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Copyright legislation calls for balance of listener needs, artist needs

On Feb. 5, the U.S. Copyright Office released a 202-page report that called for multiple changes to existing copyright legislation, a proposal that will look to benefit many Belmont students who are songwriters and artists, as well as rising music business professionals.

In April 2013, Congress– led by the House Judiciary Committee– began a comprehensive review of the nation’s copyright laws to evaluate “whether the laws are still working in the digital age.”

Many issues affecting the music industry have been a significant focus of the review. The office initiated this study to illuminate critical concerns of the music marketplace and to identify potential avenues for change.

On March 17, 2014, the office published an initial Notice of Inquiry in the Federal Register– the “First Notice”– requesting public comment on 24 subjects affecting the existing music licensing environment.

The proposal used four primary guiding principles to argue new legislation:

-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.

The new proposal calls for changes under the concerns of licensing parity and compensation, performing rights organizations, royalties and mechanical licensing.

Using these guiding principles, the U.S. Copyright Office made the following primary recommendations:

-The creation of a performance royalty that would pay artists and record labels when their songs are played on traditional radio.

-The elimination of the copyright loophole that cuts artists and labels out of digital royalty payments for songs recorded before 1972.

-Putting the copyright attached to a song’s composition — the one owned by a publisher and songwriter — on equal footing with the copyright attached to the sound recording — the one owned by a record label and artist.

The equality of song composition and sound recordings is a primary concern of stakeholders, as current legislation dictates the royalties paid for compositions, while sound recording royalties are not regulated by government oversight.

Organizations representing songwriters and publishers see the proposal as a step in the right direction for copyright regulation.

Cary Sherman, chief executive officer of the Recording Industry Association of America, applauded the proposal, calling the report an “important contribution to the ongoing conversation about modernizing the copyright laws.”

“Reform is necessary to develop new revenue streams for all creators and innovative consumer product offerings for music fans,” Sherman said in a press release.

“The office also recognized that it is time to fix the system to ensure that all creators are paid fair market value for their work, regardless of the platform on which their work is used. For example, a performance right for FM and AM radio is long overdue,” he added.

Dan Keen, former vice president of ASCAP, and music business professor at Belmont weighed in on the proposed changes, claiming that they are a step in the right direction for artists, songwriters and consumers.

“I love the new proposal because it balances the needs of the music creators with the needs of music users to benefit the culture of art at large,” said Keen.

“The guiding principles stated in the executive summary recognize that music users should have easier access to music licensing, and the proposal calls for a consolidated and simplified database for music licensing,” Keen said. “However, with the creation of this database, the Copyright Office is calling for more transparency of the intended purpose of the request by users.”

Despite the praises of these changes, Keen also cautioned that artists and songwriters should still be concerned over streaming rates from popular platforms such as Pandora and Spotify.

“Sites such as Pandora are undermining current streaming rate and calling for less payment to those who would receive monies. There is currently a fight with ASCAP and BMI to lower rates, but they are already too low,” said Keen. You can read through the entire proposal here.

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