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Copyright Battle Looms

Over Music Industry

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A Bill Winding Through The Long Roads Of The U.S. Congress Aims To Rewrite Copyright Rules That Have Become Increasingly Dated With The Development Of Music Streaming Services

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By Ryan Scott
Modern Times Magazine

Sept. 29, 2015 — The way people are consuming music is rapidly changing. Mp3’s and digital music libraries are being overtaken by streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora and this presents a problem for music creators. These musicians are reaching millions of ears through these services, but are having a difficult time achieving financial success to go along with it.

“(There are) songwriters who I know you've heard of and respect who are calling it quits. I could tell you bands that everyone has heard of and everyone thinks they're big and everybody in that band has at least one day job. And you think 'Oh, those guys are rich.' And some of those day jobs are pretty humble jobs,” said John McCrea, lead singer of the band Cake.

It may be hard to believe, but currently, broadcast radio stations don’t have to pay performers to play their music on the radio. The Fair Play, Fair Pay Act of 2015, which has been sponsored by congressional representatives Jerrold Nadler, Marcia Blackburn, John Conyers Jr., and Ted Deutch looks to change that and re-evaluate copyright law for the Internet age.

"The current system is antiquated and broken. It pits technologies against each other, and allows certain services to get away with paying little or nothing to artists. For decades, AM/FM radio has used whatever music it wants without paying a cent to the musicians, vocalists, and labels that created it. Satellite radio has paid below market royalties for the music it uses, growing into a multibillion dollar business on the back of an illogical ‘grandfathered’ royalty standard that is now almost two decades old,” Nadler said in a statement shortly after the act was introduced.

Nadler is a ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, and is the primary spokesman for Fair Play, Fair Pay. As mentioned in his quote, this act will also impact satellite and Internet radio stations such as Sirius and Pandora, who currently pay less than many feel is reasonable considering their business is built entirely on the backs of intellectual property that they didn’t create.

There are few industries that have changed more in the 2000’s than the music industry. What is so unique and trying about the situation the music industry has been in, is that it hasn’t just been one change, it has been several. This has led to more problems than most music consuming individuals will ever realize.

Nielsen SoundScan, the primary source for music sales and tracking information, recently reported that not only are hard copy sales still in decline, but that digital music sales, the bread and butter of the industry as of late, are also on the decline. Digital tracks took a 13 percent dive last year and this year isn’t looking much better.

The primary culprit though is not illegal downloading or any of the other problems of yesteryear. It is streaming and new school forms of radio that have become increasingly popular who are to blame. Services such as Spotify and Pandora don’t require anyone to ever “purchase” music. It can simply be streamed from the server and all the user has to do is either pay a monthly/annual fee or sit through ads periodically.

Aloe Blacc, who co-wrote Avicii’s song “Wake Me Up,” publically announced last year that he received only $4,000 after the song had been streamed 168 million times. Blacc’s case is on the more successful end of the spectrum as well, considering most songs won’t ever receive a fraction of that attention. Though not all streaming services are created equal.

Apple recently announced that they will be paying labels, publishers and other music owners more than 70 percent of revenues from its new music streaming service, Apple Music. The company is even paying artists during the three month trial period of the service, largely thanks to a very public complaint from Taylor Swift.

Though exact numbers won’t be available from Apple Music for a while, Spotify has said they pay labels and publishers somewhere between $0.006 and $0.0084 per stream. Or to put it another way, a song would have to be streamed nearly 16 thousand times to generate a dollar’s worth of pay from Spotify.

That, mixed with the fact that the younger generations growing up right now haven’t had to learn the discipline or concept of paying for music, it will be tough to find new customers when there simply appears to be no need for them. However, this new bill being put forth by Congress is attempting to mend the situation.

The only reason satellite and Internet radio stations pay any royalties at all is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. But many stations get away without paying any royalties to music made prior to 1972, because prior to that year, recordings were only protected by state law, not federal. Fair Play, Fair Pay would also amend this to ensure that all music master recordings used by any form of radio must be paid royalties.

“Profiting from someone else’s labor and not paying is simply unfair. The failure to adequately pay artists and musicians is particularly harmful to communities like Detroit, which has so many legacy artists who should be compensated fairly for their groundbreaking contributions to the industry. I am happy to support this bill because it provides long overdue fairness for artists regardless of when their music is recorded or where it's played,” Conyers, Jr. said in a statement in regards to his support of the bill.

Most supporters of the bill are quick to point out that the only other countries that don’t pay performers royalties for use of their work on the radio are Iran, China and North Korea. In terms of aligning with a nation's values, those are not exactly countries one would expect to see the United States listed with most of the time.

“The fact that the United States has aligned its system for compensating artists with regimes like Iran and North Korea is shameful. It is destructive to the future of American music and threatens the art of a new generation of artists,” said Ted Kalo, Executive Director of the musicFIRST Coalition, one of the bill’s chief supporters.

Though the idea that radio stations should pay royalties to the creators seems relatively cut and dry, there is quite a bit of opposition to the idea, which is why similar measures have failed to pass when they have been brought to a vote.

The National Association of Broadcasters, the radio industry's lead trade organization, has been very vocal about their opposition to the Fair Play, Fair Pay, and claim that it will hurt the economy and cost people jobs.

"A little over three months into the new Congress, 147 House Members and 11 Senators already agree that the fees proposed by Rep. Nadler would kill jobs, hurt artist promotion and devastate local economies across America,” said NAB in a statement.

However, the bill says that it will ensure that the royalties and fees are affordable for the stations. Stations with $1 million or less in annual revenue would be capped at $500 per year and noncommercial stations would be capped at $100. Also, religious use and incidental use of music would be exempt.

Currently the bill is at a bit of a standstill, but it is going to come to a vote at some point. Convincing people to buy music in an age where content is so disposable and easily obtained through new means may not be the answer anymore. Getting those who profit off the use of the music though, that very well may be, at least if Nadler has his way.

Those who would like to voice their support for the Fair Play, Fair Pay Act of 2015 can visit http://musicfirst-coalition.rallycongress.com/17671/support-fair-play-fair-pay-act/.

Ryan Scott is a contributor to Modern Times Magazine.
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