Spotify launched in 2008, Pandora was founded in 2000, the first CD’s were made publicly available in the early 1980’s – yet the last general revision made to the century old US Copyright Act occurred in 1976. Although the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 amended the Copyright Act to accommodate technological advances, it is widely recognized that many of the laws around music licensing are extremely outdated.
Early last year, the US Copyright Office took notice and began a year-long study involving industry participants to determine the changes that needed to be made. This month, they have released their findings in a report that proposes some major alterations in an attempt to make music licensing laws up to date, efficient, and fair.
Under the proposed changes, music rights owners such as songwriters and recording artists would be given more control of their music and compensation, including the ability to opt out of digital streaming. Artists would also be granted more transparency in royalty agreements made by publishers and labels. The Copyright Office also aims to “treat like uses of music alike” in terms of payment, instead of having drastic differences in royalties received from the variety of different music distribution services in use today.
In addition, AM and FM radio stations would no longer be exempt from paying performance fees that satellite and internet radio stations are already subjected to. Music recorded prior to 1972 would also become protected under modern federal copyright law, heavily affecting services such as Pandora and SiriusXM, who have been utilizing a legal loophole to play these older recordings without paying the rights owners.
If passed, the Copyright Office’s updates to music licensing law would address numerous complaints made by those on all sides of the music industry, and would bring about changes necessary to keep up with modern innovation. However, these changes could also have potentially harmful effects on streaming services and terrestrial radio alike with all of the newly enforced fees and price hikes. It’s difficult to speculate exactly what kinds of effects these updates will produce, as the language of the changing codes could lead to any number of interpretations.