• 03.07.12

Can Music Licensing Become Like Licensing A Photo For Your Web Page?

Bill Gates’ image archive company Corbis just performed a huge move, expanding into licensing music via a transparent web-based protocol. It reduces professional music to the same status as images in Corbis’ archive. Here’s why that might work.

Can Music Licensing Become Like Licensing A Photo For Your Web Page?

Greenlight Music, a new effort from Corbis, is designed to make accessing professional music content easy. Its web page explains it pretty exactly: “Get the right to use the world’s most popular music in your commercial project. From well-known classics to the latest chart-breaking hits, GreenLight Music makes it quick and easy to get all the permissions you need.”


The goal, as explicity revealed by CEO Gary Shenk in the press statement, is to enable people building all sorts of content, from webpages to adverts, to use popular, legal, professional-grade music which they may have previously “shied away from.” To enable this, Greenlight is as simple as possible, borrowing heavily from the current trend toward highly-simple and clean online interfaces to let you license a tune with just a few clicks. The site explains where you could use its content, in a nice friendly style…and then also argues why you need a license, even noting “it is the right thing to do.” To make it easy for users to find suitable tracks there’s a powerful search engine to let you hunt through “hundreds of thousands of songs and artists”.

Simple and easy as it is, the main point is that you have to pay to use the site’s content under license, scaled according to how long you need access to the content for, what it’s to be used for and how much individual tracks cost (presumably influenced by the content originator themselves). But once you’ve found a track, the price isn’t actually fixed, and instead you submit a bid for how much you’d be prepared to pay. That definitely presents a friendlier face on the matter of accessing music for online use–with the entire industry getting bad press from its over-the-top pursuit of pirates and involvement in the potentially privacy-squashing and net-censoring SOPA law.

Corbis’s Shenk explained to Fast Company that the bidding process is actually quite sophisticated:

Users can choose to “Make an Offer” or “Get it Now.” The “Make an Offer” pricing guidance recommendations are made based on industry expertise; if an offer is too low, the system will suggest you make a higher bid. See screenshots below. The “Get it Now” search option features thousands of well-known, pre-approved songs available for immediate purchase. Once planned usage is selected, customers can narrow down the selection by price, theme, mood, genre or decade. Simply select a song, make the purchase and the song is ready for immediate use.

This maneuver feels a lot like a recent move by Getty Images, which opened up access to its impressive archive of high-quality images to enable an almost friction-free way to use the images legally in web pages. Getty’s play is to make it easier to pay for their content, in the hope that web content creators will see Getty’s photos have higher quality than free alternatives, and choose to simply and easily find, embed and pay (at reasonable rates) for the image. Plus it’s cheaper than facing a law suit from Getty (which, incidentally, also runs a business for accessing its “stock music library” which offer “premium music tracks” and “instant downloads.”)

There is a lot of free music content available for use in websites, adverts and so on, of course. Searching for the right tune is a trickier task than scanning a sheet of search results for images, of course, as you would have to listen to a lot of inidivdual music samples compare to thinking something like “that track by Radiohead would be perfect here.” And until now accessing well known tunes may well have been more tricky–because you have to find out who to speak to and arrange it. For all these reasons, Corbis may actually be onto something here. It’s touting “over one million iconic songs” from the stables of EMI, Universal, Warner and Sony’s labels, after all, and if it can genuinely make it easy to find suitable music and legally sync it to your content, then that sounds like a winning formula. It’s also easier and cheaper, in the mold of Getty’s new API, than being sued by a record company.

[Image: Flickr user Phil Hilfiker]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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