New Efforts to Track Copyrighted Music

SESAC, the smallest of United States music-licensing groups that collect royalties for songwriters and musicians, is launching a revolutionary system to track airplay of copyrighted music.

Royalties paid by broadcasters and others for use of copyrighted songs and musical compositions in such programming as prime-time entertainment shows, old reruns, and commercials easily total tens of millions of dollars a year.

The new SESAC service will use a computer-based airplay monitoring technology owned by Broadcast Data Systems. The BDS system can track and log any digital recording and is now used to confirm broadcasts of commercials, a BDS spokesman said.

The SESAC system will be able to apportion royalties on a "per-play" basis rather than the flat fees now paid by broadcasters and other users of copyrighted music. Most fees are now collected by blanket agreements drafted by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, (ASCAP), and Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI).

ASCAP, like BMI, a nonprofit group, said in March that local TV stations alone paid $647 million in fees to ASCAP for the broadcast of copyrighted songs used in old network reruns and other programs carried between 1983 and 1993.

The BDS spokesman said SESAC, recently bought by music-industry executives Freddie Gershon, Ira Smith, and Steven Swid and New York investment bank Allen & Co, would introduce its first service at a news conference.

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