Rep. Nadler: Congress Must Update Music Copyright Laws

Jun 25, 2014 Issues: Jobs, Labor and the Economy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, delivered an opening statement at the hearing on “Music Licensing Under Title 17 Part Two.”

“The current music licensing system is rife with inconsistent rules and inequities that make no rational sense. If we started from scratch, nobody would write the law the way it stands today.  Terrestrial, satellite, and Internet radio compete against each other under different rules for compensating songwriters, performers and other rights holders, assuming these artists are even paid at all for their works,” said Rep. Nadler. “That is why I pledged at our first hearing on music licensing to develop a comprehensive omnibus bill, which people have dubbed the ‘MusicBus,’ to update music copyright law. Congress should get out of the business of dictating winners and losers, and, once and for all, create a level playing field. The law should be platform neutral, and all music creators should receive fair market based compensation for their work.”

The following is the full text of Congressman Nadler’s opening statement (as prepared for delivery):

        “Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this second hearing on ‘Music Licensing Under Title 17.’  At the first hearing held two weeks ago, we heard from a diverse panel of witnesses representing performers, songwriters, publishers, television licensees and digital music delivery services.  Although there are varying viewpoints about the specific problems most in need of a legislative solution, there was widespread agreement that the system is need of comprehensive reform.

        “As I stated at the first hearing, the current music licensing system is rife with inconsistent rules and inequities that make no rational sense. If we started from scratch, nobody would write the law the way it stands today.  Terrestrial, satellite, and Internet radio compete against each other under different rules for compensating songwriters, performers and other rights holders, assuming these artists are even paid at all for their works.   

        “Several of the service providers who play an important role in the music ecosystem are with us today. Local broadcasters provide critical programming – including local news, weather, and emergency alerts – and often form strong public service partnerships with the communities that they serve. We also have representatives of digital radio, such as SiriusXM and Pandora, who are making music available to consumers in new and innovative ways.  Although we may have differing views about the best way to approach these issues, I look forward to a productive discussion about how to come together to improve the music licensing system.

        “As I noted at the first hearing, our current scheme is so haphazard because, in large part, pieces were developed at different times and often in response to different innovations in the music and technology industries.  Rather than continuing to adjust the system in a piecemeal fashion, we must take a comprehensive approach. 

        “I am not alone in my belief that a comprehensive approach is needed.  At this year’s Grammys on the Hill event, Recording Academy President & CEO, Neil Portnow, called for the industry to coalesce behind a single bill.  His call for unity was later echoed by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who agreed that the time has come for Congress to address these issues in one package.

        “That is why I pledged at our first hearing on music licensing to develop a comprehensive omnibus bill, which people have dubbed the ‘MusicBus,’ to update music copyright law. Congress should get out of the business of dictating winners and losers, and, once and for all, create a level playing field. The law should be platform neutral, and all music creators should receive fair market based compensation for their work.

        “There is a growing consensus that the system is in need of reform. In addition to this committee’s ongoing copyright review, the Copyright Office is conducting a music licensing study. Just this week, it concluded a series of roundtables held around the country in Nashville, Los Angeles and New York. The Commerce Department issued a Green Paper on updating copyright, including music licensing, for the digital age. And the DOJ is conducting a much-needed review of the consent decrees that govern ASCAP and BMI – two of the performance rights organizations responsible for collecting and distributing royalties. I hope that the DOJ review will be completed quickly as time is of the essence for all the parties involved.

        “Today’s hearing is another important step in this larger effort to review and update the music licensing system. I am interested in hearing from today’s witnesses about the specific issues that should be addressed, and about how we can best enact meaningful comprehensive reform. I have no doubt that today’s discussion will be just as informative and useful as our first.

        “Thank you, and I yield back the balance of my time.”

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