I’ve said in the past that I doubt Congress will pass major Copyright legislation anytime soon. And I still think that’s true. That said, it’s looking increasingly likely that we will see some important amendments to music copyright in the near future.
You may remember that a few months ago I wrote about the Music Modernization Act (MMA). At that time, the bill was just starting its life in the House of Representatives, but now there has been significant movement toward it becoming law.
Just the other day, the House passed the MMA unanimously(!) on April 25, and it is currently under consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee. That committee held hearings the other day, and you can watch to them if you feel like listening to Smokey Robinson advocate for copyright reform.
The MMA has changed a bit since I last wrote, and it’s important to address what has happened. Briefly, in its original form, the MMA created a new licensing system for “mechanical licenses” for musical works and established a group to manage these licenses and their associated royalties.
Then, at some point, the House added the CLASSICS Act to the scope of the MMA. This bill — the Compensating Legacy Artists for their Songs, Service, and Important Contributions to Society Act (CLASSICS) — gives a right to some sound recordings that they don’t currently have. In 1972, when Congress added sound recordings to the scope of copyrighted works, it only gave protection to recordings created after 1972. Sound recordings from before this time have to rely on state law protections (which are minimal). The CLASSICS Act changes this, but only a little bit. It gives one specific right — a right to control the digital performance of these works — to pre-1972 sound recordings, but otherwise leaves these works under state law. This means that, if it passes, recording artists for pre-1972 works can receive royalties for when their works play on services like Spotify and SiriusXM.
In general, the CLASSICS Act has been more controversial than the MMA in its original form. The concern is that CLASSICS will extend copyright protection for the digital performance of works created between 1923 and 1978 all the way to 2067. That’s 144 years! This doesn’t really make sense, considering that when those people created their sound recordings, they believed that their works would be protected for only 56 years after publication, at the most. Indeed, as Professor Lawrence Lessig points out in an article in Wired, the statute isn’t about serving the goal of copyright to promoting the progress of the arts, but instead is specifically designed to compensate musicians; you can see this in the name of the statute, itself.
It certainly looks like something is going to pass, but I decided a while ago that I shouldn’t try to predict what Congress will do. So instead I will watch and see what happens.
Meanwhile, if you want to learn more about the weird world of music copyright, I wrote a white paper about music copyright that you should check out. You can read it here.