In July, 2000, the Chief Executive Officers of five leading copyright organizations agreed to a new partnership called FastTrack. Together, these five organizations represent approximately 38 percent of the global collections for musical works, or more than $1.6 billion USD annually.
In September, the FastTrack Board of Directors, meeting in Santiago prior to the opening of the CISAC (International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers) 2000 World Congress, elected SIAE (Italy) Special Commissioner Professor Mauro Masi as its first Chairman, and approved the creation of a headquarters office in Paris. The Board also approved the organizations’ statutes, budget and development timetable, and set January 1, 2001 as the date on which the new entity would formally be established.
The Board also elected BMI (US) President & CEO Frances W. Preston as Vice Chairman. Board members are the chief executives of the five founding societies. In addition to Masi and Preston they are: GEMA (Germany) President and General Manager Prof. Dr. Reinhold Kreile, SACEM (France) President Jean Loup Tournier, and SGAE (Spain) Chief Executive Officer Eduardo Bautista.
The Board has hired experienced music copyright executive Chris van Houten to direct the new headquarters. Van Houten brings to FastTrack a widely regarded expertise in business process redesign. Most recently, he was acting COO of BUMA/STEMRA, the Dutch mechanical and performing rights organization. He served for six years as Managing Director of EMI Music Publishing‘s Benelux operation, and prior to that, as an executive with the Dutch record company Dureco. Both at EMI and Dureco, he designed and introduced new copyright and royalty systems.
Robbin Ahrold, Vice President of Corporate Relations at BMI, feels that classical and jazz composers stand to benefit greatly from FastTrack’s initiatives, partly because so much of their music is performed in Europe. “Classical and jazz composers are perhaps the best example of creators whose works are used in a globalized music business,” Ahrold commented in an interview. “FastTrack is developing tools that will specifically add a higher level of service, greater accuracy at lower cost for works that are used in the international music market.”
The FastTrack development timetable calls for the deployment of three “core projects” within the next two years. These initiatives will address international documentation and distribution, online services for members and customers, and the development of a globally integrated Electronic Copyright Management System. The timeline for the completion of all three projects is sometime between April 2002 and October 2003.
FastTrack’s plan for an improved documentation and distribution should be implemented in the next 6 to 9 months. The hope is that by connecting the databases of the five member societies, efficiency and accuracy will improve, translating into more time and money for composers in all five countries. “BMI will be able to bring the cost of their operations down by trapping the tremendous efficiencies of the Internet,” Ahrold remarked. He explained that the improved documentation and distribution system will allow BMI to cut down on the time previously spent “exchanging paper, with all the key-punching and error-checking that goes into paper documents.”
Take the case of John Williams, for instance. John Williams of Star Wars fame is one of BMI’s most active composers. “John, however, has a name that is not the most unique in the world,” Ahrold laughed. There is any number of composers named “John Williams” whose music gets played in Europe. The new system will be able to differentiate automatically between the “real” John Williams and the others, eliminating the manual checking that is currently necessary.
The second “core project,” online services for members and customers, has already been addressed by BMI. In April 2000, they introduced a service whereby members can register their works directly online. The FastTrack initiative will mean that when composers enter their information into the BMI system, it will automatically be entered into the systems of the four other member organizations. “You can see the obvious advantages in accuracy,” Ahrold commented. “No one knows the information about the piece better than the composer himself.” He also noted the other immediate advantage of such a system was speed. “[The composer registers a piece] on Tuesday afternoon, and it’s in the databases on Wednesday.”
The third project, the development of a global Electronic Copyright Management System, is “largely aimed at the identification of works performed in the electronic media,” according to Ahrold. This includes music played on the internet, cable, digital, and satellite TV and radio. The five societies are looking for a common method to “watermark” or “fingerprint” musical works. Ahrold hopes that this system, once established, will become a “de facto standard” for the industry.
“Taking the internet as an example, what you see is a tremendous expansion in the number of works that can be performed,” Ahrold explained. “There are hundreds of radio stations streaming out their signals [over the internet], hundreds more delivering by satellite radio.” With the increase in the number of performances, the old system of reporting can no longer keep up. Up to now, according to Ahrold, BMI has relied on written correspondence with listeners and programmers to keep track of many performances. Now, the FastTrack organizations are creating a program that, through the detection of these digital “watermarks,” will automatically detect the performances of registered works.
Each of the projects, the partners emphasize, relies on the Internet to connect existing computing resources among the five societies. Likewise, task forces for the development and implementation of the projects will be drawn from the societies’ existing staff.
FastTrack is committed to integrating the tools developed as part of the Common Information System (CIS) project managed by CISAC. Ahrold characterizes BMI as one of the “consistent leaders” in the project since its inception in 1994. Executives of the five FastTrack organizations first started working together in 1999 to develop a “ProtoNet” tool for CISAC that would allow member societies to “look into each other’s databases without exchanging paper, emails, or calling.” Ahrold claims that “in the process of developing ProtoNet, we got into the kind of technical discoveries about each other’s systems” that led to the realization that they were capable of achieving much more far-reaching objectives. Once the ProtoNet project was finished at the end of 1999, staff members from all five organizations were formed into task forces that have been working on all three “core projects” ever since.
Ahrold explained: “the nature of CISAC is that it must embrace all of its societies, and the tools that it develops must be usable by the majority of its societies.” The name FastTrack’ alludes to the capabilities of these five societies, with their “state of the art computer systems,” to take some of the goals of CIS and move more quickly than is possible for CISAC as a whole. According to Ahrold, once the five FastTrack societies have a “core set of digital tools up and running,” they will welcome others into the group.