From Ars Technica:
For the last decade, the Congressional debate over copyright law has been in a stalemate. Content companies have pushed for stronger protections, but their efforts have been stopped by a coalition of technology companies and digital rights groups.
But on Tuesday, we saw a rare moment of bipartisan and trans-industry harmony on copyright law, as the Senate unanimously passed the Music Modernization Act, a bill that creates a streamlined process for online services to license music and federalizes America’s bizarre patchwork of state laws governing music recorded before 1972. That will mean effectively shortening the term of protection of older music published between 1923 and 1954—under current law, these songs may not fall into the public domain until 2067.
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US law provides two different types of copyright protection that apply when someone streams a song online. There’s protection for the composer or songwriter, and there’s a separate copyright for the music recording. Services like Pandora and Spotify typically need licenses for both types of rights in order to stream a song online.
Right now, the system for licensing the songwriters’ copyright (known as “mechanical rights” for historical reasons) is a mess. Streaming services have had trouble identifying the owners of music rights, which has led to songwriters not getting paid and streaming services periodically getting sued for non-payment.
The Music Modernization Act aims to establish a modern system for licensing mechanical rights. It creates a new national database that will aim to cover all copyrighted music in the United States. If all goes according to plan, this new organization will offer streaming services “one stop shopping” for getting songwriters’ licenses for all the songs they want to stream, with the database helping to get the funds to the appropriate songwriters and music publishers.
This would make the licensing of mechanical rights more like the system used for licensing yet another music-related copyright: the right to perform music publicly. If you own a concert hall or other venue where music is played publicly, you sign licensing agreements with three national organizations—ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC—which together have arrangements with the vast majority of the nation’s music publishers.
That gets venues a blanket license to play any music they want to. It’s the job of ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC to figure out which music gets performed most often and divvy up the revenue accordingly. Companies that stream music online would like to have a similar arrangement, and the Music Modernization Act aims to give it to them.
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The legislation also changes how copyright law treats sound recordings made prior to 1972. Prior to 1972, the composer of a song could get copyright protection, but a recording artist couldn’t get copyright protection at all. Instead, song recordings were covered by a patchwork of state-level laws, some of which gave artists copyright-like protection, and others did not. Under existing federal law, these state-level laws will eventually be preempted but not until 2067.
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According to Public Knowledge’s Ryan Clough, works published before 1923 would expire three years after the legislation was passed. Works published between 1923 and 1946 would get the same 95-year term as other types of work—albeit with an extra five-year “transition period” following the 95-year term. Works published between 1947 and 1956 would get a total of 110 years of protection, while works published between 1957 and 1972 would expire in 2067—the same as under current law.
That’s a long time, but it’s arguably an improvement over existing law, where a song recorded in 1927 gets 140 years of state quasi-copyright protection before officially falling into the public domain in 2067.
Link to the rest at Ars Technica
PG is an advocate for strong copyright protection for creators. (Among many other reasons for PG’s advocacy is that Mrs. PG receives benefits from the copyrights she owns for the books she has written.)
The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the ability “…to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for a limited Time to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
The underlying policy basis for the protection of creators via copyright and patents is that the federal government passes laws that enable creators to exclusively profit from their creations for a period of time in exchange for the creators sharing their creations via a filing with the government that discloses their creations.
For patents, the disclosure in the patent application must be in clear, full, concise, and exact terms to enable any person skilled in the art or science to which the invention pertains to make and use the same. In exchange for patent protection, including the right to prevent others from making the invention without a license from the patent holder, the creator must disclose (as opposed to keeping confidential) how to make and use the invention.
For patents, the general public benefits because creators who are rewarded for their useful inventions are incented to create additional inventions, such disclosures encourage the progression of discovery and development in the fields for which patents may be granted – devices, machines, manufactured items, chemical compounds (drugs), processes, designs, plant varieties that are asexually produced, etc., etc. Even though the creator has exclusive control over the patented inventions, everyone is free to review the patent which describes the inventions and general knowledge about the subject of the patent is increased.
With copyrights, the public benefits from the creation of more expressive works (fiction, non-fiction, art, etc.) because creators can control ownership of expressive works, receive payment for their works, etc.
However, if patent and copyright protections are in place for an over-long period of time, competitors may be discouraged, the financial benefits of the creations flow to people who are not the creators and, if the creator has assigned exclusive rights to a third party, the creator may be prevented or discouraged from making further related creations because doing so might infringe upon the rights of the new owners of the patent or copyright.