Indies Bank On Merlin’s Magic

The world’s independent music companies have teamed to set up an agency that has secured a licensing deal with MySpace, the leading social networking site.

The agency’s called Merlin and was launched at the annual MidemNet music industry conference, with its backers claiming it will become the "fifth major" in the industry.

Alison Wenham, president of World Independent Network (WIN), told a January 19th Cannes, France, press conference that Merlin will allow independent labels to achieve parity with each other – and with the majors – in getting a fair share of the revenues being generated by new business models.

She said it’s been set up as a non-profit, privately funded organization based in London that will be a unique global vehicle for both licensors and licensees.

Within days of the Midem press bash, Merlin signed an agreement with Snocap, the San Francisco-based digital rights company formed by Napster founder Shawn Fanning.

It allows those who own rights to music to place them onto P2P networks and retail sites that have digital rights management.

This means that, through Snocap, music can theoretically be controlled (charged for and copy restricted) and still leverage popular P2P sites including MySpace.

The launch of Merlin, which Wenham described as "the culmination of several years’ work," follows the rapid growth in popularity of such sites as YouTube, where fans often post video clips carrying their choice of music without permission from copyright holders.

The group aims to rectify what it calls the "poor cousin" status of deals previously offered to independent labels and will address the "growing assumption that, for emerging media, only the four majors need to be licensed, with the rest free to air."

Merlin chief exec Charles Caldas, a former head of Shock Entertainment Group, Australia’s largest independent music and entertainment distributor, issued a statement saying he’s already talking with some of the other new media companies.

"The form of copyright apartheid currently being applied to the value of independent rights is unacceptable.

"Merlin will enable independents around the world to participate in new licensing and revenue models on competitive terms.

"Without Merlin, the sector ran a huge risk of being cut out of the revenue chain," he explained.

Caldas will report to a board of rights owners from around the globe, who are expected to be elected and ratified by the end of the month.

Apart from having WIN on board, Merlin’s also got the backing of Impala (the European Independent Music Companies Association), the U.K.’s Association of Independent Music (AIM) and other trade organisations in France (UPFI), Canada, Germany, Norway, Japan, Sweden, Brazil, Spain, New Zealand and Australia.

The independents’ global market share for 2005 was 29 percent, according to Music & Copyright. British Phonographic Industry figures report that 83 percent of that year’s U.K. releases came from the indie sector.

Midem was held in Cannes January 21-26.