MMF In WASHINGTON, DC.: Hearings Regarding The Copyright Act

As a Board Member or the Music Managers Forum (formerly referred to as the International Managers Forum) it became necessary recently for me to help defend the rights of recording artists.

For those of you who are not aware of the US Copyright Act, it is a beautiful piece of legislation and recognized as such by WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organization.) It mentions that when a creative work is “set into tangible form,” the copyright immediately becomes the property of the author.

The revised US Copyright Act of 1976, Section 101 lists 9 categories of what constitutes a “work made for hire.” “Sound Recordings” was a category deliberately omitted.

According to the 1976 Copyright Act, Section 203, an author (or his heirs) has the right to reclaim their copyrights 35 years after the initial release of the work, beginning in 2013. For the recording industry, an industry that has no inherent medical plans, life insurance, 401 K plans or any real pension funds, this return could be substantial for recording artists and their families.

The record companies are trying to take this right away from artists! When we heard that the Recording Industry Association of America had language inserted into an unrelated Satellite Viewer bill to define sound recordings as “works made for hire,” it was time to make our voices heard in front of Congress. (Remember, the RIAA is funded and works totally on behalf of the record companies.)

With the Congressional Hearing before the Subcommittee of Intellectual Affairs to be held on May 25, 2000 at 10 AM, I traveled to Washington DC on May 24 with three other MMF board members: Barry Bergman, Alan Womark and Perry Resnick.

After checking into our hotel and a quick dinner, we headed to the St.Regis Hotel for a meeting with Billboard’s Timothy White, Bill Holland, Michael Greene (President and CEO of NARAS), artist Deana Carter, lobbyist Margaret Cone, representatives from AFTRA and various entertainment lawyers and law professors.

We were all united in that the change to the Copyright Act that the RIAA had pushed forward was a “substantial” change to the law, not a “technical correction” as the RIAA asserted.

A “substantial” change must have hearings and be examined by the checks and balances as the US Constitution outlines. A “technical” correction is used by lawmakers to correct a poorly drafted section of a recently passed law.

The next day, we headed to The Rayburn House Office Building across the Street from the Capitol Building for the hearing. The room the meeting was held in, Room 2237, is one of the larger rooms in this building and it was standing room only while CSPN’s cameras rolled.

It was the outcry form artists, managers and legal experts that had the Congressional Subcommittee hold these hearings and all were in attendance.

The first witnesses had not yet spoken before most of the Subcommittee recognized that this change the RIAA had championed was a ‘substantial’ rather than ‘technical’ change so that more hearings must be held concerning this amendment.

I suppose most of us in attendance, artists and their managers, were inexperienced at attending such hearings because (unlike what happens in the British Parliament) there was applause or groans from the audience after each speaker (congressman or witness) spoke. Applause if the comments were on the side of artists and groans if the comments represented the opposing side supporting the RIAA. Congressional eyebrows raised and I think this participation made some of them nervous.

Chairman Coble at one point requested that the audience not react this way, but I’m certain that the point was made: repeal this amendment, hold proper hearings and then decide whether or not sound recordings should be considered “works made for hire.”

The government panel was the Honorable Marybeth Peters, Register of Copyright. The panel consisted of Hilary Rosen, President and CEO of the RIAA and Professor Paul Goldstein at Stanford Law School representing the record companies (groan) and Michael Greene, President and CEO of NARAS, Marci Hamilton, Professor of Law at Cardozo School of Law and artist Sheryl Crow on behalf of the newly formed Artist coalition (applause).

Representing the Music Managers Forum, we submitted our written position on behalf of artists rights that became part of the official record.

The hearing lasted 3 ½ hours and by early afternoon it was time for us to head back to New York City.

We left Washington DC tired but feeling secure that the democratic process still works: that we were able to have our voices heard.

Action is still necessary to insure that the rights of recording artists are not further diminished by the record companies. Contact your local Congressional Representative and tell them that you want the amendment to Public Law 106-13 repealed. Sound recordings must not be considered “works made for hire.” Help protect your rights and the rights of all recording artists.

-Bob Currie

Sound Management Direction, NYC