by Sam Redd, Communications Intern and Kevin Erickson, Communications Associate
It’s happening again: another contemporary hitmaker is involved in a lawsuit with the estate of a well-loved musician over alleged unauthorized use of elements of the latter’s past work. In this case, the issue is Robin Thicke’s 2013 hit “Blurred Lines” and the Gaye family’s claim that the song illegally appropriates elements from Marvin Gaye’s #1 hit “Got to Give it Up,” released in 1977. After more than a year of legal wrangling, it now appears that the dispute may be one of the rare infringement cases that makes it to trial. But there’s a surprising wrinkle: in the course of litigating this dispute, Thicke may have let slip one of the music business’s more troubling open secrets.
Judge Colleen McMahon of the United States District Court in Manhattan said no-go to SiriusXM’s motion for summary judgment (a move to dismiss the suit), giving the satellite broadcaster until Dec. 5, 2014 to dispute remaining facts. This means that SiriusXM can be held liable for copyright infringement.
Currently, recordings made before February 15, 1972 do not enjoy federal protection, as there was no federal copyright for sound recordings until Congress passed a bill on that date. However, this legislation did not apply retroactive protections, which means older sound recordings are covered by a patchwork of state statute and case law.
Streaming music is getting a lot of attention lately. Some of this is because country/pop superstar Taylor Swift removed her catalog from Spotify, and majormediaoutlets like to ask folks like us what it means. But Spotify isn’t the only streaming game in town: there’s also Internet radio, which is an entirely different animal when it comes to how royalty rates are calculated and how musicians are paid.
Imagine a radio format that plays “twice as many songs” by only playing about half of each song, in an attempt to cater to “the needs and lifestyle of today’s multitasking, attention challenged listeners.” It may sound like a joke straight out of Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, but it’s the actual concept behind QuickHitz, a syndicated radio format that is currently making news for all the wrong reasons. read more
The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet held its second hearing on music licensing on June 25, welcoming input from a variety of interest groups and organizations as a continuation of the ongoing reexamination of our country’s copyright system. You can find our coverage of the prior hearing here.
Nine witnesses testified before the committee, offering opinions that varied in focus but all highlighted major areas of potential reform. Witnesses for this hearing included singer/songwriter Rosanne Cash representing the Americana Music Association, Cary Sherman (CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, or RIAA), Charles Warfield on behalf of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), Darius Van Arman on behalf of the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM), Ed Christian of the Radio Music License Committee (RMLC), Paul Williams as President of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Chris Harrison of Pandora, President of SoundExchangeMichael Huppe, and David Frear, CFO of Sirius XM.
This week marked a frustrating setback for lovers of college radio, as a deal went into effect that splits the broadcast schedule of Georgia State University’s radio station, WRAS, handing over control to Georgia Public Broadcasting. Under the terms of the deal, GPB will control the 100,000 watt broadcast from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the weekends, leaving GSU students with the remaining hours each day and 24 hour control of the station’s webcast. Additionally, GPB will be proving an undisclosed number of internships to GSU students, but this was little consolation for the loss of the precious terrestrial airtime.
On May 7, 2014, Representatives Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA) introduced H.R. 4588, the Protecting the Rights of Musicians Act [PDF], which aims to get performers and labels paid when their music is played on AM/FM radio.
This proposed legislation is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it demonstrates the growing bipartisan consensus that performing artists deserve compensation when their music is used in over-the-air broadcasts. Second, it shows how members of Congress who have disagreed on many issues—including the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)—can come together to do the right thing by creators.
As nearly two hundred artists, producers, engineers, and music professionals traveled to Washington DC for “GRAMMYs On The Hill” last week, now is a great time to review the status of an important and recurring issue facing recording artists. Artists and record labels, large and small, do not get compensated for the use of their recordings on AM/FM (“terrestrial”) radio. The recording industry would like to see a change in this area, so that working musicians (not just the superstars) can make a fair living making recordings that we as fans want to hear on our local radio stations. It costs money, time, as well as talent, to create great records.
When I talk to friends about my work with FMC, they’re eager to hear about the behind-the-scenes excitement that fuels policy change. Perhaps they’re hoping for House of Cards-style political intrigue set amidst DC’s marble halls.
To be honest though, the most exciting part of my job happens in more humble settings—like a couple Tuesdays ago in NYC, when I got to see Tift Merritt and Marilyn Carino huddle in a corner of a backstage green room to practice harmonies, singing along with a phone’s tinny speaker: “You! You got what I neeeeed!” as David Byrne paced around staring at a lyric sheet, doing his best to memorize as much he could before taking the stage at Le Poisson Rouge.
This week, Clear Channel Communications, the nation’s largest broadcaster, signed an unprecedented strategic partnership with major record label Warner Music Group. For the first time ever, Warner’s roster of performers will be compensated for plays on American terrestrial (AM/FM) radio. (Currently, only songwriters and publishers are paid for radio airplay; performers and record labels recieve nothing.)
Clear Channel chairman and chief execute Robert Pittman lauds the move as “redefine[ing] the relationship between music companies and radio.” But in reality, the deal—like those struck by Clear Channel and Fleetwood Mac , Big Machine Records, and Innovative Leisure—is frustratingly limited. For one, it will not allow for the collection of money owed to artists for international radio play. Because the US doesnt pay foreign performers and sound recording owners for radio play on our shores, American artists receive no money when their music is played abroad. Reciprocity in royalties would require an act of Congress, something that the major broadcasters have fought tooth and nail to avoid. Never mind that the rest of the developed world compensates performers (with notable exceptions including North Korea and Iran). If Pittman truly wants to “redefine relationships,” he should encourage compensating performers across the board so that America no longer gives away a valuable export free of charge on the world market.