When YouTube appointed Lyor Cohen as its head of music – and again recently when it poached SoundCloud content boss Stephen Bryan – there were cautious hopes expressed within the music industry that Google’s video service is showing signs of genuine motivation to improve its standing with rightsholders.

Although of course, this has not dented the industry’s lobbying efforts on safe harbour and the ‘value gap’ between YouTube music consumption and its payouts.

Now YouTube-watchers have something else to pore over: a new licensing agreement announced yesterday with American collecting society ASCAP.

The latter was clear about the benefits it sees in the deal. “It will yield substantially higher overall compensation for our members from YouTube and will continue to propel ASCAP’s ongoing transformation strategy to lead the industry toward more accurate and reliable data,” said ASCAP boss Elizabeth Matthews.

More royalties is obviously nice, but our interest is as much in the second part of that agreement: described as “data collaboration” in ASCAP’s press release.

“The evolution of the agreement between the two entities leverages YouTube’s data exchange and ASCAP’s vast database of musical works to address the industry challenge of identifying songwriter, composer and publisher works on YouTube,” is how the society put it.

It’s long been muttered at music-industry conferences – occasionally on-stage into a microphone – that if there’s one company best-placed to have built a ‘global repertoire database’ it’s YouTube, courtesy of the data inflow from official music-video uploads plus reference files for its Content ID technology.

From licensing deals with collecting societies to Google Ventures’ investment in Kobalt, it’s been important to see YouTube and Google’s strategy through the prism of data, and what it might do (for good) with its rights database. The ASCAP deal is another reminder of that.

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