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Napster Beware: New ISO Standard May Aid in Tracking Shared Music

New York, May 06, 2002

When then 18-year-old Shawn Fanning first developed a music file-sharing program he called Napster, it is doubtful that he predicted the tumultuous ride the next few years would bring. Not only did his program attract the attention of hundreds of thousands of music fans, it attracted the attention of several very angry musicians and record labels.

Fanning designed Napster to allow users to easily locate and share digital music files (MP3's) online free of charge. However, by allowing for the free sharing and reproduction of music, Napster was violating copyright protection laws and, the record labels charged, robbing their artists of valuable royalties.

While controversy is still stirring between artists who in fact favor file-sharing and those adamantly opposed to it, five top record labels have successfully brought suits to shut down Napster's free file-sharing program. Although several Napster-inspired programs now proliferate on the Web, a new International Standard published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is about to make tracking, reporting and exchanging information about musical works more efficient, thereby ensuring further protection for copyrighted music.

Entitled ISO 15707, Information and documentation - International Standard Musical Work Code (ISWC), the standard assigns an internationally recognized identification number to every piece of music produced, past or present, regardless of its publication or copyright status. Called an ISWC number, it can be assigned to any type of musical piece and gives access to information about the piece such as the title, author, and composer.

The ISWC was developed by ISO Technical Committee (TC) 46 and its Subcommittee (SC) 9 (Presentation, identification and description of documents) in coordination with the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers (CISAC), a group that represents authors and composers of music in 100 countries. The standard will be administered by the ISWC International Agency, which will oversee the work of local agencies responsible for processing applications for and allocating ISWC numbers.

The standard is intended "to make it easier, faster and more efficient to administer rights and payments for musical works on a global basis," said Jane Thacker, secretary of the ISO/TC 46/SC 9. It also represents a major accomplishment in the CISAC's initiative to advance the administration of intellectual property rights in the digital age.

"The industry needed a standard that would eliminate ambiguity when information about a musical work is stored or exchanged," said Patricia Harris, executive director of the National Information Standards Organization and administrator of the U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for ISO/TC 46 and its subcommittees. "Through the effective cooperation between ISO/TC 46 and the CISAC, we have developed a globally relevant standard that will lead to a more efficient system for categorizing musical works. Technology isn't standing still, and neither are we."

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