Company Selling Internet Music Monitoring Service – Concerning or Not?

Recently, we received a tip about a company creating software that would actively monitor websites in search of anyone posting copyrighted material and alert copyright holders about possible royalty payments. Naturally, we were interested and decided to check this out particularly with the possibility of privacy being an issue.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

The tip lead to an article on Read Write Web which discusses a company called TuneSat which is offering services to track where people’s music is being used. It’s billed as a way to automate the process whereas before, it’s all done manually. After the software tracks down where the music is used, rightsholders can then start demanding royalties if that service wasn’t paying royalties in the first place. From the article:

Once enrolled, clients submit digital masters of the songs in question, which TuneSat then records and analyzes to create a digital DNA, Woods explained.

While the article is more directed at tracking television stations which is run on mostly self-reporting cue sheets, there was another point being made about how it could be used to track songs on the Internet as well:

TuneSat’s Web Monitoring Service uses a similar approach to track millions of websites. Many of those sites may not fully understand their legal obligations when using music, or believe that they’re too small to worry about licensing issues. They may be unwilling or unable to pay royalties.

TuneSat doesn’t enforce copyright, Woods emphasized, or compete directly with ASCAP/BMI. Its job is just to provide clients with the information they need to make informed decisions. A PRO would still be needed to enforce royalty collections.

Still, as big data allows services like TuneSat to look deeper into the Web (the service can identify music clips as short as three seconds), it could spark potential friction between music users and rights holders.

The thing to know is that this software pretty much operates on sort of a blacklist basis. It apparently tracks songs that rights holders wants to track in the first place. So, if you’re using Metallica music in your video (how very unoriginal of you), then that video could be flagged if Metallica music is in the Tunesat system. If you are using an original track from, say, the Newgrounds Audio portal for instance, then chances are very good that you wouldn’t get flagged.

While podcasters might have something to worry about, depending on the type of music that they are using, I would imagine that the users who would be most worried about this sort of system would be those that offer amateur DJ mixes. While professional DJs would easily have something worked out, those just getting started in mixing lively won’t know the ins and outs of how royalties work.

What’s more more is the interesting question of how good this tracking software even is. When DJs do mixing, they tend to do all sorts of interesting things to the music. Some of the most basic DJ stuff is to pitchbend and warp the music so that the BPM matches the tempo set in the live set. Other things DJS can do to the music is add various filters to it. It can be granulated, have a phaser effect added to it, have a reverberation thrown in, have some of the equalization levels changed throughout, modify the music’s key, and it can have segments of another track thrown in part way through. Those are just some examples of what DJs can do to tracks, and that isn’t really trying to hide the fact that certain kinds of music is being used, but rather, something the DJ does to make the set more interesting.

The question I would have would be that given that software has a hard time automatically finding a proper tempo throughout the song (software can often figure out an average tempo by the end, but tracking the tempo in-song tends to be another problem altogether), how good can this software be at identifying songs in the first place? I would be willing to bet that there is not only a risk of missing songs out there, but also, there’s a risk that a song can be mislabelled because there’s only so many melodies one can have before similar ones can be re-imagined and placed into a completely different song.

What’s more is that this company doesn’t seem to have a proven track record. A quick look through the FAQ shows the following about who uses Tunesat:

TuneSat is for anyone who wants to track their music or audio content on TV and/or the Internet, for any reason. If you believe that you are not being compensated properly for these uses of your music, TuneSat can help

Considering that their press releases apparently date back to 2009, you’d think that names of big clients would have been mentioned. Also, why are the press releases found in the “About” page and not in an entirely different section? Is it bad that, in the FAQ section that the right hand column increases the size of the page when you scroll all the way to the bottom? Also, while the FAQ mentions that they monitor “millions” of websites, the FAQ doesn’t discuss the kinds of content it monitors. Does it monitor audio and video streaming sites only or does it monitor hosting services, live streaming services, Torrent sites and hash link websites as well? To me, that wasn’t very clear.

I have to admit, I do get the impression when browsing through the site that this is a company still trying to prove itself to be valuable even though it was founded in 2007. There’s no demonstration on their success being immediately offered outside of the odd press release here any there (one question might be: how many tracks were successfully found anyway?). While it may be interesting to see how this company develops, it sounds like the company is more geared towards TV monitoring then web monitoring. The web monitoring portion sounds like it’s more of a sales pitch than a working and used feature.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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