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Hidden in plain view: Google Music's stealth infrastructure

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Along with world+dog, I overlooked very something important this week. I was wondering why, to launch its new music service, Google would want to get into the messy and thankless business of administering rights. Best to leave the region-by-region haggles to someone else, I reckoned.

But Google is already in the business of administering music rights - and nobody's noticed yet, because it's hidden in plain view.

It's called YouTube AudioSwap, and it's really quite clever. When you upload a video to YouTube with a music soundtrack, you can opt for your low bitrate version to be replaced by a superior quality master recording from Google's own extensive collection of master recordings. What's that, you ask - you're saying that Google has an extensive collection of master recordings already? Indeed it does. Fully licensed, with publishing information.

Some might call this a catalog.

As my source reminds me, this in itself is a considerable achievement. Probably on a par with the investment chucked at any music startup in recent years.

But it's also more than that - Google is not only serving up the bits, but gradually acquiring a master database of who owns what. Thanks to historical fragmentation, inertia and incompetence, this is something the music business hasn't quite gotten round to doing for itself yet.

YouTube is already the world's most popular destination for music - the global jukebox, if you will. And if they continue to snooze, creators will one day wake up and discover that there is but one digital music performing rights society in the world, and it's housed in a Chocolate Factory. And they'll receive whatever the Oompa Loompa feel they're entitled to receive.

Books was just a dry run.

Managers like to complain about performing rights organisations' black boxes. They forget the biggest Black Box in the world is Google's advertising system - the one it misleadingly describes as an auction. Get up to speed here. ®

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