ArtsWatch: Fighting For Fair Royalties For Songwriters

The Recording Academy and leading organizations get behind new royalty reform bill
March 03, 2014 -- 7:10 am PST
By Philip Merrill / GRAMMY.com

In recent news ...

New Bill Lets Copyright Royalty Board Set Fair-Market Rates
On Feb. 25 Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) introduced H.R. 4079, the Songwriter Equity Act of 2014, which will help ensure that royalties for the public performance and mechanical licensing of musical compositions are paid at a fair rate. In a powerful show of unity, an event announcing the bill featured Collins along with remarks from The Recording Academy's Chief Advocacy & Industry Relations Officer Daryl P. Friedman, National Music Publishers' Association President/CEO David Israelite, BMI CEO Michael O'Neill, and recent GRAMMY winner and ASCAP President/Chairman Paul Williams. The Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow said, "The Songwriter Equity Act will bring more fairness to those who write and compose the music loved worldwide. We are grateful to Representative Collins for supporting our songwriter members, and appreciate his working with us to ensure that The Academy's performers and studio professionals are protected in the new bill. All music creators deserve to be paid fair market value for their talents, and we now look forward to advancing this legislation at our grassroots GRAMMYs on the Hill Advocacy Day in Washington this spring." For more information, see this week's Advocacy Blog post, "Nothing Daft About Songwriter Equity."

GRAMMY Winners Play For Performance-Right Royalty
Leaders of the recently formed advocacy group Content Creators Coalition played in support of radio-play royalties on Feb. 25 at New York's Le Poisson Rouge. GRAMMY winners David Byrne and R.E.M.'s Mike Mills were joined by Cake's John McCrea and local favorites such as Marc Ribot for artists "to join together to gain fair treatment from those who profit from their work." In a Salon interview prior to the concert, McCrea said, "Every democratic country in the world pays musicians for radio play. We think the United States is a good enough country to do that as well. We're on a list with countries like North Korea and Iran and Rwanda." The night included poster sales, appearances by videoconference and recruiting signatures for the organization's petition "urging Congress to support artists' pay for radio play." Ribot declared from the stage to cheers from the audience, "We are not going to be told to shut up and play."

House Passes Bill To Allow Short-Term Mobile Phone Jailbreaking
On Feb. 25 the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1123, the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, originally introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) on March 13, 2013. At that time a furor had arisen because the Librarian of Congress had not renewed permission to unlock mobile phones under the rulemaking he undertakes every three years. H.R. 1123 would reinstate that permission but only until the next rulemaking cycle. Consumer advocates have stoked consumer sentiment on this issue and initially Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge supported the bill, but when it was recently amended to gain passage — eliminating permission for certain types of businesses to perform mass unlocking before reselling handsets — those groups dropped their support. This legislation now goes to the Senate where it could pass because jailbreaking has become a popular cause, perceived by some as removing unfair copyright restrictions from expensive gear that consumers own. The irony is that the reason the Librarian of Congress decided not to renew the permission in 2012 was because the market had already changed, providing consumers with available options where permission to unlock the handset would be part of their deal under new mobile plans.

Netflix Makes Deal To Pay Comcast For Direct Access
News coverage of Comcast's deal to supply Netflix with commercial interconnection to the cable giant's Internet network broke Feb. 23 and was soon followed by news that Netflix is also negotiating with AT&T and Verizon. Comcast and Netflix subsequently released a statement assuring that the deal was about a "more direct connection" and not about "preferential treatment" — in other words, no violations of Net neutrality or the open Internet. Coverage by outlets such as Cnet, Multichannel News, Reuters, and Washington Post elucidated this distinction. For consumer advocates such as Free Press and Public Knowledge, this is a distinction without a difference, wrapped in commercial secrecy and open to abuse. The deal's real game-changers are apparently that Netflix has gotten what it wanted and that watchdogs are going to have to broaden the national conversation about Net neutrality to cope with issues of Internet backbone distribution that used to stay quietly behind the scenes.

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ GRAMMY.com and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

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