Mechanicals, Performance and Digital Transmission, Oh, My!
Monday March 31st 2014, 9:32 am
Filed under: Copyright & Legal

If you aspire to having your music licensed for use in TV shows or commercials, or in having other performers record your compositions, or even maybe one day hearing your own voice on the radio singing one of your own songs, you should pay attention to this.

The US Copyright Office is looking into the existing methods of music licensing, and they want your feedback. (Really!)

As the announcement says:

While the Copyright Act reflects many sound and enduring principles, and has enabled the internet to flourish, Congress could not have foreseen all of today‚Äôs technologies and the myriad ways consumers and others engage with creative works in the digital environment… The United States Copyright Office is undertaking a study to evaluate the effectiveness of the existing methods of licensing music. The Office will solicit written comments and hold public meetings to obtain the views of stakeholders and the public on music licensing issues. The Office will use the information gathered during the study to report to Congress.

A bit of background

As you may already be aware, there are three basic types of “rights” subject to licensing today:

  1. Mechanical rights: This gives the owner of a composition the exclusive right to make and distribute copies of that composition. If you want to record and sell somebody else’s song, you have to get their permission. Right now, you have to license on a song-by-song basis, which can be a bit of a hassle. The Copyright Office wants to know if this song-by-song method still works well, or if they should consider some sort of “blanket” licensing.

  2. Public performance: The owner of the composition also has exclusive rights to publicly perform their work. This includes not just concerts, festivals and nightclub gigs, but also broadcasting on radio and TV, the music that plays overhead in stores and offices, the “music on hold” you might hear when you call up a company… all sorts of things that might not spring immediately to mind when you think about “public performance.”

    Artists can opt to negotiate directly with licensors, but that’s a lot of work. So at the moment these licenses are usually administered by one of three Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) — ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. The Copyright Office wants to know if you think the current system is effective.

  3. Digital transmission: This one is a little different. Congress passed the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act (DPRSRA… try pronouncing that quickly!) back in 1995. The idea was to give teh creators of individual sound recordings (as opposed to the composers of the songs) a limited exclusive right to the digital transmission of their sound recordings. This mainly applies to online streaming audio and video services such as Pandora, and apparently only applies to songs recorded after 1972. As a result, online steaming services have to get two licenses: a mechanial reproduction license from the owner of the song, and a digital public performance license from the owner of the actual recording.

    The Copyright Office wants to know if it still makes sense to separate the mechanical and performance rights in this way, or if there should be some other type of unified or blended licensing. They also are assessing the methodology by which the licensing rates are computed and whether this digital performance right should be extended to recordings made prior to 1972.

Make sure your voice is heard

Whether you’re a composer, a performer or a broadcaster (or some combination of the three), you’ve probably got an opinon on the topic. So head on over to the Copyright Office website and give them a piece of your mind! The deadline for comments is May 16, 2014.

Article copyright © by Diane M. Aull. All Rights Reserved.

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