Not long ago, we reported on US Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante’s House Judiciary Committee testimony regarding “the next great copyright act.” Pallante described the need to update our existing laws to make them not only more comprehensible to the average American, but also work better in a rapidly-evolving technological landscape. We thought that her reasoning was sound and that she was focusing on the right areas, including the incredibly complicated licensing environment for music.
Clearly, the commitee was listening. Yesterday, at a Library of Congress event marking World Intellectual Property Day, Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) signaled his intent to review the Copyright Act (which was passed in 1976 and took effect in 1978), with an eye to optimizing the laws to reflect current realities. You can read Goodlatte’s full remarks here. (Self-referential bit — Goodlatte also gave a keynote at the 10th Future of Music Summit.)
We probably don’t have to tell you that, when it comes to updating copyright law, much of the focus is on the internet. Goodlatte’s speech was no exception:
When I was first elected to Congress in 1993, only 2.5 percent of Americans had Internet access and less than ¼ of one percent of the world population did. Then, we spoke about the very few who had internet access. Today, we speak about the few who do not. Technological development has increased at an exponential rate…
…There is little doubt that our copyright system faces new challenges today. The internet has enabled copyright owners to make available their works to consumers around the world, but has also enabled others to do so without any compensation for copyright owners. Efforts to digitize our history so that all have access to it face questions about copyright ownership by those who are hard, if not impossible, to locate. There are concerns about statutory license and damage mechanisms. Federal judges are forced to make decisions using laws that are difficult to apply today. Even the Copyright Office itself faces challenges in meeting the growing needs of its customers – the American public.
Goodlatte essentially hits on a handful of issues that impact the music community: the economics of digital distribution, “orphan works” licensing issues and enforcement concerns (including monetary damages). This isn’t easy stuff to sort through, but we’re encouraged that Congress is showing the appetite to do so. We’d suggest that the only way to “get it right” is to consider the perspectives of musicians themselves. For that, it helps to have not just anecdotal information, but actual data. This is why FMC has spent the better part of two years collecting and analyzing information about artist revenue streams. We hope that this study proves useful in discussions about the ecomomics and incentives around copyright.
More than that, we hope that “the next great copyright act” — should one arrive — balances the needs of creators, copyright owners, fans and those who are helping to make music a truly global phenomenon. We’re all in this together, and it’s not gonna work if we aren’t sensitive to the experiences of artists and everyone else in this complex and interdependent ecosystem.
Goodlatte says his committee will be holding hearings over the next several months to examine many of these issues. What do YOU think they should be considering? Tell us in the comments.