Thursday, March 17, 2011

US Copyright Changes

I have been reading about some proposed changes to US copyright law and though to mention them here.

The first is the introduction of a performance royalty right for music played on the radio. At present many countries including Australia pay both the composer and the recording artist a royalty each time a song is played on radio. When I was presenting my radio show a few years ago I was required to complete a log each time I was on air so that the appropriate records were available for reporting what songs were played. In the US this has never been the case. Until now only the composer of the song or more accurately the holder of the publishing rights has received payment. Radio stations in the USA while in the past have been happy to take kick backs from record labels in exchange for playing songs on the radio, have resisted paying a royalty to recording artists - or more accurately the copyright holder of the recording (usually a record label). Their argument has been that radio serves as a promotional vehicle for the artists music and therefore they should not be required to pay a royalty. As ArsTechnica points out this means also that as many countries rely on reciprocal copyright arrangements, it is often the case that American artists dont get paid a royalty in other countries because US radio stations dont pay a royalty to overseas artists either. This looks like it is about to change. I personally dont have a problem with recording artists receiving a royalty for air play - it has long been the case in Australia and our radio stations appear to cope okay - it does matter what the rate is and this could be a point of much ongoing tension with constant pressure to increase or decrease it.

The second change, and one that I am a little more concerned about, is the decision to make illegal streaming of content a felony offense. I wonder where this leaves many YouTube users and facebook sharers. This could potentially open up everyday activities to criminal prosecution instead of civil liability. Furthermore it presents as a potential drain on the public purse with law enforcement agencies being required to investigate, charge and participate in prosecution. I am not sure whether there is a commercial scale infringement requirement in the scheme but the reading I have done so far suggests that it is open to all illegal streaming. While fan based streaming can on the odd occasion detract from what a band is seeking to achieve, for the most part it is positive promotion for an artist with many uploads to YouTube left up for others to see without artists exercising their DMCA take down options. It seems to me that this is dangerous territory for the average person and one likely to detract from the positive uses of the internet. I hope this law is not passed in a hurry.

Further Reading
ArsTechnica, Obama "IP czar" wants felony charges for illegal Web streaming (15 March 2011) < > at 17 March 2011

ZeroPaid, Obama Admin Wants to Make Illegal Streaming a Felony (15 March 2011) < > at 17 March 2011

TechDirt, Administration's New IP Enforcement Recommendations Will Only Serve To Make IP Less Respected (15 March 2011) < > at 17 March 2011

Digital Music News, Obama Officially Backs Performance Radio Royalties... (16 March 2011) < > at 17 March 2011

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