World IP Day: Senator Feinstein Discusses Music Reform

World IP Day: Senator Feinstein Discusses Music Reform

By William Glanz

What better time to observe World IP Day.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are deep into discussions about music licensing reform, and yesterday the House of Representatives passed the bipartisan Music Modernization Act (H.R. 5447), consensus legislation that includes the CLASSICS Act and the AMP Act. Lawmakers unanimously approved the bill by a vote of 415-0.

Now the bill moves to the Senate.

Senate passage is crucial for music creators. Some of our nation’s copyright laws date back to 1909 – before headphones were invented (1910), before Columbia Records unveiled their 12-inch microgroove long-playing disc (1948), before the CD (1981), before the iPhone (2007), before streaming accounted for half of the U.S. music industry’s revenue (2016) and before Cardi B took over the world (2017).

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to consider music reform legislation in the coming month, including the CLASSICS Act (S. 2393), AMP Act (S. 2625) and its version of the Music Modernization Act (S. 2334).

Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Ranking Member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been engaged in copyright issues for more than 25 years. The senator has been a member of the Judiciary Committee since 1992 and was among the first to discuss the need for a willing buyer, willing seller rate standard, an important provision intended to establish a fair market rate standard to compensate music creators.

Senator Feinstein has been a critical voice for all the important music licensing discussions – in 1995 for passage of the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act, and in 1998 for passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. In 2007, the senator sponsored the PERFORM Act, which would have required that royalty rates clearly represent the fair market value of the music.

And in 2009 the senator also supported the Performance Rights Act, which would have required terrestrial radio to pay royalties to recording artists.

With music reform surging through Congress we wanted to catch up with Senator Feinstein, one of leading members of the Senate, to get her thoughts on music reform. It’s also fitting that this year’s World IP Day theme is “Women and Innovation.”

SoundExchange: What led you to become such a champion for music creators?

Senator Feinstein: California has long had a rich tradition of supporting the creative arts. Even before the birth of the movie industry, California was shaping music and has been home to many notable musicians.

I have long believed that singers, songwriters, producers and musicians deserve to get paid for their work. Music may be a source of enjoyment for many of us, but for artists it’s their livelihood.

Culturally, I think there’s been a shift in the public’s expectation of what music should cost, a change that started during the early days of the internet when illegal file-sharing sites made it easy to swap music back and forth. That’s why I think it’s even more important to ensure that the artists whose music we enjoy are compensated fairly for their craft.

SoundExchange: Have we reached a point like we did in 1998 (with passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act), when copyright laws became so out of step with technology that they needed to be recalibrated?

Senator Feinstein: Technology has ushered in a new era for music. People have access to more music than ever before, and through more platforms. But while new apps and inexpensive online tools have done a lot to democratize the music industry, we also must ensure artists are not harmed with these advancements.

The approach to music licensing has always been a little cumbersome. The phrase mechanical rights, for example (the right to reproduce copyrighted music), dates back to the days of the player piano. But while the technology has evolved, the fundamental issues remain the same – the people who make the music must receive fair compensation.

SoundExchange: You, along with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, are co-sponsors of the AMP Act. AMP is centered on an industry efficiency that SoundExchange has taken on voluntarily for many years – facilitating the engagement between artists and producers. AMP would formalize that process and allow producers of recordings made before the digital performance right existed to share in those royalties if there was an intent to share any artist’s royalty in their contract. Why is this issue important to you?

Senator Feinstein: I’m concerned that the sound engineers and producers who help turn an artist’s creation into a full-fledged hit don’t have the same protections under federal law for their royalties as the artists.

For many years the industry has operated under an informal agreement where artists decide to provide a portion of their royalties to individuals with whom they’ve worked. Our plan is to codify SoundExchange’s process into law so these sound professionals will have additional legal protection for their fair share of royalty payments.