Copyright Review Concludes with Final Hearing, Ball Passes to Congress

Alexandra Wyman/Invision for IFTA/AP Images
Maria Pallante at the 13th American German Copyright Law Summit at the American Film Market held at Le Merigot on Nov. 4, 2014, in Santa Monica, California. 

Testimony by Maria Pallante, Register of Copyrights, concluded a two-year review of U.S. copyright law.

Wednesday's House Judiciary hearing on copyright, the 20th in nearly two years, concluded a two-year review of copyright law by Congress. Stakeholders have provided their input. The Copyright Office has provided its recommendations. Now it's up to Congress to do something.

When asked what would happen if Congress didn't act, Maria Pallante, Register of Copyrights and Director of the United States Copyright, said the damage of an outdated copyright law is already being done. "We're already torturing our music community on music issues."

The hearing was the formal conclusion to a two-year review of copyright allowing opinions to be put in the public record. Pallante was the lone witness at the first copyright hearing in March 2013, when she urged Congress to consider passing what she called "the next great copyright act." She was the lone witness in the 20th hearing on Wednesday.

The Copyright Office's recommendations on music licensing issues can already be found -- in great detail -- in a report issued in February. But the hearing gave Representatives the opportunity to get clear statements of support from Pallante on everything from market-based rate standards to a performance right that would pay record labels and artists for performances on broadcast, or terrestrial, radio.

Some recently introduced legislation, favored by the music industry, received strong recommendations. Pallante called the Fair Play, Fair Pay Act "an excellent legislative framework" and harshly criticized the country's lack of a performance right for sound recordings at broadcast radio. Introduced on April 12th, the Fair Pay act would establish a performance right and also require all radio formats to pay royalties for the performance of pre-1972 recordings. Pallante said the provisions of the Songwriters Equity Act "were right on the money" and called it "a great framework." Introduced March 4th, the Songwriters Equity Act aims to establish a free market standard for establishing mechanical royalties paid to publishers.

Much of the hearing focused on the Copyright Office's desire for greater independence. The Copyright Office is currently part of the Library of Congress but desires to be a standalone entity with a standalone budget, along with a more technology-savvy staff to move at greater speed. One result of that greater autonomy could be the authoritative public database, with comprehensive data on registered musical works, sound recordings and their owners -- another frequently discussed topic -- recommended in February's licensing study. Pallante said on Wednesday such a database would be "a key piece of the digital economy."