By FMC Policy Fellow Jordan Reth
Tomorrow, our very own Casey Rae (VP for Policy and Education) will testify before the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet in a hearing on “Moral Rights, Termination Rights, Resale Royalty, and Copyright Term.”
FMC supports the right of artists and songwriters to reclaim works previously granted to a label or a publisher following a Congressionally established period of 35 years. Along these lines, we’ve submitted comments to the U.S. Copyright Office on “termination rights,” describing how a “second bite at the apple” is crucial to musicians and songwriters. We’ve also published a handy Musicians’ Guide to Termination, which demystifies the filing process for creators.
Even the possibility of regaining control of copyrighted works can put an artist in a more favorable position with a label or publisher, as was the case with Prince’s recent renegotiations with Warner Music.
FMC’s championing of artists’ rights will be echoed tomorrow in Casey’s testimony, which makes the case that all authors—including recording artists and songwriters—are eligible to reclaim their copyrights under Section 203 of the U.S. Copyright Act:
“There should be no question that recording artists, songwriters and composers are eligible to terminate transferred copyrights after 35 years under Section 203. Unfortunately, this statutory right is often obfuscated by major labels that want us to believe that sound recordings are somehow not part of the provisions laid out by Congress in the 1976 Act. While it is true that the Act exempts certain categories of works, it is absurd to think that Congress intended to exclude recording artists from this fundamental right.”
Also discussed at tomorrow’s hearing will be the impact of copyright term limits:
“Copyright terms continue to be controversial. That said, the Supreme Court made its call, and we have [the author’s] life plus 70 [years]. One reason for the previous extension may have been because the international community was heading in that direction and we needed to ensure that other countries would follow through with royalty obligations and enforcement. I believe that it’s important for statutory heirs to benefit from the creative labors of their loved ones. But I don’t feel that terms should be extended any further. Further extending terms would worsen the perception that copyright law primarily serves huge corporations, which diminishes respect for the entire enterprise of copyright, encouraging undesirable behaviors. In actuality, copyright is one of the more important tools that small-scale creators have to protect themselves against unwelcome exploitation.”
While copyright term limits are fairly settled territory, possible mechanisms such as comprehensive ownership registries and a 50 year re-registration requirement could improve access to important cultural works, as well as help creators recapture their rights.
Finally, the hearing will also deal with “moral rights,” which can be a grey area in the U.S. Still, Casey’s testimony tomorrow touch on attribution as a key concern of creators:
Our own copyright landscape looks a bit different [than other countries]. Artists embrace America’s free speech traditions because they enable us to freely and creatively express ourselves. But I can say that attribution is something that is supported by every artist to whom I’ve spoken. So if Congress can help with attribution, the creative community would likely respond favorably.
Our goal in appearing before Congress is to make the case that any adjustment to the law should benefit musicians and songwriters (all authors, really) and not just big corporations. As Casey’s testimony states:
We believe that musicians and songwriters should have a choice in how they exploit their copyrights, as well the ability to reach audiences and take part in emerging innovations.
It’s important to remember that we’re at the start of what could end up being a pretty long process. But we intend to be there every step of the way making sure the artist voice is part of the conversation.
image via shutterstock.com