It’s often challenging for musicians to try and keep track of all the policy issues that can potentially impact their lives and livelihoods. In the unprecedented day-to-day chaos and unpredictability of our current unconventional political environment, it can be even harder.
So here’s a quick update on one of the most important issues facing musicians, some questions answered, and some thoughts about what may lie ahead.
On Friday, March 10, 2017, news broke that a band called Soviet Soviet had been barred from entering the US and forced to fly back home, cancelling a US tour that included Austin’s SXSW festival. In the wake of recent controversy about language in SXSW’s performance agreement, the news created a flurry of outrage and panic, and quite a bit of misunderstanding. Here’s our attempt to answer all your questions:
One week before thousands of music/film/technology fans descend on Austin for the annual SXSW festival, controversy has erupted over provisions in the performance agreement required of all artists. On Thursday afternoon, musician Felix Walworth of the band Told Slanttweeted a screenshot of contractual language and the caption, “After looking through this contract sent to me by sxsw I have decided to cancel Told Slant’s performance at the festival.”
Walworth’s tweet quickly went viral, and since then, media outlets picked up the story, and an array of musicians (including some good friends of FMC) escalated the pressure with an open letter demanding that this language be dropped.
We’re still trying to make sense of this story, but here’s some questions and answers.
One of Donald Trump’s central campaign promises was to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as Obamacare. Trump memorably pledged to scrap the law “on day one” and replace it with “something terrific,” though details were scarce. Since Trump’s election, many newly insured musicians have found themselves wondering what to do in the face of this uncertainty.
There’s no consensus in Congress about what system might replace Obamacare. Health care advocates like us are watching closely to see what changes might be most likely, and which provisions are likely to stay intact.
When President-Elect Donald Trump takes office in January, he will be charged with leading a deeply divided nation. And on many issues important to musicians, we still have very limited information about his views and positions.
Future of Music Coalition is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and as such, we cannot endorse parties or candidates. We are proud of our long history of working with members of both major parties to achieve sound policies which benefit musicians and serve the public interest. That bipartisan approach has served us well over the years.
We can, however, take clear stances on issues, and the historical moment demands that we assess the implications of this changing political landscape for musicians. While many of the issues we work on don’t break down on along clear partisan lines, Trump’s election and the resulting shift in the balance of power could result in hard-fought and historic victories for musicians being rolled back. Musicians and their allies must be prepared to organize and fight to defend these victories.
Late on Friday, October 21, news broke that Maria Pallante, who had served as Register of Copyrights at the United States Copyright Office had been removed from her post, and reassigned as a special advisor to the Library of Congress on digital strategy. The move was made by newly confirmed Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden, who assumed her new role just six weeks ago.
It’s no overstatement to say that this news has been greeted with surprise, dismay, and a certain measure of panic from creator groups. It’s important to understand where this fear comes from, at a time when many changes to copyright law and to the copyright office itself are under consideration. The implications for musicians and composers of all scales and genres—from DIY upstarts to veteran hitmakers—could be massive.
On Wednesday, September 7, Apple is poised to host a special event announcing the launch of the iPhone 7, widely rumored to lack an analog headphone jack. Since these events are always accompanied by frenzied speculation, let’s make a bet: Would you wager Apple’s headphone jack is removed to reenact an already failed DRM scheme or capitalize on exclusivity and market domination in a multi-billion dollar accessory category?
With the rumors of Apple removing the analog headphone jack from the next iPhone came a deluge of articles about the impending invasion of DRM (a blanket term for various types of digital rights management). We’re told that this move must be happening at the behest of greedy record labels, eager to inconvenience users for the sake of their battle against piracy, forcing people to use DRM-protected digital audio streams. But let’s ask some critical questions. While it is a technical possibility that an all-digital audio feed could include DRM, who would implement it and why?
When legal battles about copyright infringement make the news, they tend to concern big stars. big hits, and big dollar amounts, from Robin Thicke vs. Marvin Gaye’s estate, to Led Zeppelin’s successful defense of their authorship of”Stairway to Heaven.”
Those charges rise quickly when a case takes years to wind through the courts. When photographer Daniel Morel won a $1.2 judgment after a 5-year legal battle against AFP and Getty Images, his law firm had racked up some $2.5 million in legal costs. However, even though the jury had found AFP and Getty had willfully violated his copyright, the court refused to grant him attorneys fees. This left the law firm that worked with Morel with little hope of collecting on the more than 3,800 hours of work they had put into the case.
This is bad news for both plaintiffs, who often can’t afford to file a lawsuit at all, as well as defendants, who are regularly targeted for hefty damages to justify the expenses. For many musicians and composers, this all means that legal recourse, even in clear cases of copyright infringement, may be out of reach.
After a recent court victory, Madonna is likely to be thanking her lucky stars. On June 2nd, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 in favor of the dance-pop diva and producer Shep Pettibone, who had been sued by VMG Salsoul LLC over her alleged use of a .23-second snippet of the Salsoul Orchestra song Love Break in her 1990 hit Vogue. The court ruled that the use (purported to be a single horn stab) was de minimis, meaning such a small use as to be trivial and not a copyright infringement.
The Ninth Circuit ruling is at odds with a 2005 ruling from the Sixth Circuit, Bridgeport Music Inc.. v. Dimension Films. In that case, the court looked at whether N.W.A., in two of their songs, infringed the copyright of a Funkadelic song by sampling a two-second guitar riff. In that case, the Appeals Court, reversing the lower court, ruled that de minimis did not apply in cases of sampling of a sound recording (while leaving the door open to the possibility of fair use claims.)
This split between the two circuits could even ultimately set the issue on the path to the Supreme Court, though it could be a long time before such a hearing takes place. Still, the case once again raises the issue of whether very short samples are not only not copyright infringements, but are too trivial to weigh.