Why Congressional Hearings Are to Public Policy What Speed Dating Is to Romance (Guest Post)

Jim Griffin

credit: Raul Pinto

Jim Griffin is managing director at OneHouse LLC  where he focuses on the digital delivery of art, especially music and itsmonetization, after executive stints with Geffen and Warner Music Group. He testified before the House Judiciary Committee on music licensing issues on June 10, 2014.

After testifying before the House Judiciary Committee on music licensing issues a few weeks ago (June 10, 2014), I walked away with the realization that Congressional hearings are to public policy what speed dating is to romance.

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Unbeknownst to viewers, it’s all about the ticking timing clock, repeatedly counting five minutes for witnesses and legislators alike, green light, yellow light, red light. Only the chairman makes exceptions, they are few and far between.

It’s good sport. There’s only so much time, only so many plays, with options limited because the written testimony is filed long before the witnesses enter the room.

It’s a big stage, especially when music is the topic, and there’s only so much time in front of an international audience. Like a player waiting to fire off a jump shot as the clock runs out, some speak right to the limit to obviate further questioning.

The current round of House Judiciary Committee hearings on music licensing weren’t my first visit to DC. Fifteen years ago I testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee at its infamous Napster hearing, replete with downloading Senators (Hatch, Leahy), Lars Ulrich, Hilary Rosen sworn in from the audience, and more. It was a circus; the line stretched for blocks.

There are, of course, less Senators, less competition for the clock. The House has more players waiting with questions and statements of their own, all subject to the same five-minute clock.

The House hearings were more sedate, but only somewhat, as it turns out at least one song was written during the hearing, centering around the word Omnibus. (Don’t ask. You had to be there. It was the event’s press takeaway.)

This process is important. Word on Capitol Hill says this committee is looking at copyright reform as ripe for legislation next year, addressing four major topics: 1, Copyright from the creator’s perspective (across creative industries); 2, Copyright change generically from the user’s point of view; 3, Music licensing specifically; 4, Copyright office revamping, funding, procedural modernization and the like.

My focus: Category four, thinking it predicate for the rest. Whatever your perspective on copyright, it benefits from publicly accessible, comprehensive registries of that which needs licensing, compensation, attribution and historical recordation, registries that include globally unique identifiers.

In short, it needs to be faster, easier, simpler to pay for music, in hopes that when it is, more will. We do not today maintain authoritative databases of those globally unique identifiers (ISRC, ISWC, ISNI) needed to license, pay, track and account for use.

Creators need a market approach to registration that starts with a non-profit, quasi-governmental core, incentivizing a market in registration activity, retail at the edge of the market, wholesale through accredited registrars.

The domain naming system is a model for this sort of activity, efficiently distributing the process globally, and for profit. We’d do well to borrow from it in addressing registry issues across the world of creative media.

As I pointed out towards the end of testimony, there’s a reason we refer to our nation’s copyright officer in chief as the Register of Copyrights, and we need to empower this fine new register of ours with all the resources she needs to get the job done.

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