The U.S. Copyright Office has told Congress that with the advent of high-definition (HD) digital radio, the time has come to grant a full performance right in sound recording to labels and artists.

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Copyright Office has told Congress that with the advent of high-definition (HD) digital radio, the time has come to grant a full performance right in sound recording to labels and artists.

David Carson, general counsel of the Copyright Office, testified at a House panel hearing July 15 that the rights upgrade is needed because of HD receivers that can "cherry-pick" and redistribute individual music tracks.

Currently, the recording industry has only a limited performance right for streamed Webcast broadcasts and interactive transmissions.

Carson testified before the House Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property that the technology of HD radio takes the service to another level and necessitates a change in the law.

"In the absence of corrective action, the rollout of digital radio and the technological devices that promise to enable consumers to gain free access at will to any and all the music they want will pose an unacceptable risk to the survival of what has been a thriving music industry," he said.

He added that HD radio also poses a threat "to the ability of performers and composers to make a living by creating the works the broadcasters, Webcasters and consumer electronic companies are so eager to exploit because such exploitation puts money in their pockets."

The nation's radio broadcasters have fiercely opposed a performance right for more than a half century. The National Assn. of Broadcasters has successfully crushed legislative attempts to create such a right that would affect traditional, over-the-air broadcasts.

The United States is an exception in not providing creators with such a right; most other nations have a performance right in sound recordings.

Throughout the decades, the Copyright Office has been steadfast in its contention that such a right is legal and necessary, if not politically possible.

In the initial 1995 government white paper on copyright in the digital age, the Working Group on Intellectual Property Rights characterized the lack of a performance right in sound recordings as "an historical anomaly that does not have a strong policy justification -- and certainly not a legal one."

The Recording Industry Assn. of America supports a full performance right, as do artists' groups and unions.

David Salemi, VP of marketing for iBiquity HD Radio, says: "Of course, we're opposed to people stealing content, and as a technology developer, we'd be part of a marketplace consensus on how best to achieve that. But changing the copyright law is something else, because we don't want to take 'fair use' away from the consumer.

"Also, I'm not so sure how this is different from copying something from satellite radio or the rock station on DirectTV," he adds. "If they're worried about the programming aspect -- 'look for this and record this' -- I don't know if that's do-able or not. Plus, I don't think broadcasters are going to be saying, 'Coming up next, U2 at 3:52.' "

Clear Channel Communications, the largest radio station owner in the United States, announced July 22 that it plans to covert at least 1,000 of its 1,240 radio stations to HD digital signals, in partnership with iBiquity.