More than at any time in my fifteen plus years of volunteer songwriter advocacy, there is a growing awareness in Washington DC of the desperate need for sweeping changes in our antiquated Copyright System. Because we have a true believer and forward thinker in our Register of Copyright, Maria Pallante, legislators and stakeholders can finally refer to an updated 400+ page report on the flaws in our system and the changes that need to be made.
The three main issues being pressed before our legislators and Justice Department right now, and their importance to the healing of the American Music Community are as follows:
1.The Songwriter Equity Act— This step would allow rate court judges to look at the marketplace value of the SONG as compared to the sound recording, which by law they cannot do at the present time, and help change the 14:1 — 17:1 disparity in Sound Recording to Songwriter payments from streaming services like Pandora and Spotify. All indications are that streaming is the music consumption model of the future. If that’s true, and downloads and physical sales continue to decline, maintaining the status quo could mark the end of the non-performing songwriter in America. No songwriter can subsist on the existing digital rate schedules. It follows logically that this could mean America would no longer produce great performing artists like Elvis, Sinatra and George Strait, who don’t write their own material. The SEA is an interim step vital to America’s Music.
Ironically, the answer to all these complex Copyright issues was expressed in a simple exchange on April 29th, 2015, at a House Judiciary hearing. Chairman Goodlatte asked Register of Copyright Maria Pallante a very simple question: I paraphrase, “Should all these issues just be left up to the free market, with strict attention to anti-trust concerns?” Ms. Pallante’s answer was an unequivocal, “Yes.”
It is the ultimate irony that songwriters, who are in my experience, the kindest, gentlest, least avaricious small business in America should be crushed beneath the governments regulatory thumb, while every other entrepreneur, business and industry is free to pursue Life, Liberty, and Happiness. This issue is by far the most serious flaw in our Copyright System, and healing it is a cultural EMERGENCY.
2. Terrestrial Performance in a Sound Recording— Labels and artists deserve to be paid for providing the content that makes America listen to the radio, just as songwriters are. Much progress has been made in the free market toward this end, but legislating this royalty is the right thing to do. It will especially help small and independent labels and artists. We are also leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table in almost every other country, since they collect this royalty, but don’t pay it to Americans because we don’t pay it to them. Because of declining terrestrial, and growing digital music consumption, and given the fact that, unlike non-performing songwriters, labels and artists have multiple income streams from which to draw and are being well compensated in the digital space by Sound Exchange, this is an issue that should be addressed, but is by no means a dire situation. And because broadcasters are so vehemently opposed to this royalty, it should NOT be tied to any songwriter legislation, which faces very little opposition.
3. Pre 1972 recordings in the digital space— These artists and labels are being denied their Sound Recording payments because digital services claim the recordings were created before the Sound Recording Copyright went into effect. It’s clear the right was meant to be retroactive. This is an injustice to legacy artists and labels and though it’s not vital to the survival of American Music, it’s an insult to all the wonderful creators in whose footsteps today’s music makers follow.
Steve Bogard was formerly the longest serving President of the Board of Directors in the history of the Nashville Songwriter’s Association International, the world’s largest not-for-profit songwriter advocacy group. He is now Director of The Copyright Forum and an active Professional Songwriter. www.stevebogard.com