Thursday 5 February 2015

U.S. Copyright Office Releases Comprehensive Music Licensing Study

The xx by Bea Gibson (2013)
A CopyKat pat on the back to our friend Amanda Harcourt (who knows a thing or two about music and copyright) for alerting us to a new study from the U.S.A. 

The U.S. Copyright Office has released a comprehensive study, “Copyright and the Music Marketplace,” detailing the ageing music licensing framework as well as the ever-evolving needs of those who create and invest in music in the twenty-first century. In addition to providing an exhaustive review of the existing system, the report makes a number of recommendations that would bring both clarity and relief to songwriters, artists, publishers, record labels, and digital delivery services.  

“Few would dispute that music is culturally essential and economically important to the world we live in,” said Maria A. Pallante, Register of Copyrights, “but the reality is that both music creators and the innovators who support them are increasingly doing business in legal quicksand. As this report makes clear, this state of affairs neither furthers the copyright law nor befits a nation as creative as the United States.”

There is broad consensus across the music industry on a number of key points: (1) creators should be fairly compensated; (2) the licensing process should be more efficient; (3) market participants should have access to authoritative data to identify and license sound recordings and musical works; and (4) payment and usage information should be transparently available to rightsholders. But there is less agreement as to how best to move forward.

"The Copyright Office’s recommendations address almost every aspect of the music landscape, including the existing statutory licenses, the role of performing rights organizations, terrestrial performance rights for sound recordings, federal protection for pre-1972 sound recordings, access to music ownership data, and the concerns of songwriters and recording artists. These recommendations present a series of balanced tradeoffs designed to create a more rational music licensing system for all."

Some , in particular the actual creators of songs and sound recordings, may be disappointed by the study; whilst it rightly tackles music licensing in an ever changing market place and acknowledges that "Music creators should be fairly compensated for their contributions" - it doesn't really tackle one of the main 'elephants in the room' here - the share of digital revenues that actually make it back to recording artistes (in particular) from their record labels - although songwriters will be encouraged that the report does focus on the disparate treatment of analogous works - in particular the looking at why the lions share of the royalty pot from streaming goes to the owners of sound recordings rather than music publishers and songwriters and what might be done to rectify this.

The full report and executive summary are available on the Copyright Office’s website at and there is a useful summary and some pithy comments over on the CMU Daily here


BASCA, The British Academy Of Songwriters, Composers And Authors, the association that represents composers and songwriters has  announced a new campaign called The Day The Music Died, which aims to give a louder voice to concerns in the songwriter community about the changes occurring as the music business shifts from CD to digital, and from downloading to streams - not least from songwriters and composers who are not performers so cannot directly from newer revenue streams such as sponsorship or the growth in live music sector - and many writers and music publishers have the growing belief that split in revenues generated by recorded music consumption in the digital sphere - where the vast majority goes to the label - is no longer fair or sustainable. 

Announcing the project, BASCA boss Vick Bain said: "Without songwriters and composers there is no music industry and it is, therefore, scarcely believable that writers are almost an afterthought when it comes to getting paid for their work from digital sources. It is not an exaggeration to say that unless things change and change soon the incredible legacy and future health of British songwriting is at real and immediate risk. They need better protection and better remuneration and action needs to happen swiftly".

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