Okay, I’m just going to just say it. For the sake of the music industry, I hope the recently introduced “Songwriters Equity Act” and the “Fair Play, Fair Pay” bills don’t pass.
I do, however, agree with the President of the United States. In a message to congress, the President expressed his thoughts on the need for a complete revision of over 100 year old copyright law rather than a patchwork of certain amendments. He said, “Our copyright laws urgently need revision. They are imperfect in definition, confused and inconsistent in expression; they omit provision for many articles which, under modern reproductive processes, are entitled to protection; they impose hardships upon the copyright proprietor which are not essential to the fair protection of the public; they are difficult for the courts to interpret and impossible for the Copyright Office to administer with satisfaction to the public.”
Wow. I totally agree with that. Revision as opposed to amendments. Let’s bring it up to date to meet our “modern reproductive processes,” and do away with some of the issues that “impose hardships upon the copyright proprietor.” Let’s change it so it is not so “difficult for the courts to interpret and impossible for the Copyright Office to administer.” As the President said, our copyright laws “urgently need revision.”
Oh…did I mention, this statement is a little old? December 1905 to be exact. The President was Theodore Roosevelt. He was encouraging Congress to significantly revise the 1790 copyright law, which they did with the 1909 Act. And here we are over 100 years later and the message is still relevant. The question is, are we going to push for another significant revision to meet today’s modern processes, which is hard to argue against? Or are we going to allow small patchwork amendments? Many organizations have publicly announced their support for the two bills I mentioned above and asked that the industry do everything we can to see these bills pass.
I know both congressmen and their staff who are the primary sponsors of those two bills, and I have a lot of respect for them. Their ideas are good, and I have met with them to discuss these very bills. The bills are both good legislation and I”m 100% behind their ideas—but…it’s not enough. They are small pieces of correction to a much larger puzzle. While I think a Band-Aid is a very useful item, it doesn’t do much good when an arm has been severed. We don’t need a Band-Aid…we need surgery. And quick.
We need to tear the house down and build it back up on the original foundation and certain principles, but using a broader approach to free trade and unlock fair market value.
A few years ago, while in San Diego, I drove down a famous road called “Sunset Cliffs,” which is exactly what it sounds like. There are multi-million dollar homes overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We passed one that had been torn down to the foundation, except there was literally one framed wall standing on the foundation in the middle of where the structure used to be. One wall is kept so the job is considered a “remodel” rather than new home construction, which allows for certain tax advantages and fewer restrictions. By keeping a small portion of the original structure, a house designed to meet today’s building requirements can replace the old structure while retaining some of the foundation or principles upon which it was built.
New homes are built differently than they were over 100 years ago. Updating an old house with new features as the years go by one-by-one to meet current needs often creates a multitude of problems. I’ve heard many members of congress agree that, if we were designing the copyright law to meet our current needs, it would not look like it does today.
The Copyright Office’s report, “Copyright and the Music Marketplace” released this past February, uses the word “reform” when it refers to principles they believe the process should use as a guide. The report suggests, “…the time is ripe to question the existing paradigm for the licensing of musical works and sound recordings and consider meaningful change.” The report also says, “The Office’s proposals are meant to be contemplated together, rather than individually.”
The Songwriters Equity Act & Fair Play, Fair Pay bills contain very positive legislation ideas, but individually they are small improvements on a house that is old and not as useful as it should be. We don’t need patchwork. We need reform. We need to tear the house down and build it back up on the original foundation and certain principles, but using a broader approach to free trade and unlock fair market value.
As President Roosevelt said, “Our copyright laws urgently need revision.” It’s clearly time, again, to tear down and “go big!” Let’s don’t stop short of that.
John Barker is President & CEO of ClearBox Rights, LLC, an independent rights managements company based in Nashville, TN. He is also Chairman of the Copyright Society of the South. John publishes a blog related to songwriting, publishing and copyright issues which can be found at http://clearboxrights.wordpress.com or www.clearboxrights.com. © 2015 John Barker. All rights reserved. Used by permission.