RIAA President Mitch Glazier expressed disappointment in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the new North American trade deal poised to replace NAFTA. In a press release on Monday (Oct. 1), Glazier specifically cited its failure to update or modernize copyright laws to be consistent with the current era of music.
“Unfortunately, the agreement’s proposed text does not advance adequate modern copyright protections for American creators,” he said. “Instead, the proposal enshrines regulatory twenty-year-old ‘safe harbor’ provisions that do not comport with today’s digital reality.”
The USMCA is poised to extend American-style copyright laws, which typically last longer and are more restrictive than those of many other nations, to Mexico and Canada. These timeframes are a vestige of a music industry that has been completely revamped in the digital age.
The apparently unsatisfactory nature of the USMCA copyright protection comes at a particularly important juncture for the industry, as the U.S. Music Modernization Act passed through Congress last week. It is currently awaiting the signature of Donald Trump to officially become law.
The Music Modernization Act, if ratified, will expand copyright protection, make licensing on major streaming services easier, and introduce digital royalty payments for music recorded before 1972.
In a February interview with Copyright Alliance, Glazier discussed the challenges of ensuring that copyright law still allows for fair pay to creators in the digital age, using YouTube as an example of a platform that does not adequately compensate those who host content on it.
“YouTube takes advantage of a quirk in U.S. copyright law that says passive, neutral intermediaries that distribute content can’t get in trouble for something illegal that its users post to its platform. But in this day and age when it actively recommends videos to users and plays with its own algorithm, it’s getting harder and harder for them to make the argument that it’s still a passive, neutral intermediary that should derive that benefit of protection under U.S. copyright law,” Glazier said. “Meanwhile, it underpays music creators who fuel the video platform because of this benefit of protection. It’s a massive blow to creators and severely devalues their work.”
While critiquing the USMCA, Glazier alluded again to the idea that modern platforms are taking advantage of retrograde copyright laws.
“These provisions enrich platforms that abuse outdated liability protections at the expense of American creators and the U.S. music community, which provides real jobs and is one of our nation’s biggest cultural assets,” Glazier said further.
Thus far, politicians like Orrin Hatch and Nancy Pelosi have praised the idea of modernizing NAFTA, as have organizations like the Information Technology Industrial Council and the National Retail Federation. Despite a tone of frustration, Glazier did end his statement on something of an optimistic note.
“Modern trade treaties should advance the policy priority of encouraging more accountability on public platforms, not less,” he said. “We are hopeful that the Administration and Congress will redouble their efforts to further this priority going forward, which is front and center in the national dialogue today.”