Thursday, April 24, 2008

IFPI and Mussolini’s Italy; Sony and Gracenotes

Here are two unrelated items involving the record industry. The first is about the origins of IFPI, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, based in London. IFPI is affiliated with the RIAA. (From 1999 to 2004, the head of IFPI was Jay Berman, former head of RIAA.). Founded in 1933, this is IFPI’s 75th anniversary year, usually an occasion for conspicuous celebration, but no announcement of such festivities have been made public.

Rasmus Fleischer, a doctoral student, has a blog post about IFPI’s origins and about changes in the wikipedia entry on IFPI. Here is the link to his post (HT to Nicklas Lundblad), IFPI was founded in Rome in 1933, and returned to Italy the following year. Even though Mussolini was appointed Prime Minister by King Victor Emmanuel III in 1922 (and Il Duce in 1925) as a result of the attempted coup and the March on Rome of that year, World War II on the European front was still 6 years off, and Italy’s (at least formal) alliance with Hitler’s Germany did not occur until June 10th of the following year, 1940. Italy’s anti-Semitic and other race laws were not passed until 1938.

Still, since 1928 the Fascists had been the only legal party and had been imposing Fascist ideology and symbolism throughout Italy. Wikipedia notes that “The fasces adorned public buildings, Fascist mottos and symbols were displayed on art, and a personality cult was created around Mussolini as the nation's saviour … .” It may be this history that makes IFPI uneasy, even though there is zero evidence of an association of IFPI with the Italian regime. IFPI’s sensitivity nevertheless seems acute: Mr. Fleischer did some investigation into changes on wikipedia’s entry on IFPI, which he details:

Previously, this fact appeared at Wikipedia’s page about the IFPI:

It was formed /…/ during 1933 in Rome, Italy, under the fascist government of Benito Mussolini by companies mainly owned or controlled by General Electric in the United States of America.

In April 2005, someone removed the mentioning of fascism, but the information about where and when the IFPI was founded remained, for anyone with a minimum of historical knowledge to draw her own conclusions.

Until August 25th, 2006. At that date the page was edited thoroughly by someone with the IP-address, erasing any mentioning about any kind of history of the IFPI. Since then, Wikipedia’s page about IFPI has remained like that.

That “someone” who erased the information about the IFPI’s foundation, was evidently an employee at the IFPI’s London headquarters. The IP address can be traced there.

The current relevant section of the entry reads: “The IFPI was formed in Rome in November 1933 to represent ‘the interests of the recording industry worldwide in all fora’ by promoting legislation and copyrights …. .”

The second story involves Sony buying Gracenotes, according to Forbes, for $260 million. According to Scott Jones’ website:

The Gracenote Media Database has information for approximately 55 million tracks and over four million CDs. It has been used by more than 150 million individuals worldwide totaling six billion searches over the past eight years. In 2006, the company penned a deal allowing Gracenote to become one of the first companies to offer legal downloads of millions of song lyrics.

Gracenote licenses access to its database and other services to online music services and hardware providers that enable individual users to explore the world of digital entertainment. Gracenote's content delivery engine provides the ability to aggregate and deliver rich third-party content that is directly related to music as it is playing. Gracenote became the Web's first "music browser" by allowing its licensees (including RealNetworks and Yahoo!) to recognize MP3s as well as CDs and to receive information about artists on the screen while users listen to music. By providing player partners, application developers and device makers the ability to serve targeted content in context to the music listening experience, Gracenote enables its partners to generate new revenue streams.

Gracenotes also has a Video Id service, called VideoIDSM, a fingerprinting technology, and counts Apple among its clients.


Anonymous said...

The purchase of Gracenotes has a lot of potential effects.

Most CD's have no track information on them whatsoever, so programs like iTunes access Gracenotes to make an estimate of what CD you are ripping and provide the album and track information so that you don't have to type it in by hand. This means that Sony will now be able to track the majority of CD usage around the globe and have the IP address of everyone who rips a CD they have purchased using a program that looks up the track info in Gracenotes.

Given Sony's less than ethical history of regarding CD ripping (trying to make it impossible by secretly installing mal ware on Sony CDs, and more) I see this purchase as potentially ominous.

William Patry said...

An article in the Guardian makes shane's point too:

But then see the very different take here at the silicon Alley Insider blog:

Anonymous said...

The Insider blog makes a good point that the electronics arm of Sony not the music arm is the one buying Gracenote and that Gracenote makes a fair bit of change in deals with auto companies for some sort of high end auto sound systems.

Sony electronics and music arms have had conflicting values and priorites, much to the detriment of the electronics side, who pretty much lost the mp3 market by making music players that only played copy protected, proprietary Sony formatted music. In that case the electronic arm's love of proprietary formats and the music arm's hatred of mp3s combined to create a perfect storm combined with lousy software for transferring songs. Sony, the portable music pioneer, is not a key player in the portable music player market in large part because of those early stumbles.

Sony also has a prior history with track info on CDs. The standard Red Book format created for Audio CDs has no track or album information ("metadata") on it at all. In the 90's Sony created an extension to the format called CD Text that allowed music producers to encode metadata on standard Audio CDs and have it read by compatible CD players. For some reason this format never took off and the inclusion of CD text is still spotty on commercial CDs and even on players. iTunes, for instance, won't even read the CD Text data even though it can write CD Text data to the audio CDs you burn!!!*

So, owning Gracenote is a natural purchase for Sony. It also includes audio fingerprinting technology to identify songs by means other than the CD's number and length of tracks. But it also seems likely that Sony BMG will manage to get its hands into this purchase, and, if necessary access all the IP logs and user data on CD rips, as well as the audio fingerprinting IP. The potential for abuse is there.

*iTunes inability to read CD Text is baffling. The CD Text on commercial CDs is likely to be more accurate than Gracenote because much of Gracenote's data is croudsourced--submitted by users. It is especially odd given that iTunes **writes** CD Text. One possible explanation is that it was a requirement of the record companies to make CD ripping less convenient and to make it harder to burn protected tracks to Audio CD with CD Text and give them to someone else who might more conveniently rip them to their computer if iTunes could read the CD Text that had the track info. Who knows? It is very, very odd. And more odd things may happen once Sony completes its purchase of Gracenote.

Anonymous said...

Shane makes a good point. Another angle on this issue is that Sony may use Gracenote to monitor its competitors. There is an interesting discussion regarding this at The Industry Standard regarding Sony potentially using Gracenote to pressure Apple:

A natural progression will be for Sony's competitors to drop Gracenote for alternative services which do not let the wolf into the henhouse, so to speak.

It is a mystery why Sony paid so much for a company that is easily replaceable, and has limited utility. It would appear Sony paid far too much.

Anonymous said...

I create CD's of my own music, and without being prompted, iTunes opens up and tries to guess to which published songs my melodies are similar---and attempts to re-name them.

Somewhere along the way, as an upgrade from v. 3 to v4, Apple thought I wouldn't mind if my computer 'called home" to verify myactivities. I think users should note when this happens and object.

Eliot van Biskirk interviews Steve Scherf about the metamorphosis from user-generated database (CDDB) to corporate Gracenote.

(quote) "Among other things, detractors claim the company built a profitable business on the backs of unpaid volunteers."

Anonymous said...

"I create CD's of my own music, and without being prompted, iTunes opens up and tries to guess to which published songs my melodies are similar---and attempts to re-name them"

You can turn that CD look up feature off in preferences. iTunes uses a crude look up feature in conjunction with Gracenote. It checks the length of the CD, the number of tracks and the length of those tracks to try and estimate which CD is being ripped. iTunes does not access the audio fingerprinting technology of Gracenote.

I do think it is interesting that Sony will be able to monitor it's own sales and sales of its competitors to a certain degree as consumers rip their CD purchases to their computers. It seems highly likely that Sony BMG will get it's hands on the metrics generated by Gracenote even though the purchase is by Sony electronics.

And it will be interesting to see what Apple does. Gracenote is a key to iTunes being easy to use for ripping. Typing in CD data is an enormous pain--especially for 99 track sound effects disks! It seems, though, developing a competitive database would be difficult and it is hard to know if Apple would bother given their emphasis on iTunes downloads.