UPDATED: In a major announcement at MIDEM, some of the world's leading indie labels and trade groups have joined forces to create Merlin, a non-profit worldwide one stop shop for their digital music licenses.
Merlin's goal is to end the "poor cousin" status of deals offered to independent labels and the "growing assumption that, for emerging media, only the four majors need to be licensed. New media outlets like YouTube or deals like Universal's Zune kickback would be examples of early Merlin targets. Larger indies like Rough Trade, Beggars Group, Tommy Boy, Ministry Of Sound, Epitaph, and Cooking Vinyl are already backing the initiative.
Merlin Chief Executive Charles Caldas who is based in London says that he has already begun talks with new media companies and expected a to announce more deals next week. "The form of copyright apartheid currently being applied to the value of independent rights is unacceptable," he said in a statement. "Merlin will enable independents around the world to participate in new licensing and revenue models on competitive terms."
MERLIN'S FIRST DEAL - Merlin has already struck an alliance with SNOCAP that enables member labels to sell songs on MySpace and elsewhere using the MP3 format. Whether or not Merlin deal with SNOCAP is any different than those that SNOCAP offers anyone on their website or how attractive labels will find the MySpace revenue sharing scheme (45 cents per transaction to MySpace/SNOCAP) remains to be seen.
COMMENTARY - It is unclear how Merlin will effect regional indie trade groups like Impala, A2IM and others who do not yet offer licensing but survive by bringing indie labels together on other issues. Whatever the details of these early deals, Merlin potentially represents a much needed and long overdue leveling of the playing field for a growing indie sector which by some measures represents 30% of all music sales.