Manage for Success: Protecting Intellectual Property, Part 2 (Newsletter #14, June 2002)

Continuing with the topic started in last month's newsletter,

there's another form of intellectual property protection you should obtain for your recordings, and that's through the use of an International Standard Recording Code (ISRC,) This is a unique global identifier for each individual track on a sound recording or music video, and can be permanently encoded as a form of digital fingerprint.

The ISRC is a 12-character code which remains with each track, regardless of changes of ownership. The twelve characters are:

Country (2 characters) -- country of residence of registrant;
Registrant (3 characters) -- producer at time the ISRC is allocated;
Year (2 characters) -- year in which the ISRC is allocated;
Designation Code (5 characters) -- number assigned sequentially by the label or producer.

For example, ISRC "US-Z03-02-00212" corresponds to U.S. (country) -Z03 (label registrant) -02 (year 2002) -00212 (track designation code).

Each label has it's own unique code and you can apply for your label's U.S. Registrant Code through the RIAA. See their web site for details and to get the form:

The RIAA page just referenced is a bit skimpy, but a great deal of information can be obtained from the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) web site. They also have an excellent handbook which is available at

It has more information than you may even care to know!

It's important to keep track of the assignment of each song's 5 digit code for each year, and it's probably best to list them sequentially by project. Use a simple spreadsheet or database.

The ISRC codes are embedded into a recording at the time of pre-mastering or authoring. In the case of CDs the ISRCs are encoded in the disc sub-code (Q-channel) as part of the mastering process.

I know this seems complicated, however proper maintenance of your intellectual property is necessary and vital to the well-being of your label. If you need help with setting up this, or any other database, by all means call on me for assistance.


If you have a topic you'd like me to discuss in a future newsletter, please feel free to email

I welcome your suggestions and feedback.


Another key protection is for labels who own a music publishing division. This protection comes as a result of you registering all new copyrights that come under your control with the appropriate music licensing agency with which your song writers may be affiliated, such as ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. You can perform this registration function on-line via the Web.

I also suggest that labels register their releases with SoundExchange, a Washington, D.C.-based organization "comprised of large, medium and small recording companies, united in receiving a fair price for the licensing of their music in a new digital world." SoundExchange "collects and distributes public performance revenue for sound recording copyright holders within such digital channels as cable, satellite and the Internet."

It's your money, essentially, so you'll be losing out if you don't take advantage of their service. By all means it's in your best interest to register with them.


Solutions Unlimited has helped many clients by auditing their files and records to be sure that they've properly protected their intellectual property. Why not have me do the same thing for you.

I have many decades of experience planning, budgeting, and fixing record industry management problems. Don't hesitate to call me to discuss your particular situation and how I can help you.


Another major part of a record label’s intellectual property is its master tapes, but too many labels take insufficient care of these vital assets. For example, do you know where the multi-track tapes are located for a project you released a year ago? Very likely, you don’t! It’s extremely important to keep a computerized log or database of all tapes that you own, including all variants and their storage locations.

All of your multi-tracks, whether used or not in a released project, should be properly logged and stored (more on storage shortly,) since you never know when an unreleased track may be important to you in the future. You’d be amazed how the odd, seemingly insignificant, out-take becomes of vital importance in later years. In fact, it’s these outtakes that make some of Rhino’s reissue projects so vital and exciting.

It’s also important that tape legends, written in the studio during recording sessions, be kept in the original tape box, but it’s also not a bad idea to keep copies in the project's production file.

You should also keep demo tapes, at least for artists you've signed, for the same reason you should keep outtakes -- they may be of significant use in the future.

Keeping backups is also important to your label’s wellbeing. Working tapes might be stored in a locked, cool, and dry location in your office, but it’s a good idea to keep archival backups in a secured, climate-controlled location off-site. There are a number of firms specializing in the storage of archival master tapes (and films.) Contact me if you need such a resource or referral.

Tapes should be stored properly: on appropriate reels, in their boxes with accompanying legends, and placed vertically on a shelf, never flat. They should be smooth-wound, with tails out. This reduces tape damage and print-through. The location should be moderately cool with low humidity. Both heat and humidity are significant enemies of recording tapes and excessive exposure can cause shrinkage or expansion of the substrate material, rendering them unusable.

Recommended storage conditions are for a steady fifteen to twenty degrees centigrade, with a relative humidity of about 40 percent.

A good resource, should you be interested, is " Magnetic Tape Storage and Handling, A Guide for Libraries and Archives" by Dr. John W. C. Van Bogart of National Media Laboratory.

This concern may seem like overkill, but many times over the years I've encountered problems, even with properly stored tapes. For example, many recordings made during the late sixties and early seventies were recorded on 3M's 202 formulation, an industry standard at the time. When we went back to these masters in order to prepare for CD release, we frequently found that the oxide had flaked off from its acetate backing, rendering them virtually useless. There are "last ditch" approaches that may temporarily restore such affected tapes, but their use is drastic.

And now that we've entered the era of DVD-Audio and SACD, many labels are pulling some of their old multi-track tapes from their vaults in order to make brand new, very high resolution (96kHz, 24-bit) surround sound releases. There's additional potential income in your masters so it's vital that you protect them.

Copyright 2002 by Keith Holzman, Solutions Unlimited. All rights reserved.