US Copyright Office Music Licensing Study Suggests Major Changes

January 15, 2014

Music users and music creators have sung a recurring refrain for years… the “US Copyright Law is behind the times.” That chorus was addressed last week when the U.S. Copyright Office released its long-awaited comprehensive music licensing study, a 245 page report covering a broad spectrum of music licensing issues.

Many of the copyright laws governing music were instituted when player pianos became popular and have developed through the advent of radio, new recording devices and, most recently, digital networks. Maria Pallante, director of the Copyright Office, believes the law is, in fact, behind the times, and if the report’s suggestion are adopted it could shake up things in the music world.

“The structures that evolved in the previous century to facilitate the lawful exploitation of musical works and sound recordings, while perhaps adequate for the era of discs and tapes, are under significant stress,” states the report. “From a copyright perspective, we are trying to deliver bits and bytes through a Victrola.”

Of course, the next move remains with Congress in order to adopt or enact any of the USCO Report’s suggestions, and we know things often slow to a snail’s pace when it comes to legislative action.

In an article by Eriq Gardner The Hollywood Reporter comments:

Some of the proposals figure to spark controversy, debate and furious lobbying should the U.S. Congress tackle a broad overhaul of music licensing.

For example, the Copyright Office wants to extend the public performance right in sound recordings to terrestrial radio broadcasts — a big shift from the time when publicity was seen at payment enough to copyright owners. Also proposed is fully federalizing pre-1972 recordings, a change that would come on the heels of lawsuits against SiriusXM, Pandora and others who have been exploiting older sound recordings without compensation to their owners.

Here are some highlights of the the music industry’s initial reactions to the report:

A2IM (American Association of Independent Music)

“We agree and support the Copyright Office’s copyright revision recommendations in almost all areas, especially related to licensing rate parity for all creators and users, thus eliminating ‘breakage’ and ensuring greater licensing transparency, as well as, the enactment of Performance Right legislation so that sound recording creators are compensated for their investments in music by AM/FM Terrestrial radio and the federalization of Pre-1972 copyrights, among many other important recommendations crucial to the financial well-being of our SME creator community.”

ASCAP (Performance Rights Organization)

“With its report today, the US Copyright Office was clear: the current music licensing system needs reform and fast. The report emphasizes how the current system undervalues musical works – something many of our members experience daily. The many proposed updates – particularly recommendations intended to make the system more equitable for songwriters – underscore yet again the inefficiency of the current system for music fans and creators alike. As outlined in the report, the current marketplace is strained by the 70-year old consent decree regime and is not appropriately responsive to the free market, particularly in our new digital world. As we continue to advocate for our members in Washington, today’s report is an important step towards meaningful reform.”

BMI (Performance Rights Organization)

“The report issued today by the Copyright Office confirms BMI’s position that music licensing, and specifically the archaic rules under which BMI must operate, is in need of change. We applaud the thoughtful work of the Copyright Office in envisioning a model where the songwriters, composers and publishers we represent, along with the creators of sound recordings, all stand on more equal footing. Today’s report is an important step in ensuring that our affiliates realize the fair market value for their creative efforts.”

NMPA (National Music Publishers Association)

“The report bolsters much of what the publishing and songwriting industries have long said, that the legal framework devised over 100 years ago should not be applied to the music licensing landscape of today,” said NMPA President and CEO David Israelite. “We applaud the recognition that music creators should be fairly compensated. However, while there is much to like in this report, we hope that Congress rejects any further regulation of songwriters. It is critical that songwriters are given the freedom of other intellectual property owners – to sell their creations in a free market. Until they can do so, they will continue to be treated unfairly by the very industry they fuel.”

The Tennessean summarized the key guiding principles of the USCO Report as follows:

  • Music creators should be fairly compensated for their contributions.
  • The licensing process should be more efficient.
  • Market participants should have access to authoritative data to identify and license sound recordings and musical works.
  • Usage and payment information should be transparent and accessible to rights owners.

What are your thoughts about the US Copyright Law and changes that need to made to Music Licensing?

About Christian Copyright Solutions: CCS’s quest is to help churches and Christian ministries “do music right.”  CCS is an expert on church music copyrights and our primary focus is providing licensing and clear educational resources to churches, as well as representation, administration and advocacy for copyright owners. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. The information contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel.   

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