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New International Identifier Connects the Right Person with the Right Credentials - Global standards group asks “What’s in a name?”

5 December 2011, LONDON

More than 45 million people “like” Stefani Germanotta’s Facebook page and a similar number count themselves as fans of the internationally renowned author/singer/songwriter Roosevelt Gook. While instantly recognizable under their stage identities, Lady Gaga and Bob Dylan are far more difficult to trace through their real names (or less famous pseudonyms in Dylan’s case). And performers aren’t the only ones changing names: authors often write under multiple names, making it difficult for readers to find their other works. Libraries, too, invest enormous efforts in disambiguating creators and sorting their works. Equally important, especially to the creators themselves, is the ability for organizations administering rights to correctly identify who gets what royalty.

Now, a cultural industry standards group has created a system that will connect the right information with the right person – no matter which name is being used -- the same way books with similar or even identical titles (think Atlas of the World) move from publisher through to distribution and ultimately to the buyer with precision – delivering the exact title, author and format.

The International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI) Agency -- founded by a worldwide group of organizations that serve researchers – has crafted an ISO standard that neatly connects appropriate information with the appropriate public identity, whether it’s Albert Einstein, John Lennon or Kermit the Frog. With inspiration from International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs), ISNIs create a unique 16-digit code for individuals or characters that’s shared across all the information related to the cultural and scholarly contents associated with them. The ISNI system was launched this month with an initial database of more than a million names, created by consolidating data from VIAF (the Virtual International Authority File maintained by 19 major world libraries) and data from 15 other groups, including rights management organizations, professional societies, government grant organizations and the supply trade.

“The ISNI will make the job of identifying rightholders quicker and cheaper,” said Olav Stokkmo, CEO of the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations (IFRRO) – a founding partner in the ISNI agency. “With less duplication of work, collective management organisations and libraries will find it easier to work together to promote access and reward creators.”

“It’s a practical solution that promises to streamline and improve the accuracy of virtually any biographical research,” said Beat Barblan, Director of Identifier Services at Bowker. Bowker, a business unit of ProQuest – a founding partner in the ISNI agency -- is the official U.S. ISBN assignment agency and its experience in tracking media has made it an integral part of the new ISNI International Agency.

ISNI’s simplicity is powered by worldwide cooperation among information-laden organizations. The process works like this: Individuals, their agents, or in the case of fictional characters, their creators can apply for a unique number through a registered ISNI agency. The agency then shares the number across the global digital information industry, enabling research organizations to apply it to content by or about the individual held in their databases. Users tapping into any of the organizations that use ISNIs will need only a name and just enough background data to zero in on the correct identity. Then, the ISNI will take over, connecting all the appropriate information. The ISNI will also crawl to other organizations to find more data, opening sources the user may never have known existed. Users can also start with an ISNI and find the identity and data that matches it.

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