Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler and music attorney Dina LaPolt have sent a letter to the U.S. Patent and Trademark office opposing the creation of a compulsory license that would allow anyone to legally create remixes and derivative works, without getting songwriter permission.
With possible copyright review and revision a topic of conversations currently in the halls of congress and within the administrative branch of the U.S. Government, a number of government departments and committees have been investigating this area. In July, the U.S. Department of Commerce Internet Policy Task Force issued a green paper on copyright policy, creativity and innovation in the digital economy. Among other things, the paper suggested that remixes might face unacceptable impediments, asking if there is a way to smooth the path for remixes, such as creating a compulsory license.
The Task Force said it will convene a series of roundtables to examine that issue but, in their letter to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office — itself an agency of the Department of Commerce — LaPolt and Tyler argue that such a compulsory license will take away an artist’s right to designate the way their music is used. “Artists can, and should, continue to be able to deny a use that they do not agree with,” the statement said. “There is absolutely no need to impose a compulsory license to allow derivative works,” because the current marketplace is working.
For example, in 1986 Run-D.M.C recorded a version of Aersmith’s “Walk This Way.” As a cover it could have requested a compulsory mechanical license to create their version. But instead Run DMC involved Tyler and Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, who authored the song, in the process to create “one of the most famous derivative works of our modern times.”
“A compulsory license for remixes, mash-ups and sampling is a step too far,” they argued in their letter, which was provided to Billboard. “Approval is the most important right that a recording artist or songwriter has and they need to retain the ability to approve how their works are used… The current system does not need reform.”
Other artists also submitted letters of support to the Commerce Committee Task Force, Office of Policy and External Affairs, U.S. Patent and Trademark office, including Don Henley, Sting, Ozzy Osbourne, Britney Spears, Deadmau5, and Joe Walsh.
In his letter, Henley wrote, “I am writing in support of the comments submitted by copyright stakeholders such as the Copyright Alliance, ASCAP, BMI, CMPA, NSAL, NMPA, RIM and SESAC… Dina LaPolt and Steven Tyler, among others.”
In addition to the creation of a possible compulsory license for derivative works, the Dept. of Commerce’s Internet Policy Task Force green paper also brought up a number of other copyright issues including: considering the creation of a performance right and royalty for master recordings; considering ways to extend the first-sale doctrine — which allows consumers who buy a product to resell it — to the digital environment; and ways to improve enforcement tools to combat online infringement, including possibly improving the DMCA’s notice and takedown system. As part of their letter, Tyler and LaPolt endorsed the creation of a performance royalty for a master recording when played by terrestrial radio.