Radiohead to bypass record labels, letting its publisher handle rights

Radiohead's album in Rainbows was revolutionary for its "pay what you like" availability. Now the band's plan for licensing that album continues the trend, further eroding the bond between bands and the record industry.

The band Radiohead baffled many with the choice to release their in Rainbows album as a DRM-free download with no fixed price, but rather with a non-compulsory fee similar to purchasing admission to a museum.

When the album ceased to be available in this fashion on December 10, it was not due to any sales trends, but simply because it was planned that way. The next phase of the digital availability of in Rainbows has been launched, with the band themselves and publishers Warner/Chappell Music at the helm.

Since the band has retained ownership of the recordings and compositions, and have no major label behind them, Warner/Chappell has devised a scheme for licensing the band's music that streamlines the otherwise historically complicated process. The publisher will now administer all digital rights, as well as mechanical (the right to make hard copies), performing (broadcast rights), synchronization (movie, television and soundtrack rights), lyrics, master recordings, and image and likeness licensing.

By managing all of these rights without having to answer to a label, Radiohead's music will either prove more profitable to the artists directly, or be a cheaper license for all who want to use it. And the traditional recording labels are left out of the picture. Although Warner/Chappell is technically a division of Warner Music Group -- one of the big four -- it is an independent arm of the company, and is not bound to licensing performance rights to Warner's labels.

In addition to the forthcoming traditional release of in Rainbows on December 31 internationally, and on January 1 in the US, a remix album put together by Amplive, an Oakland DJ and Producer, will be posted on January 10 free to anyone who purchased the original album online. Called Raindayz Remixes, the new album will be available as a free ZIP file of containing high-fidelity 320 Kbps MP3s.

Radiohead is one of a number of groups establishing its position in the music business without major label support.

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