The MIT Media Lab and the Open Music Initiative

Cryptocurrencies and their underlying technology provide a way for people to transfer value and make payments without using a trusted intermediary like a bank or credit card company. But at the MIT Media Lab, we’re interested in more than just payments: this technology has the potential for far-reaching changes across industry and government by enabling open, decentralized data platforms. So when we heard about the BerkleeICE Open Music effort, we knew this was a good application for the research being undertaken by the MIT Media Lab Digital Currency Initiative.

One of the biggest problems the music industry faces today is a lack of transparency. There is no uniform way for participants to identify ownership regarding any piece of music. Because of this, it’s hard to send money to the people who should be making it. Artists often don’t even know how revenue is shared or when their songs are played. There have been a few attempts to fix this in the past; the most recent being the Global Repertoire Database. One reason that effort failed was contention over who would own the data.

We think that a distributed system, in the form of a digital ledger of music contracts, might be the answer to this particular problem. We can design a common format and an open platform for licensing data. In a distributed system, many entities can work together to maintain an open, transparent database that everyone runs, but no one owns.

This technology is not a panacea for all the problems afflicting the music industry. It’s going to be a long, hard road to bring together stakeholders and design a solution that the entire industry can get behind. We’ll have to solve numerous challenging problems around data integrity and integration, and deal with legal complexities across jurisdictions.

But we now have the tools to build an open architecture for music rights, using a decentralized platform. We’re excited to work with Berklee College of Music and the Open Music Initiative to create a foundation for innovation, not only for rights management but also for music itself.

Neha Narula

Director of Research, MIT Media Lab Digital Currency Initiative

Marko Ahtisaari

MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow and Co-founder and CEO, Sync Project

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