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Senate Passes Music Copyright Bill

Sept. 18, 2018, 10:52 PM

The Senate passed a music copyright bill that would streamline royalty payments to artists from digital music platforms like Spotify.

The legislation (H.R. 1551) would create a one-stop shop for streaming services and extend sound recording rights to music recorded before 1972, which lacks federal protection. The Senate passed it by voice vote Sept. 18. The measure now heads to the House.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) sponsored the Senate version of the bill (S. 2823), which has the support of 80 cosponsors, streamers, the recording industry and artists. The House passed a similar bill (H.R. 5447) in April.

The Senate-passed measure contains compromises to address concerns from various groups.

Objections to some bill provisions slowed down the bill since the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Hatch’s bill in June. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and public advocacy groups argued extending recording rights on all songs from 1923 through 1972 until 2067 would keep the works out of the public domain too long.

Tiered System

Wyden and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) negotiated compromise language that would create a tiered system with varying copyright terms depending on when the work was published, longer than a common 95-year term but that would allow many copyrights to expire before 2067, according to music industry sources.

The compromise would allow noncommercial use by educators, scholars, libraries and archives if the copyright owner does not object.

“It’s not perfect,” said Meredith Rose, policy counsel for Public Knowledge, about the compromise. “But at the end of the day, we were trying to ensure that libraries and nonprofit users are protected, and also that there’s a robust public domain in these legacy recordings.”

Sirius and digital music company Music Choice protested preserving a long-standing federal exemption of traditional, AM/FM broadcast radio from sound recording royalties. The digital providers already must buy blanket licenses for post-1972 recordings and would pay more for pre-1972 music under the bill. Sirius also opposed a change to digital services’ ability to apply new royalties to pending copyright cases, a change that would not apply to AM/FM.

Musicians and industry groups accused Sirius of belatedly undermining the bill over a tangential issue to save money. The revised Senate bill does not revoke the AM/FM exemption, according to music industry sources.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kyle Jahner in Washington at kjahner@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rebecca Baker at rbaker@bloomberglaw.com