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    Musically Inclined Senators Push Legislation to Help Songwriters

    Musically Inclined Senators Push Legislation to Help Songwriters

    Hatch is a long-time songwriter

    Soon to be retired Sen. Orrin Hatch is one of the handful of Senators behind the Music Modernization Act, passed by the Senate last week.

    Co-sponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander from Tennessee and Sen. Orrin Hatch from Utah, the bill (whose counterpart passed in the House a few months ago) would change the way musicians are paid for their work.

    CNN reports:

    A co-sponsor of the bill, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, told CNN he expects the House to approve the Senate’s version of the bill this week, though as of Sunday a vote on the House bill had not yet been scheduled. The House majority leader’s office declined to comment to CNN for this story. The bill’s supporters say the goal is for President Donald Trump to sign the bill into law by the start of October.
    If passed, the Music Modernization Act would be the first overhaul to music copyright law in decades.
    The bill, co-sponsored by Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch who is a songwriter himself, would overhaul the laws related to how songwriters are paid when their songs are licensed or played. The act would also allow artists to receive royalties for songs recorded before 1972.
    Another key aspect of the legislation is that it would create a separate entity, overseen by publishers and songwriters, ideally making it easier for them to be paid the royalties they say they’re owed when their songs are played on the internet. Digital music providers, like Spotify or Apple Music, will have the chance to obtain a blanket license, with the goal of stanching lawsuits over copyright infringement.
    Hatch said in a statement last week that the bill is a “historic reform for our badly outdated music laws.”
    “The Music Modernization Act provides a solution, and it does so in a way that brings together competing sides of the music industry and both sides of the political spectrum,” Hatch said.
    Hatch’s love of music (he’s quite the songwriter) has been documented several times over the years, most notably in a cameo appearance on Parks and Recreation where Hatch sat alongside Sen. Spartacus to discuss their fictional music project.


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    Copyright laws are currently insane, in favor of copyright holders, and this will make it even worse.

    As a musician, I strongly believe songwriters and performers deserve to get paid for their art.

    No one is arguing that.

    The problem is, copyrights currently are good for 75 to 125 years, and in some cases – centuries. Not kidding.

    I taught a group that wanted to perform their own arrangement of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. It’s still under copyright!!!

    Worse, let’s say your HS Band competes and there are DVD’s made, and sold, by the organization that runs your circuit. Guess what – you now need 8 separate copyrights for every piece of music you play, and each one typically has multiple people/corporations to pay off, and any of them can refuse outright no matter how much you’re willing to pay.

    What’s really outrageous is that the current music isn’t much of a problem – the artists want the royalties and are usually reasonable. The problem comes with older music, anything 20-125 years old where the original composer and performers no longer own the rights. They’re either dead or sold the rights, or never had them (very frequent) and you’re dealing with an heir (the worst) or some copyright milking company that wants to extract the absolute mac they can – because they’re parasites that have no other income.

    Then, even if you get the rights, you still have to block sales to Canada or the EU because you didn’t pony up to satisfy their insane copyright laws.

    Spend a few billion in the US to invent a lifesaving drug and you get SEVEN years on your copyright, then have to give all your research and testing to every generic that wants to make a knockoff. But, write or perform music? 125 years!! And the rights persist after you die. And, you can renew rights with every new recording – resetting the clock. which means, effectively, current copyrights last forever.

      MrE in reply to Aarradin. | September 24, 2018 at 10:49 pm

      I believe it is that which motivates artists to record only the songs they own the copyright to – and why it is so difficult for a new songwriter to place a song with an established artist, without selling all rights to the recording artist.

      There was a song I did in the late 60’s – that I learned 3rd hand from someone who jotted down the lyrics and chord changes for me. When I recorded an album of originals around the millenium, I tracked down the copyright administrator through no small effort and asked permission to record the song on my CD, which I planned to simply give away. The song is rarely heard any more, I don’t think it’s ever been re-recorded but the admin was a stickler for the author’s “rights” saying “it wouldn’t be fair for him not to be paid full royalty for his song”. So I resolved to write my own song expressing the same sentiment and wound up writing two.

      The licensing issue has always been murky for me as a parody writer. Used to be as often as I wrote parody lyrics, I’d just post them together with a general MIDI file so people could sing it themselves. Or I find the artist’s original song and use a vocal eliminator (center channel eraser) to scrub the vocal and re-record my own vocal over the top of the original background music. But those are kind of boot-leg-ish in my view – something you just write, record and hang it out there knowing that the internet never really forgets and MP3’s/FLACs are shared with ease. That’s how it was with one of my all time favorites: “Cat’s in the Kettle” – people have credited a number of parody writers with that great song and I have no idea who wrote it. The payment for parodies is in the laughter they bring.

      jhn1 in reply to Aarradin. | September 25, 2018 at 10:10 am

      Drugs are not covered by copyright, but by patents.
      Those are for 17 years, and if significantly “improved” can be renewed, once. FDA approval process comes out of those time frames so you might not have any protected time to sell the drug at all. And Cass Sunstein led the previous administration in increasing the cost and time to get FDA approval to make that more likely (IIRC some company got caught just so, and refused to offer the final paperwork to be FDA approved on a drug the FDA had stalled approvals beyond the patent and competitors were tooled up to make because said patent had expired and no sign off meant no FDA approved drug for competitors who had paid nothing to the patent holder)
      Worse yet, patents are now explicitly not who invented first, but who filed first; making industrial espionage much more rewarding.

    We’ve already passed the point where it is cheaper to hire a composer to write something original, and also keep – as performers – the copyright for what we’ve contracted to be written for us than it is to perform the vast majority of what we’d like to play, paying copyrights to the businesses that own other composers/performers work.

    And then people complain it’s not “accessible”. Well, it’s not what you’ve been listening to for half your life because we can’t afford the copyrights to perform any of that, so…

    Copyright seriously needs reform, but this ain’t it.

    What we need is one stop shopping, with standardized pricing, and an absolute end to the current problem of having to get literally dozens of approvals, regardless of $$, for each piece. Just let us go online, pick the pieces we want to perform, select which copyrights we need, and pay.

    What we have now costs way too much, takes years sometimes (just finished a five year ordeal to put together a Disney show, and a four year struggle just for permission to arrange & perform a single Bernstein piece). Too often, by the time you find out you’re going to get tejected outright for permission to use a piece, you’ve already been working on it for months and are completely screwed.

    It’s a nightmare. I’ve got lawyers that do absolutely nothing but work on securing copyrights, and we still sometimes have major disasters. And it’s not just the money, which is outrageously expensive in most cases (though there are still some artists that understand that they make more off cd sales and downloads if they basically give arrangement/performance rights away for $1) – the real issue comes with, usually heirs, sometimes artists on a piece with a bunch of people that own the rights and there’ll be just one person that doesn’t want to allow one, or more, of the 8 different copyrights we need for each piece. So we’ll end up performing it all year, and then sell a DVD where we have to choose between having a black screen with music playing, or showing the visual with silence (just like that scene in Amadeus), or cut the piece entirely from the DVD.

    Oh, and Sonny Bono was the biggest (_!_) that ever lived (for those that don’t know, he was a Congresman from FL after he got done pimping out Cher’s talent and is largely responsible for the current law that screws just about everyone other than the businesses that buy up copyrights and milk them for revenue).

    And Orrin Hatch is a freaking moron that doesn’t have the slightest clue what the implications are of what he’s doing.

    And, again, so there’ll be no misunderstanding: I made my living for >20 years on the other side of this, as a performer living largely off royalties. No one has any issues with composers/performers getting fair compensation for their art.

    Copyright law is already far too generous in length to holders of such rights, and overly complicated. The original artists, writers, etc. should surely have the opportunity to make some money from their work, but not forever. The terms of copyrights need to be considerably shortened, and conditions simplified.

    If patented inventions become public after seventeen years, surely the producers of books, music, films, etc. should be content with protection for two or three times that long. Something in the area of 35-50 years should be quite enough.

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