Music industry unveils tracking system for online sales

In a move to keep tabs on Internet music sales so that artists are compensated, a music industry group has launched a new tracking system for digital music files.

The system, Global Release Identifier (GRid), is in effect an electronic version of the Universal Product Code (UPC), the bar code scheme currently used to identify CDs and other physical products, the International Federation of Phonographic Industry (IFPI) said Monday in a statement.

"While bar codes work well for physical sales, they can't deal with the vast number of tracks, bundles and other ways to package and sell music electronically," said Paul Jessop, chief technology officer (CTO) at IFPI. "Many more numbers are necessary. GRid is a scheme to assign a unique number to an electronic unit of trade, be it a single track, album tracks, bundles of tracks and multimedia arrangements."

Each of these electronic trade units, he said, is distributed with a GRid serial number, which, like a bar code on a CD, is reported back to rights societies and collection agencies to ensure that artists are compensated for sales.

GRid aims to track each time a record company, online retailer or distributor, such as an ISP (Internet service provider), sells a song or group of songs in the form of a Web stream or download, according to Jessop.

The system could make life simpler for music publishers to sell online, said one analyst.

"From an industry viewpoint, this system is interesting," said Rebecca Ulph, an analyst at the London office of Forrester Research. "As more music is sold and distributed over the Internet, the industry needs to integrate this sales channel into their operations, and that requires a way to track sales."

But the GRid tracking system, Ulph said, "doesn't seem like a great step forward in curbing online music piracy."

Jessop said GRid is neither designed nor intended to keep track of music distributed via peer-to-peer (P-to-P) file-sharing systems such as Kazaa, which the music industry blames for the decline in recorded music sales.

GRid is open to everyone involved in the delivery of audio content, including record companies, retailers and distributors. Those using the scheme will be charged an annual fee of £150 (US$245).

IFPI will administer the system on behalf of the music industry. The federation represents around 1,500 record producers and distributors in 76 countries, according to its Web site.

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