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Music industry welcomes COVID support and copyright reforms contained in mega-bill passed by US Congress

By | Published on Tuesday 22 December 2020

US Congress

The music industry has welcomed US Congress’s passing of a new spending bill. The 5593 page bill includes new COVID support for American citizens and businesses, specific financial support for venues, and an assortment of non-COVID related measures, including some key copyright reforms.

The long-time-coming new COVID support schemes follow on from those provided by the CARES Act that was passed by Congress in the early weeks of the pandemic. Some individuals and small businesses in the music community will benefit from the general financial support measures in the new legislation. However, specific support for the music industry comes via a section referred to as the Save Our Stages Act. That will provide finance to, among other things, music venues and promoters that have been in shutdown since March.

Both welcoming and explaining that specific support for venues, the US National Independent Venue Association said in a statement yesterday: “The Save Our Stages Act will provide financial assistance to independent venues and promoters that have been devastated by the pandemic’s shutdown. The Save Our Stages Act will enable these locally owned businesses to hold on until it is safe to gather, re-open fully, and once again return to serve as economic engines for their communities”.

It continued: “The legislation provides critical help to shuttered businesses by providing a grant equal to 45% of gross revenue from 2019, with a cap of $10 million per entity. This grant funding will ensure recipients can stay afloat until re-opening by helping with expenses like payroll and benefits, rent and mortgage, utilities, insurance, PPE, and other ordinary and necessary business expenses”.

Trade groups from across the US music industry – including the American Association Of Independent Music, the Artist Rights Alliance, the Music Artists Coalition, Nashville Songwriters Association International, the Recording Academy, the Recording Industry Association of America, performer unions SAG-AFTRA, and Songwriters Of North America – issued a joint statement welcoming the Save Our Stages Act and the other COVID support measures that will now be available in the US.

They said: “This legislation is a much-needed lifeline for so many in the music industry who have faced loss and uncertainty for far too long through no fault of their own. We are very grateful for the extension of vital CARES Act benefits including pandemic unemployment assistance, and the inclusion of the Save Our Stages Act, which will make billions of dollars in grants available to venues and live entertainment workers who have been unable to do their jobs for months”.

“We are also THRILLED by the inclusion of a dedicated $100 weekly benefit for mixed earners”, the statement continued. “Simply put, these relief provisions will save lives and livelihoods, and they are a substantial step on the road to recovery”.

The nearly 5600 pages of legislation passed by both chambers of Congress yesterday doesn’t only deal with COVID support schemes – it being what is referred to as an ‘omnibus bill’.

Among the other measures included are two key copyright law reforms: the introduction of a small claims court for copyright cases and new laws that empower the US Department Of Justice to charge commercial enterprises making available streams of unlicensed copyright-protected content with felony copyright infringement.

Lobbyists for the tech sector and free speech groups had criticised the inclusion of copyright reforms in this catch-all mega-bill, arguing that – with so many proposals included and most attention understandably focused on the COVID related sections – these changes to copyright law were being passed without proper scrutiny.

In the case of the new sanctions against illegal streaming services, that’s probably true. Senator Thom Tillis only published the specifics of his Protecting Lawful Streaming Act earlier this month. Though in the end, it wasn’t those reforms that the tech sector was really opposed to. Despite some online chatter to the effect that they could result in individual streamers being jailed, in fact, Tillis’s proposals only relate to commercial for-profit enterprises that are in the business of specifically and deliberately streaming unlicensed content.

When publishing his proposals, Tillis stated: “This common sense legislation was drafted with the input of creators, user groups, and technology companies and is narrowly targeted so that only criminal organisations are punished and that no individual streamer has to worry about the fear of prosecution”.

It’s the copyright small claims court that has caused more controversy, even though those proposals have been bouncing around Congress for years, and the specific CASE Act that is included in the big old mega-bill was actually passed by the House Of Representatives last year.

It provides a cheaper and simpler route to pursue copyright infringement cases and is designed to specifically help independent creators. But critics argue it could be open to abuse and make it easier for copyright owners to restrict free speech and fair use.

However, unsurprisingly, the music industry has welcomed both sets of copyright reforms included in the mega-bill. The joint statement from all those music industry trade groups continued: “We also welcome the inclusion of consensus-driven intellectual property reforms in the omnibus bill”.

“The Copyright Alternative In Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act and Protect Lawful Streaming Act (PLSA) will strengthen creators’ ability to protect their works against infringement online, and promote a safer, fairer digital environment, which are particularly needed as the arts struggle to survive the pandemic”, they added. “We look forward to continuing our work to provide greater relief for the American creative community”.

Having been passed with overwhelming support in both the House Of Representatives and Senate, the mega-bill now needs to be signed off by President Donald Trump, though no issues are expected at that final White House stage of the process.