Indies launch Merlin to globalize rights grants

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CANNES -- A slew of top independent labels and trade groups have joined forces to launch Merlin, described at the MidemNet event Sunday in Cannes as "the world's first global new-media rights licensing agency."

Accounting for about 30% of the global recorded-music sales, the independents have created the service to function as a one-stop digital-rights licensing shop.

They are targeting the growing number of multimarket online music users, such as international Web services MySpace, YouTube and the new advertising-funded SpiralFrog.

The London-based nonprofit agency is supported by high-profile independents, such as U.K.-based Beggars Group, Vital/PIAS headquartered in Brussels, U.S. hip-hop label Tommy Boy Entertainment, !K7 Records in Berlin and Naive Records in France, plus Playground Music Scandinavia.

Recordings by such hitmakers as Franz Ferdinand, the Strokes, Billy Bragg, Toni Braxton and veterans including Jerry Lee Lewis, Tom Waits and Deep Purple will be represented fully during negotiations for digital usage of their works.

National independent-label organizations associated with Merlin include the U.K.'s Association of Independent Music, the American Association of Independent Music, VUT in Germany, plus their counterparts in Brazil, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Israel and Japan.

Merlin is a sister organization to WIN, the global indies' trade body which launched last year at Midem. It has been incubated by WIN as its "first major initiative," AIM CEO Alison Wenham said Sunday at Midem.

"We intend to achieve parity for copyright payment," she said. "There is currently a two-tiered system, which discriminates against indies. Merlin is a response to that."

Charles Caldas, former CEO of independent Australian distribution company Shock Entertainment Group, becomes Merlin's CEO.

While independent labels represent more than 70% of the annual music releases worldwide, Caldas said, many small independents do not have the same clout as the major when negotiating to have their repertoire used on international digital services.

Moreover, international online operations like MySpace have the laborious task of approaching thousands of independents on a market-by-market basis to acquire licensed music.

"Services seeking to license a broad range of repertoire across the independent sector have in the past faced a complex, frustrating and laborious task, potentially involving the negotiations of thousands of contracts directly with labels and their distributors and aggregators in a range of territories around the globe," Caldas said.

Organizers expect to unveil details of Merlin's first deal in the coming days.

Juliana Koranteng is a contributor to Billboard
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