June 11, 2009

“Fixing” Copyright [9:05 am]

Another constituency heard from in the run-up to the 111th Congress’ hearings on S.379/H.R.848 in the effort, once again, to BROADEN copyright protections: Film, TV music composers urge copyright law change (pdf)

Nathan Barr has scored horror films like “Hostel” and the HBO vampire series “True Blood,” but what really keeps the composer up at night is fear he will not get paid for music distributed online.

“‘True Blood’ is my first big show for TV and it’s definitely going to see a lot of play on the Internet. It’s a big issue for me,” Barr, 36, told Reuters in an interview. “I don’t understand why composers don’t get paid if someone downloads it.”

The issue is the latest digital copyright debate pitting creators in the entertainment industry on one side and studios, broadcasters, cable operators and technology companies on the other. Barr underscores how a growing number of artists — writers, actors and, yes, composers — feel they are not fairly compensated for content distributed on the Internet.

[...] Actors and writers have aired their grievances and demanded Hollywood studios pay up. Now, composers, along with publishers, are urging Congress to change copyright law so that when music airs in an audio-visual download, it is considered a public performance that earns them royalties. [...]

The copyright issue, apart from being proposed legislation, is also expected to be the subject of a House Judiciary committee hearing in July, industry experts say.

At the center of the debate is a federal court ruling in April 2007, considered a victory for companies like AOL, RealNetworks and Yahoo! Inc <YHOO.O> that found that downloading a music file was not considered a “performance.”

[...] Meanwhile, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), a trade group for Hollywood studios such as General Electric Co’s Universal Pictures, Viacom Inc’s Paramount and Walt Disney Co, strongly opposes these efforts, arguing that a download is not a performance.

“The MPAA is opposed to amending the copyright law to require a double payment for music in movies and TV shows downloaded from the Internet,” Angela Martinez, a spokeswoman for the MPAA said. “We do not need to amend the Copyright Act to compensate these composers twice for the same activity.”

This is all clearly fallout from the CISAC Copyright Summit (PR1, PR2) that’s been held the last two days. Sen Orrin Hatch spoke (pdf), outlining his views of what needs to happen in this Congress. Robert Wexler also spoke (pdf), allowing me to add this ironic passage to the ones above:

[W]hen the Swedish Pirate Party talks about how music is universal and has always been available for everyone to enjoy for free, we end up with the unenviable task of explaining the finer points of copyright laws to a public that has no interest in the longer explanation, however accurate, responsible and correct it may be.

I found this out on a personal level, when I was in Congress during the original file-sharing debate about Napster. I remember unveiling a strongly worded statement against Napster and a defense of our intellectual property legal regime. I thought I sounded pretty good. I knew I wouldn’t be popular with high school and college students in my district. But I was shocked when my father called me and said I sounded like I was on the wrong side of the issue. I knew if I couldn’t even convince my own father – that we had a big problem.

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