Spotify has acquired Mediachain Labs, the core team behind the open source Mediachain protocol, to develop a decentralized network for sharing data critical to getting songwriters paid - in other words, a blockchain.
"Blockchain" has been a bit of a buzzword in the music industry lately, specifically within the publishing sector. It's certainly been a point of contention and debate amongst various industry players--publishers, songwriters, digital service providers, labels--but the adoption of a secure-but-shared hub where rights holders can enter and update their data and users of music can access that data has become inevitable to propelling the music industry forward.
From Songtrust partner DotBlockchain to ASCAP, SACEM, and PRS teaming up with IBM, it seems that members from all different sectors of the music industry are trying their hand at solving its biggest problem: ensuring transparent, accurate, and open data for music users and creators to properly pay rights holders. George Howard, Associate Professor of Music Business/Management at Berklee College of Music and Co-Founder of Music Audience Exchange, recently wrote in Forbes of the importance of artists adopting blockchain technology in order to claim (and reclaim) control of their copyrights.
In a blog post announcing the acquisition, Mediachain noted their vision for "the future of media metadata: a shared data layer is key to solving attribution, empowering creators and rights owners, and enabling a more efficient and sustainable model for creativity online," and described Spotify as a "champion of transparency and open data for artists." The partnership with the digital streaming service will leave Mediachain open source and openly licensed.
Mediachain was launched in 2016 with backing from Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures. In an interview with George Howard in 2015, Andy Weissman of Union Square Ventures laid out a concise framework for applying blockchain technology to the music industry:
1. Assume no change in copyright laws in the US.
2. To afford yourself of those protections, you must 'register' your copy on the Blockchain. In that way, the 'rights' will be publicly listed. As those rights may be transferred, the chain of ownership will as well.
3. One benefit here could be that one could also stamp your own rules on that copy. Programmatically, we would see what you desire as to that piece of media and how it may be used. These of course could change over time, as you desire.
4. This would then be a decentralized registry, but even more as the rules would be machine-readable. This could enable apps and services to be built on top of them.
5. This could achieve the end state of being the 'Nirvana music API.'"
Billboard describes the relationship between blockchain technology and the music industry as a "ledger that connect data 'blocks' containing data about every song and its rights holders. The ledger is ownerless, with multiple participants able to contribute." The music industry news source also noted the music industry's historical problems with messy and inaccurate metadata, and that Spotify's new team of blockchain efforts can speed up the process of applying blockchain technology to the music industry, therefore "transform[ing] and streamline[ing] publishing and royalty payments to artists and rights owners."