On April 18 — less than a month after the House Judiciary Committee's hearing about updates to the Copyright Act — more than 100 individual music creators were in Washington, D.C., speaking with their representatives about what such updates would mean to them. These performers, songwriters and studio professionals were in town on their own time and their own dime because they have a critical stake in the future of copyright. And we as a nation have a stake in protecting their livelihoods.
This issue is too important to devolve into another one of Washington's "big content versus big tech" debates. At the center of the conversation are individual creators, from all creative disciplines, whose very work helps drive our economy. It is they who are mentioned in the copyright clause of the Constitution, and it is they who should be the primary concern of any changes to the Copyright Act.
As a member of the Copyright Alliance, The Recording Academy sees the complete face of intellectual property well beyond our music makers. The alliance's membership also consists of organizations representing photographers, graphic artists, directors and stage craftspeople, along with a grassroots membership of more than 12,000 individual artists. Technology behemoths and their Washington spokespeople tout the importance of innovation in the delivery of content, yet they fail to mention the innovation that comes before all others. Without the innovation of writers, performers, directors, and filmmakers, the fanciest new media player would deliver only a white screen and a silent soundtrack.
So let's agree that certain principles should be the foundation of any update of the Copyright Act:
Creators should receive fair compensation for their work when it is exploited. Too often we've heard that new and old businesses should be allowed to use creators' works at a below-market (or zero) royalty rate to protect a flawed business model. Creators want to be partners with distributors, but they should never be forced to subsidize those businesses.
A right is meaningless without reasonable enforcement. Without effective enforcement, copyrights will have little value. If creators are to benefit from the fruit of their labor, they must have confidence that their work will be protected in the constantly evolving digital marketplace.
Freedom of expression depends on copyright. Copyright gives individual creators the freedom to choose how they express themselves. With copyright, writers and artists can decide how and when to use their work. They can freely give their work to the public, to a cause they believe in, or they can try to earn a living from it. Consent is a critical part of the creator's freedom.
These three simple principles will ensure that music, art and culture continue to be incentivized, as envisioned by the framers. The more art is created, the more businesses that rely on content will succeed. It's not content versus innovation — content drives innovation.
Last month, the music community lost one of its greats, 14-time GRAMMY winner and record producer Phil Ramone. Ramone was an accomplished musician, producer and engineer, but he also was a master innovator and technological wunderkind who advanced recording processes perhaps more than anyone of his generation. Yet he also understood that technical wizardry could never take the place of a great songwriter and artist.
Phil understood creators must come first. As Congress considers the next copyright update, policymakers should understand this as well.
(This blog first ran on Politico.com.)