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US music industry trade groups galore present united front over copyright reform in Washington

By | Published on Tuesday 9 January 2018


There have been a lot of copyright proposals made in Washington of late, so much so that it can be hard to keep up. To help, a plethora of American trade bodies, lobbying groups and collecting societies representing record labels, music publishers, artists, songwriters, record producers and artist managers yesterday declared their support for three specific legislative proposals made in US Congress, and two other areas of copyright reform.

The specific legislative proposals include the previously reported CLASSICS Act, which seeks to end the much previously discussed pre-1972 quirk in American copyright law which means that golden oldies aren’t always due the same royalties as recordings released since 1972, despite still being protected by copyright.

The industry groups also formally backed the AMP Act, which would introduce new rights for record producers and sound engineers, and called for reform to the way satellite radio royalties are calculated, and for a general performing right to be applied to the sound recording copyright, so to remove that other quirk of American copyright law, the fact that AM/FM radio stations pay no royalties at all to artists and labels.

Finally, the industry reps threw their weight behind the recently unveiled Music Modernization Act, which would mainly sort out America’s mechanical rights mess that has resulted in songwriters going unpaid and streaming services getting sued, including that mega-bucks $1.6 billion lawsuit filed by Wixen last month. The Music Modernization Act would also change the way royalties are set when song rights are licensed through the collective licensing system, in a way the music industry hopes would increase payments.

The people behind the Music Modernization Act, which is also backed by the digital music sector, hope that by presenting a united front in Washington they might be able to speed those particular proposals through.

Though there are critics of those proposals, including in the music community. The Songwriters Guild Of America, not among the long list of industry bodies backing yesterday’s statement, has raised three key concerns with the Music Modernization Act, and the new mechanical rights collecting society it would create.

First, that the board overseeing that society would be dominated by music publishers rather than songwriters. Second, how unallocated royalties would be distributed by the new society. And third, the fact that it would limit future legal action by songwriters and publishers over unpaid mechanical royalties. Wixen says that it was the latter proposal that made it file its Spotify lawsuit before 2018 began, despite it already being involved in the ongoing negotiations around a previous mechanical royalties class action against the streaming firm.

Elsewhere, it’s notable that the music industry’s bigging up of various copyright reforms in Washington made no mention of the Transparency In Music Licensing & Ownership Act that was proposed by Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner last July.

That also seeks to overcome issues around digital licensing, mainly by orchestrating a big new music rights database. However, while many would agree a decent music rights database would overcome some of the issues in digital licensing, the music community is generally hostile to Sensenbrenner’s proposals, which are seen as an initiative pushed by big tech to make it harder for copyright owners to enforce their rights.

So, at least the music community can truly unite around its distain for those proposals. Talking of unity, that was a theme yesterday as all those trade bodies formally declared their support for the CLASSICS Act, AMP Act and the Music Modernization Act, which together seek to improve things for artists, songwriters and record producers, and their respective business partners.

Noting this, David Israelite, boss of the National Music Publishers Association, said: “Today is truly a new day for songwriters and artists. We are all coming together to support each other’s efforts to modernise and bring fairness to how music creators are paid. Music has value – and that value is not reflected in the way songwriters and artists are treated under century-old laws that have not kept pace with technology. Right now, there is unprecedented momentum behind efforts to fix outdated laws that prevent music creators from earning what they deserve, and I am THRILLED to say that publishers, songwriters, composers, labels, artists and [collecting societies] stand together to fix them”.

Speaking for the major record companies, RIAA President Mitch Glazier added: “2018 is the year for Congress to enact many long-studied proposals that will make our country’s music licensing system fairer for artists, songwriters and their label and publisher partners. A unified music community is essential if we are to take advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity. We encourage the Judiciary Committees to begin advancing these common-sense provisions that modernise the music licensing system, and provide fair, market-based compensation to all music creators for their property and work”.

With so many trade bodies joining yesterday’s announcement, there was a flood of other quotes too – which you can read here if that sounds like fun to you.