A Rare Consensus on Copyright Is Under Attack

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By Holly Sadler

Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee voted 32-0 in favor of the Music Modernization Act. We’ve written about the Music Modernization Act before, but to give you a brief recap, this bill brings together the vast majority of industry stakeholders (who rarely agree on copyright issues) and forms a consensus on how to address some of the most problematic and antiquated areas of copyright law that negatively impact the music industry.

It allows for the creation of a songwriter database, so songwriters can be fairly compensated for their work and those who play their work can easily identify who to compensate. It also re-aligns the rate standard used to determine compensation for artists to incorporate a more market-based approach and extends this standard to digital music providers like Spotify, Pandora, and others. A huge improvement over the current government price control system that has kept rates artificially low for years.

Additionally, it frees up creative artists to voluntarily designate a portion of their royalties to producers, mixers, or sound engineers and creates a mechanism for this to be done easily. Finally, it corrects a loophole in the 1976 Copyright Act that exempted works created prior to 1972 from being fairly protected under copyright law. Under this bill, classic artists and their copyright holders would finally be compensated – just like contemporary artists – for their works under the new market-based compensation standard.

These are all huge wins for intellectual property and copyright protections. And they are a long time coming. The Music Modernization Act is truly a rarity in today’s climate, bringing together Republicans and Democrats, internet companies (including streaming services), licensing organizations, creative artists, and publishers, unions and free-market advocates. With so many in agreement, as well as a unanimous vote out of Committee, this should be a strong signal to the full House and Senate that the Music Modernization Act is a thoughtfully considered, necessary piece of legislation and should be passed quickly.

Unfortunately, interest groups that are ideologically committed to undermining protections for intellectual property are working feverishly to oppose even these commonsense, consensus-driven reforms.  Claiming that they are in it to help artists (a claim disputed the artists themselves), organizations like Public Knowledge, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the ACLU have been pushing an amendment requiring rights owners to remit 100% of their royalties to artists, effectively seizing their property and giving them zero incentive to actually license their catalogs.  These voices fundamentally do not believe in private property and they cannot allow any property right protection – even one supported by virtually all stakeholders involved – to be established, clarified, or strengthened without calling it into question.

We hope legislators will see through these attempts, recognize that intellectual property is a private property right protected by the Constitution, and pass the Music Modernization Act in its current form. Any amendment that seeks to take away property rights or reduce those rights should be immediately rejected.