The content police just got a new weapon: Spanish start-up BMAT has developed software that can track live performances and reinterpretations of copyrighted works on or off the Internet. Targeted clients include YouTube and collection agencies the world over.
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BMAT, short for Barcelona Music & Audio Technologies, won not just one but two prizes in June. It finished first place in a contest between 28 start-ups from around the globe at a new conference called the HIT Barcelona Innovation Summit, winning 50,000 euros in prize money and office space. It also received a national prize from the Spanish government.
Policing content on the Net is now mandatory as content owners demand to be paid royalties on copyrighted material posted on sites like YouTube. YouTube has developed its own software and uses technology from a U.S. company called Audible Magic to police copyrighted material. It says it now has 100,000 hours of reference material in its system and uses its Content ID software to help some 600 partners collect revenues from copyrighted audio or video material. Such approaches use a “fingerprint” to examine the content. The fingerprints are matched against master recordings of copyrighted musical works in a pre-compiled database.
Pedro Cano, the 34-year-old chief technology officer of BMAT, says his company is the only one with technology that can track copyrighted works not just from master recordings but in any form. “Our technology does not look at a particular recordings but at the inherent music,” says Cano. “This allows collection agencies to track live performances, interpretations and covers on the Internet.”
Just how important is it that content owners capture revenue from karaoke and cover versions of their songs? Take the case of hiphop duo Outkast’s song Hey Ya! The group’s recording of the song had 913,230 views on YouTube but the Hey Ya! cover version got over 3 million hits and the Karoake version, performed by an unlikely competitor called the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra, got 361,752. Capturing royalties from those performances would have given the content owners a publishing returns increment of 372%, notes Cano. This was no isolated case. Pop star Rihanna attracted 46,650,818 views of her song Umbrella but the cover version got more than 9 million and the live and karaoke versions almost 3 million.
BMAT, co-founded by Cano, is the first company to be spun-off from the Music Technology Group at Barcelona’s Universitat Pompeu Fabra. Cano, an electrical engineer with 12 years experience in music technology, and two colleagues convinced the university to allow them to form a separate company after they won a local “Uniemprendia” prize for their business plan. The university maintains a 5% stake in the company and takes royalties on sales. BMAT today employs a group of engineers, muscians, computer science PHDS, sound producers , digital signal processing exports and musicologists. The team developed a music search and recommendation engine based on a set of algorithms which can automatically detect tempo, chord progression, key, tonality, instrumentation and mood.
BMAT has come up with what it says is the first-ever virtual judge able to analyze and evaluate singing performances. The software provides a rating based on pitch and expression, without the need for a reference track and regardless of what song is being sung.
Those technologies has already led to some solid revenue streams. BMAT designed software that allows joggers to sync their music to their running rhythm and sold the technology to Yamaha, which packages it with mobile music devices. It has also developed software that allows users to program their playlists according to their moods. That software is packaged with Intel’s Menlo series of chips.
The company ‘s audio fingerprinting technology is already employed by clubs, radio stations and TV stations around the world and it boasts collection agency clients on all four continents, including the U.S.
Now, says Cano, it is pitching its Vericast Cover software to the likes of YouTube.
“It sounds like a strong refinement of existing technological approaches that could help capture a wider range of copyrighted material than original recorded works,” says Mark Mulligan, a vice-president at Forrester Research, a technology consultancy. He specified that he is not familiar with BMAT.
BMAT, which has benefited from government soft loans and grants and has not yet taken in any venture capital, is already profitable, says Cano.
If BMAT’s Vericast Cover software strikes a chord with collection agencies and sites like YouTube, the Spanish company’s projections for future growth just might go off the charts.