Recording Industry Hypocrisy On Full Display In Continuing To Push The CLASSICS Act That Expands Copyright
from the we-see-you dept
In the past few months we’ve written a few times about the problems with “The CLASSICS Act”, which is part of an otherwise mostly unobjectionable copyright modernization bill. You can look back at the previous posts, which get deep into the weeds on the problems of the bill, but the short version is that in an attempt to change how pre-1972 sound recordings are treated (specifically, to get streaming companies to pay a brand new “performance right” license on those works), the CLASSICS Act creates this new right, but leaves out all of the supposedly balancing factors of federal copyright law — including the time limit before these works should go into the public domain.
Hilariously, for merely pointing out why it seems silly to give the record labels (and, yes, it’s mostly the record labels) a brand new right, taking it away from the public, and doing so in a manner that does nothing for the public other than remove a right that it already had (oh, and which does nothing to incentivize the creation of new music), Billboard’s famed tech hating columnist Rob Levine has posted a silly screed, claiming that anyone challenging the CLASSICS Act must be an “anti-copyright” activist.
Levine has done this for a decade or so. If you dare to push back on extreme copyright maximalism, and point out that maybe it doesn’t make sense, he will tar you as being against musicians or against copyright entirely. But that’s silly. The problems of the CLASSICS Act are pretty clear. It is creating a brand new right for copyright holder (i.e., record labels) and in doing so, is taking that right away from the public. Even worse, it’s doing so in a manner that doesn’t bring with that new right any of the necessary and Constitutionally required protections for the public’s own rights — including the right for the work to move into the public domain in a reasonable amount of time.
Senator Ron Wyden has introduced an alternative bill in the Senate, called the ACCESS to Recordings Act, that takes a more reasonable approach to the issue of pre-1972 sound recordings. Rather than just handing them one new right, while keeping them under obsolete state copyright laws, which block those works from entering the public domain with any other creative work created in the same time, Wyden’s bill effectively just puts pre-1972 sound recordings on par with other pre-1972 works (and post-1972 works). It’s still creating a brand new right out of thin air for legacy copyright holders — and it’s worth discussing why we want to do that — but if we see it as a trade-off between giving copyright holders a performance right in exchange for getting those works into the public domain when they belong there, perhaps it’s worth while.
Organizations like the Internet Archive have come out strongly in favor of Wyden’s bill, and if the RIAA and the record labels (and folks like Rob Levine) are actually being honest in claiming that the CLASSICS Act is necessary to get streaming royalties paid to performers, then they too should support Wyden’s bill over the CLASSICS Act. It provides them exactly what they claim they want, a brand new streaming performance right for those works, but does not allow those works to be held out of the public domain for many extra decades.
If they continue to insist that the CLASSICS Act must move forward over the ACCESS Act, then it’s a pretty clear statement that they really wish to only give the labels this bit of government welfare, without compensating the public for taking these rights away from them. Let’s take a wild guess how this will turn out…