Copyright Office Opens Up for Comments Ahead of Overhaul

As part of the U.S. Congress' current review of U.S. copyright law, the U.S. copyright office has sent out a notice and a request for public comment in an attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of existing methods of licensing music in the digital age and to evaluate potential revisions.

Comments are due May 16, 2014, and are to be submitted electronically on a comment page on the website of the U.S. Copyright Office. The request for review was published in yesterday's issue of the Federal Register.

The last general review and revision took place in the early 1970's and culminated with the 1976 U.S. Copyright Act. In 1998, Congress significantly amended the act with the passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to address then emerging issues of the digital age. "While the Copyright Act reflects many sound and enduring principles, and has enabled the internet to flourish, Congress could not have foreseen all of today’s technologies and the myriad ways consumers and others engage with creative works in the digital environment," the document requesting comment, signed by Jacqueline C. Charlesworth, general counsel and associate, register of Copyrights, noted. "Perhaps nowhere has the landscape been as significantly altered as in the realm of music."

The request for comment gives background issue on a number of issues and subjects that it is seeking comment on a whole host of issue for the copyright review, and if needed, its revision. These issues include:

  • Whether the licensing of digital interactive streaming and synchronization need compulsory statutory licenses;
  • Whether the consent decrees governing the behavior of the ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) and BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.) need to be revised to allow publishers to withdraw digital rights from the blanket license;
  • Should federal copyright protection for master recordings be extended to sound recordings made prior to Feb. 15, 1972, which unlike music made after that date, has no federal copyright but are subject to state law;
  • Whether sound recordings should have a performance right in other areas beyond digital audio transmission such as terrestrial radio; whether Sirius, Music Choice and Muzak, as pre-exising services that existed as of July 31, 1999,  should be subject to the "willing buyer" and "willing seller" circumstances when licensing music the way the rest of the non-interactive services are when licensing music;
  • Or should the public performance  of master recordings be made available in a unified manner.


In a statement, National Music Publishers' Assn. president David Israelite said, "This is a major development and will have significant impact on songwriters and publishers," adding that of all the efforts NMPA is currently engaged in with the copyright office, this process "promises to be the most important."

The request for comment also asks whether the government should play a role in encouraging the development of alternative licensing models, such as micro-licensing platforms; and whether the marketplace benefits from modifying the scope of the existing statutory license.

Finally, the review will also look at how the developments in the music marketplace have affected the income of songwriters, composers and recording artists; whether revenues from music is being divided fairly between creators and distributors of musical works for sound recordings; and could the government encourage the adoption of universal standards for the identification of musical works and sound recordings to facilitate the music licensing process.