More than at any time in my fifteen plus years of volunteer songwriter advocacy, there is a growing awareness in Washington DC of the desperate need for sweeping changes in our antiquated Copyright System. Because we have a true believer and forward thinker in our Register of Copyright, Maria Pallante, legislators and stakeholders can finally refer to an updated 400+ page report on the flaws in our system and the changes that need to be made.
The three main issues being pressed before our legislators right now, and their importance to the American Music Community if this were a medical triage situation are as follows:
Pre 1972 recordings in the digital space – These artists and labels are being denied their Sound Recording payments because services claim that they were made before the Sound Recording Copyright went into effect, when it’s clear the right was meant to be retroactive. This is an injustice to legacy artists and labels: Triage Class: Cut finger, needs stitches.
Terrestrial Performance in a Sound Recording: Labels and artists deserve to be paid for providing the content that makes America listen to the radio, just a s songwriter are. Much progress has been made in the free market toward this end in the free market, (labels are not under the government’s thumb, unlike songwriters and publishers.) Legislating this is the right thing to do and will especially help small and independent labels and artists. We are also leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table in almost every other country, since they pay this royalty, but don’t pay it to Americans because we don’t pay it to them. Keeping in mind that labels and artists have multiple income streams and are killing it in the digital world and terrestrial radio is in slow decline: Triage Class: really bad cold.
The Songwriter Equity Act allows rate court judges to look at the marketplace value of the SONG as compared to the sound recording, which they cannot by law do at the present time. This step would help change the 14:1 to 17:1 disparity in Sound Recording payments to Songwriter payments on streaming services like Pandora and Spotify. All indications are that streaming is the music consumption model of the future, as these services grow exponentially. If this is the case, and downloads and physical sales continue to decline, maintaining the status quo marks the end of the non-performing songwriter in America. These rates are unsustainable. No songwriter can subsist on these rates. Logically it also means America will no longer produce great performing artists who don’t write their own tunes, (Elvis, Sinatra, Strait.) The SEA is a very good interim step and vital to America’s Music. Triage Class: Stage 4 Cancer – something has to be done quickly.
Ironically, the answer to all these complex Copyright issues was expressed in a simple exchange today at a House Judiciary hearing. Chairman Goodlatte asked Register of Copyright Maria Pallante a very simple question? I paraphrase, “Should all these issues be left up to the free market, with strict attention to anti-trust concerns?” Ms. Pallante’s answer was, “Yes.”
It is the ultimate irony that songwriters, who are in my experience, the kindest, gentlest, least avaricious small business in America should be crushed beneath the governments regulatory thumb, while every other entrepreneur, business and industry is free to pursue Life, Liberty, and Happiness.