Lots of talk on copyright revision in the air post Grammys

March 2015


All areas


The U.S. Copyright Office has released a comprehensive study, “Copyright and the Music Marketplace,” detailing the ageing music licensing framework as well as the ever-evolving needs of those who create and invest in music in the twenty-first century. In addition to providing an exhaustive review of the existing system, the report makes a number of recommendations that would bring both clarity and relief to songwriters, artists, publishers, record labels, and digital delivery services.

“Few would dispute that music is culturally essential and economically important to the world we live in,” said Maria A. Pallante, Register of Copyrights, “but the reality is that both music creators and the innovators who support them are increasingly doing business in legal quicksand. As this report makes clear, this state of affairs neither furthers the copyright law nor befits a nation as creative as the United States.”

There is broad consensus across the music industry on a number of key points: (1) creators should be fairly compensated; (2) the licensing process should be more efficient; (3) market participants should have access to authoritative data to identify and license sound recordings and musical works; and (4) payment and usage information should be transparently available to rightsholders. But there is less agreement as to how best to move forward.

“The Copyright Office’s recommendations address almost every aspect of the music landscape, including the existing statutory licenses, the role of performing rights organizations, terrestrial performance rights for sound recordings, federal protection for pre-1972 sound recordings, access to music ownership data, and the concerns of songwriters and recording artists. These recommendations present a series of balanced tradeoffs designed to create a more rational music licensing system for all.”


Some , in particular the actual creators of songs and sound recordings, may be disappointed by the study; whilst it rightly tackles music licensing in an ever changing market place and acknowledges that “Music creators should be fairly compensated for their contributions” – it doesn’t really tackle one of the main ‘elephants in the room’ here – the share of digital revenues that actually make it back to recording artistes (in particular) from their record labels – although songwriters will be encouraged that the report does focus on the disparate treatment of analogous works – in particular the looking at why the lions share of the royalty pot from streaming goes to the owners of sound recordings rather than music publishers and songwriters and what might be done to rectify this.

Hot on the heels of the U.S. Copyright Office’s study into licensing in music, Representative Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat who has been seen as a longtime friend to the entertainment industry, spoke at the annual Entertainment Law Initiative luncheon in the run up to the 57th Grammy Awardss, about challenges facing music interests in Washington. Referring to copyright law as a “broken record” that’s out of touch with the current industry. “Despite the fact that Congress wrote the law, members [of Congress] today scratch their heads and struggle to make sense of it,” he was encouraging, but had a stern message for the industry: get yourself on the same page if you want to accomplish anything – saying “I implore you ….. When it comes to legislation, the issues are too important and the opposition too powerful for you to win as a divided community.” Nadler also commented that laws should be “technology-neutral”  adding that doing the right thing is complicated “when you can’t predict what happens next — we risk getting a more fragmented system

And Recording Academy president Neil Portnow used his speech during the 57th Grammy Awards (dominated by the above mentioned Brit soul singer Sam Smith who won 4 gongs) to announce a Creators Alliance designed to bring the nation’s music professionals together to lobby for copyright reform saying “One of the missions of the Academy is advocacy” and “We’re uniquely positioned to represent the interests of the creative community.” The coalition is designed both to advise policymakers on establishing what it considers fair royalty rates and to educate artists and other creative professionals on how to advocate for their rights and needs.

And more …….  Marty Bandier, head of the world’s biggest music publisher Sony/ATV, used his receipt of  President’s Merit Award at the Recording Academy’s annual Pre-Grammy Gala in LA this weekend to argue that songwriters and publishers have been given an unpalatably small portion of the digital music pie.  Pointing out that “songwriters have never received the credit they deserve. This is particularly the case today when something like 95% of the songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart are written in whole or part by someone other than the performer. A songwriter doesn’t share lucrative touring revenue and they don’t do brand deals. Their entire livelihood is reliant on the income from the song and that proposition is now under threat in a way that it has never been before” he added “The music industry is changing in ways that I could never have imagined even just a decade ago; it is exciting for us that this has resulted in music lovers having new ways to listen to music as they move from CDs and digital downloads to streaming services. But it is also the case that songwriters are not being adequately compensated for their creations in today’s digital world. Their songs are the very reason these services exist; their songs are why we are all here tonight. As the saying goes, it all starts with the song” (a view shared by BASCA).





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