changed in just a few years. The digitalization of the music opens new ways to track licenses, to hear music, and to make new contracts in the industry of the performing-rights and it is growing so fast that even the law  changed to keep surviving in a constantly changing digital world. If those changes remained, we can probably watch the disappearance of actual analog/digital services like Radio, TV cable, CD´s business in exchange of utilize full digital format files of audio and video. 

Alejandro Carrillo Pastrana


Mcfarlane, Gavin, and David Sanjek. 2014 “Performing rights societies.” Grove Music Online. 19Feb.2019.

 Velez William, ¨ Performing-rights Collectives: Dinosaurs of the new millennium?. ¨ in Reflections on American music. edited by Michael J. Budds, 365-373. Hillsdale, New York: Pendragon Press, 2000.

Bromley Jordan, ¨The Music Modernization Act: What Is It & Why Does It Matter? (Guest Column) ¨. Billboard. (accessed February 18, 2019).

BMI, ¨BMI Explains What the Music Modernization Act Means for Songwriters and Composers. ¨ BMI. (accessed February 18, 2019).

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