The US House of Representatives has been looking at potential reform of the Copyright Act for some time, holding a number of hearings before the Committee here in Washington DC (see, for instance, our article here about one of those hearings). Yesterday, the Committee announced that it is taking its examination on the road, conducting a “listening tour” of the country, starting with a roundtable on music issues to be held in Nashville on September 22. The Committee’s announcement of the listening tour (available here), says that future dates and locations (and presumably topics) will be announced at a later date. The announcement states:
America’s copyright industries – movies, television programming, music, books, video games and computer software – and technology sector are vitally important to our national economy. The House Judiciary Committee’s copyright review is focused on determining whether our copyright laws are still working in the digital age to reward creativity and innovation in order to ensure these crucial industries can thrive.
So what are some of the issues that are likely to be considered? On the music side, there are many issues, including questions about the disparity between the payments from digital media companies made to songwriters as opposed to sound recording rights holders (see our article here), the amounts of the royalties themselves (with digital media companies finding many royalties to be too high to allow for a profitable operation while rights holders argue that they are too low to compensate creators for the decrease in the sale of music in a physical form – see our article on how the one-to-one nature of the digital performance complicates the discussion of the value of music when compared with analog performances), issues as to whether broadcasters should pay a performance royalty for sound recordings, and the question of pre-1972 sound recordings (see our last article on pre-1972 sound recordings, here). Many of these issues were addressed by the Copyright Office in its report on reform of the copyright laws as they relate to music (see our summary here). Some of the songwriter issues are also being considered by the Department of Justice in its review of the antitrust consent decrees governing ASCAP and BMI (see our article here).
At the same time, Congress and other government agencies (for instance, the Department of Commerce which issued a Green Paper asking questions about copyright reform – summarized here – and holding its own hearings on the issue) have been looking at copyright issues more broadly. These include whether there should be changes in the DMCA safe harbor for user-generated content, questions about “orphan works” (i.e. works that are technically still under copyright protection, but where the rights holder is unknown or cannot be located so that rights are difficult or impossible to obtain, an issue we wrote about in the context of the Copyright Office’s review of copyright issues with photos and other visual images), and more generally, how to make the copyright system function more easily in the digital world. Even questions of the structure and functions of the Copyright Office itself may be part of the reform effort (see our article here).
These are difficult questions on which there are many parties with many differing perspectives. Copyright reform traditionally takes a long time to achieve. Thus, while the committee has been looking at reform for a significant period of time already, don’t look for the process to be considered complete and ready to be concluded immediately after this tour is done. Instead, it will more likely be a long process of give and take between the parties involved in all of the industries affected by copyright before we will finally see the Act updated for the 21st century (or at least for this part of that century, as the need for copyright reform seems to be forever ongoing as long as technology advances).