On July 20, US Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) introduced the Transparency in Music Licensing Ownership Act. The legislation would create a database of music copyright ownership and licensing information. The database would cover both musical works and sound recordings.
According to Representative Sensenbrenner’s press release, the legislation would:
Require the Register of Copyrights to establish and maintain a current informational database of musical works and sound recordings while granting the Register authority to hire employees and contractors, promulgate regulations, and spend appropriated funds necessary and appropriate to carry out these functions.
Ensure that the database is made publicly accessible by the Copyright Office, in its entirety and without charge, and in a format that reflects current technological practices, and that is updated on a real-time basis.
Limit the remedies available to a copyright owner or authorized party to bring an infringement action for violation of the exclusive right to perform publicly, reproduce or distribute a musical work or sound recording if that owner/ authorized party has failed to provide or maintain the minimum information required in the database.
The legislation is cosponsored by Representatives Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Blake Farenthold (R-TX), and Steve Chabot (R-OH).
Shortly after the introduction of the legislation, BMI and ASCAP announced that they have been separately creating a similar database by combining their repertories. The BMI/ASCAP database is set to launch in the fourth quarter of 2018.
Earlier this year, a songwriter sued the members of U2, claiming that the U2 song, “The Fly” from the 1991 album “Achtung Baby,” infringed the songwriter’s 1989 song “Nae Slappin.”
The plaintiff songwriter, Paul Rose, claims that he sent a demo of his song to U2’s record label, that an undisclosed witness said that the members of U2 were often in the record label offices where the demo was played, and that there are numerous similarities between the two songs, including an “elaborate and distinctive guitar solo,” the “guitar hook,” the percussion accents, and the “dimensions of sound.”
The Fair Play Fair Pay Act of 2017 currently pending in the House of Representatives would amend the Copyright Act to extend the public performance right for sound recordings to any audio transmission. Currently, the sound recording public performance right applies only to digital audio transmissions (e.g., Pandora, SiriusXM, etc.). The new public performance right would mean that AM/FM broadcast stations would be required to pay royalties for terrestrial/over-the-air broadcast transmissions of sound recordings. Currently, 21 Representatives have co-sponsored The Fair Play Fair Pay Act.
Opposition to the Fair Play Fair Pay Act continues to grow. The Local Radio Freedom Act proposes a resolution providing that:
Congress should not impose any new performance fee, tax, royalty, or other charge relating to the public performance of sound recordings on a local radio station for broadcasting sound recordings over-the-air, or on any business for such public performance of sound recordings.
BMI is a performing rights organization (a “PRO”), which aggregates its members’ rights for the public performance of copyrighted musical works and collectively licenses those rights to music users, such as radio and television stations, internet radio stations (e.g. Pandora), interactive streaming services (e.g., Spotify), websites, bars, restaurants, and fitness clubs. BMI and ASCAP are the two largest PROs in the United States, and each are governed by DOJ consent decrees, which were first entered into in 1941. SESAC and the recently-established Global Music Rights (GMR) are the two other PROs in the United States. SESAC and GMR are not subject to DOJ consent decrees.
The district court’s September 2016 decision was applauded by BMI and the other PROs, as well as other songwriter and music publishing stakeholders. Licensees of music public performance rights, such as radio and television stations, however, decried the district court’s decision.
The US District Court for the Southern District of California has allowed a case to proceed against Conan O’Brien and others for alleged infringement of jokes.
One of the issues in dispute was the extent to which jokes are entitled to copyright protection. The Court noted that “there is little doubt that the jokes at issue merit copyright protection.” However, such protection is limited by the nature of the jokes. “Each joke begins with a factual sentence and then immediately concludes with another sentence providing humorous commentary on the preceding facts.” Facts are not protected by copyright. So, protection is generally limited to the way the punchline is expressed. Therefore, the Court concluded that the jokes at issue were entitled to only “thin” copyright protection.
The Court rejected protection for one of the jokes at issue because, while the facts were the same, the punchlines were expressed differently. However, the Court allowed the case to continue with respect to the other jokes, where the Court found similarities in the way the punchlines were expressed.
Want to see the jokes? Check out the Court’s decision here.
Earlier this month recording artists Lil’ Jon and DJ Snake were sued for copyright infringement over the international hit song “Turn Down for What.”
The complaint, which was filed by the publisher of a song also titled “Turn Down for What” as recorded by the artist Freddie GZ, alleges that the Lil’ Jon song intentionally infringed the Freddie GZ song.
In addition to having the same title and among other things, the complaint states that both songs contain a steadily/slowly rising synth line, that the phrase “Turn Down For What” starts on the same beat and uses the same rhythm in both songs, that the instrumental hooks are substantially similar, and that both songs contain the use of a short vocal on similar beats.
In a letter dated May 4, 2017, members of the musicFIRST Coalition urged the leadership of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary and the House Committee on the Judiciary to support the Fair Play Fair Pay Act.
The Fair Play Fair Pay Act would establish a performance right for AM/FM radio, change the standard for determining satellite radio royalties, and require royalties for the performance of pre-1972 sound recordings. The letter notes that “[t]he U.S. stands alongside just a few other countries, including China, Iran and North Korea, in not recognizing a performance right” for sound recordings.
Members of the musicFIRST Coalition include: A2IM (American Association of Independent Music), American Federation of Musicians, RIAA, The Recording Academy, SAG-AFTRA, and SoundExchange.
Like any other property, music copyrights and the individual exclusive rights thereof, can be transferred, sold, licensed, and divided among several owners. In general, to use recorded copyrighted music, you will need permission from both the musical work owner (typically a publisher) and the sound recording owner (typically a record company). Note, however, if you re-record a song (instead of using a pre-recorded version), permission is only required from the musical work owner (since you are not using someone else’s sound recording).
A group of television station owners has filed a class-action antitrust lawsuit against SESAC and its affiliated composers and music publishers. SESAC is a for-profit company that licenses public performance rights to copyrighted music compositions. The complaint (“Complaint”) filed in a United States District Court in New York alleges that SESAC has engaged in anti-competitive behavior in violation of federal antitrust laws. Continue reading “Television Broadcasters File Class-Action Lawsuit Against SESAC”