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Music of the Beltway, or why Washington matters

July 6, 2011

For music publishers, it is an inescapable fact of life that copyright law, the “Copyright Act” as written by Congress, has a direct effect on their business.  Just a few examples illustrate the point:
•    The public performance right, which gave birth to ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, is in the Copyright Act.
•    The rates for compulsory mechanical licenses, currently set at 9.1 cents per song, are determined under procedures in the Copyright Office.
•    Digital download rates and ringtone rates are determined according to the Copyright Act.
•    Special concessions for public broadcasting synchronization rates are in the Copyright Act.
•    Online infringement provisions, the “Digital Millennium Copyright Act” (DMCA) have become essential rights enforcement tools for music copyright owners.
•    The rates for licensing of sound recording performances online are set by Copyright Office procedures.
•    Copyright registration procedures are part of the Copyright Act.
•    In some cases, the penalties for infringement are specified in the Copyright Act.
While some of the provisions of copyright law may seem so familiar every word of the Copyright Act started life as a “bill” introduced in Congress. 
In the hopes of participating meaningfully in the process of changes to the Copyright Act, music industry groups like the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA), and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), energetically present their views to legislators. But in order to become the law, EVERY BILL has to be written, find a legislator to introduce it in the House and in the Senate, be the subject of committee hearings and markups, THEN must be voted on and passed by both houses of Congress before being sent to the President for signature and enactment.
Since 2000, and the advent of the internet, the pace of significant changes to the Copyright Act has slowed.  For example in the years 2007 through 2010, no less than 59 bills affecting copyright law were introduced in the House and the Senate, but only 6 became law!
One important significant development occurred in June of this year, with the appointment of the first new United States Register of Copyrights since 1994, Maria A. Pallante, who succeeded the highly esteemed Marybeth Peters.  With Maria’s appointment, the copyright community is fortunate to have someone so skillful and dedicated in the lead role of copyright law in the United States.   If you are a music publisher, then you will want to direct your attention to Washington with keen interest in the coming years.
Here is a list of some upcoming legislation and Copyright Office activities to watch:
•    The Protect IP Act of 2011:  would give enhanced enforcement powers to the government against “rogue” infringing web sites.
•    The Performance Rights Act:  would extend the performance right for sound recordings to terrestrial radio.  The bill did not become law during the last congress, watch to see if it is reintroduced.
•    Copyright Office is conducting studies on the copyright status of pre-1972 sound recordings (currently, pre-1972 recordings are protected under state laws, not the Copyright Act).
•    Future proceedings under the auspices of the Copyright Office will determine future statutory mechanical license rates.
•    The Copyright Office continues to make progress on speeding up the registration process and encouraging online registration applications.
•    The Register of Copyrights regularly testifies before Congress on the most important copyright issues of the day.  For more information, visit www.copyright.gov.

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