Performance Rights Act: The View From Motown

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detroit

Since it is Detroit-based Democrat, U.S. Rep. John Conyers, that is sponsoring the Performance Rights Act, I thought a view from Detroit would be nice to examine as we continue to watch the battle over this piece of legislation. With that in mind, I present a wonderful editorial from “Freep.com,” the web site of The Detoit Free Press.

Unlike most of the writing on the Performance Tax to date, this piece does a really great job of remaining neutral and presenting a fairly balanced view from the home of Motown. The unsigned editorial points out recent alliances between broadcasters and the recording industry as illustration that the two sides can work together:

The technological shift that has left performers feeling undercompensated isn’t the performers’ fault, but it isn’t the broadcasters’, either.

Indeed, the two industries’ initial response to that shift was a collaborative one: They successfully lobbied Congress for legislation imposing performance fees on emerging competitors such as satellite radio and stations that stream music online. The resulting patchwork of licensing fees comprises what University of Michigan law professor Jessica Litman calls “the longest and least comprehensible piece of the federal copyright statute,” and Congress has been adding loopholes exempting various segments of the online music industry ever since. The recording industry’s argument that Conyers’ bill would simply “level the playing field for all broadcasters” thus exaggerates considerably the uniformity that exists now.

That “uniformity” is showing already in relation to the Performance Rights Act as stipulations continue to be added that allow for reduced royalties for public radio and religious broadcasting among others. It is in everyone’s interest to ensure that creators are able to get paid without having to sling Happy Meals, but the rapid evolution of technology combined with the horrid economy and fundamental shifts in the music business model seem to have introduced a lot of confusion about how to do so in a fashion that is fair to all involved.

But even with the revisions, Conyers’ bill is unfair to broadcasters and unresponsive to the problem at the root of this dilemma.

What would be useful now is for both sides in the dispute to collaborate on a new model for monetizing musical performances and recordings and a formula for distributing the proceeds fairly among the critical players.

Copyright law and royalty issues have been moving toward the forefront ever since the widespread use of the Internet became fact rather than science fiction. I think The Detroit Free Press is spot on when it points to the Frankensteinian conglomeration of licensing rules in force right now. An eye should be turned toward the laws on intellectual properties and how to craft a fair and equitable framework for future business.

More to come, stay tuned!

Photo courtesy of farlane, used under its Creative Commons license

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