The music licensing agency BMI said Wednesday it has developed a “Web robot” to monitor transmission and sales of music on the Internet, a possible precursor to messy copyright battles.
An estimated 26,000 Web sites use some form of music and only a handful have licensing agreements with BMI, the organization said.
BMI represents more than 180,000 songwriters and song publishers and is responsible for making sure they are compensated when their work is performed. In a simpler age, it meant keeping track of jukebox and radio play of songs.
Until development of its “Musicbot” system, the agency has been unable to get a grip on the explosion of outlets where people can buy, trade or simply listen to music on the Internet.
Many people who use music on Web sites are simply unaware of copyright laws, said BMI president and CEO Frances Preston.
“The sophisticated people who are doing the larger Web sites are certainly aware of the rights of intellectual property,” she said. “They should come forward and secure the proper rights. But they don’t.”
BMI’s invention works as a lightning-fast Web surfer to identify sites that use music and how often computer users visit them. It can potentially be used to keep track of the most popular music bought or transmitted on the Web, sort of a cyber top 10.
It also serves to put Web site designers on notice that BMI is watching. Although BMI has not started any legal proceedings against potential copyright violators on the Web, “it stands to reason in the future that it will happen,” said Richard Conlon, a BMI vice president.
Teen-agers who download a copy of the latest Nine Inch Nail song from a friend shouldn’t worry too much. But services that sell large amounts of music may hear from BMI, said Joanne Marino, editor-in-chief of Webnoize, a music and media trade publication.
BMI officials are also in the midst of copyright discussions with record companies that disseminate music through Web sites.