On Monday March 4th, US Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante delivered a speech at Columbia Law School entitled “The Next Great Copyright Act.” Her remarks drew immediate attention within the creative communities and beyond — after all, it’s not every day that the nation’s top official on copyright calls for Congress to overhaul existing law. (You can also check out Pallante’s keynote at our 2011 Summit.)
According to Pallante, a significant update to the Copyright Act is overdue. The last time Congress produced a top-to-bottom revsion was in 1976 (before that, 1909). There have been incremental adjustments since then, not the least of which was the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a 1996 bill that covered then-new digital technologies like the internet.
Pallante must have gotten Congress’ attention, because she’ll appear before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet on Wednesday, March 20 at 3:30 PM EST. Her written testimony is already available online; check it out here.
We expect subcommittee members to ask Pallante about a range of topics, many of which are certain to implicate digital music. Here’s an excerpt from her written testimony (emphasis added):
“…The list of issues is long: clarifying the scope of exclusive rights, revising exceptions and limitations for libraries and archives, addressing orphan works, accommodating persons who have print disabilities, providing guidance to educational institutions, exempting incidental copies in appropriate instances, updating enforcement provisions, providing guidance on statutory damages, reviewing the efficacy of the DMCA, assisting with small copyright claims, reforming the music marketplace, updating the framework for cable and satellite transmissions, encouraging new licensing regimes, and improving the systems of copyright registration and recordation.
“That said, Congress does not need to start from scratch, as it has already laid the groundwork for many core issues. For example, Congress already has had more than a decade of debate on the public performance right for sound recordings, and has given serious consideration to improving the way in which musical works are licensed in the marketplace. These issues are ripe for resolution.”
In other words, specific attention is paid to issues that impact the music community:
1. notice and takedown requirements and “safe harbors” for online services
2. an examination of policies and marketplace practices that govern music
3. licensing reform for music (not entirely distinct from #2)
4. more functional and accessible databases and voluntary copyright registries
5. the obligation to compensate performers for broadcasts, whether digital or over-the-air
6. (see #2 and #3)
Also expected to come up are copyright terms, or how long a work is protected. Congress extended the length of copyright to the life of the author plus 70 years when it last updated the Act in 1976. Some argue that this is too long a period, but the Supeme Court upheld its constitutionality in a 2003 ruling. In her speech at Columbia, Pallante suggested a compromise of sorts: life of the author plus 50 years (with the option to renew the copyright for an additional 20).
When major updates to federal statute are proposed, some act like the sky is about to fall. We’d advise taking a deep breath — it’s not as if a bill is going to magically appear tomorrow that will address every issue involving copyright in the digital era. And even if one did, it would have a long road before becoming law.
We’ll report back on the hearing and keep you informed on developments.