There’s a big, contentious battle brewing in Washington and you might not even know about it. But you should, especially if you like music.
Congress is looking at a complete overhaul of U.S. copyright law, and the most divisive issue involves money and music. The Justice Department also announced in June that it is revisiting a 70-year-old consent decree with the two organizations that collect and distribute songwriting royalties: ASCAP and BMI.
The fight, though, will be over how much copyright protection to extend to the pre-1972 recordings. The RESPECT Act only covers services like Sirius XM and Pandora, and the RIAA and major record labels support this approach (after opposing all federal copyright protection of pre-1972 music for decades), but the U.S. Copyright Office and musician advocacy groups like the Future of Music Coalition (FMC) prefer full protections for the older recordings.
“Observers of politics are no doubt familiar with the concept of ‘strange bedfellows,’” says FMC policy and education chief Casey Rae. “In this instance, you’ve got services like Pandora, artist advocates, copyright maximalists, academics, libraries, archivists, reissuers, and more calling for full protections. Only the major labels seem resistant.” Rae speculates that the labels may be hoping to pursue lucrative lawsuits in state courts, or don’t want the hassle of determining who owns the copyright to what recordings, or fear that “a proper accounting of their copyrights likely means a proper accounting of what they owe artists.”
In the U.S., AM/FM radio stations pay songwriters for the music they broadcast but don’t pay musicians or record labels; internet and satellite radio stations pay royalties to both songwriters and recording artists every time one of their songs is streamed. On May 7, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) introduced the Protecting the Rights of Musicians Act to iron out this discrepancy by making AM/FM stations pay the labels and performing artists too. This chart, from the Future of Music Coalition, explains the current flow of money: