Big Names in Music Call for Digital Copyright Reform

18 years after the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was passed – Congress’s bid to reconcile the rights of copyright holders with those of Internet users and Internet Service Providers – a large segment of America’s music industry still thinks that Internet-based copyright laws are detrimental to musicians.

On March 31, artists including Garth Brooks, CeeLo Green and Katy Perry lent their support to a statement by the Recording Industry Association of America, claiming that the DMCA has created too many loopholes through which copyrighted material can be shared online without properly compensating musicians.

“The DMCA was supposed to provide balance between service providers and content owners, but instead it provides harmful ‘safe havens’ under which many platforms either pay nothing or pay less than market value for music,” says a letter from the RIAA to the U.S. Copyright Office. The statement was endorsed by RIAA Chairman and CEO Cary Sherman and nearly 400 concerned music industry members.

The RIAA is calling for the U.S. Copyright Office to update the DMCA by changing provisions such as the Section 512 ‘safe harbours’ for search engines, caching, and transitory digital networks.

Related groups including the American Association of Independent Music, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and SoundExchange want to see copyright laws become more standardized, clear-cut and efficient to enforce.

Even intermediary companies who transmit digital content would like to see more straightforward guidelines “that distinguish between actions that are innocent from wilful,” says American Cable Association President and CEO Matthew M. Polka.

The call for improvements to American IP policies comes at a time when Ottawa is also preparing to review Canadian copyright legislation. Pursuant to Section 92 of the Copyright Act, departments including Innovation, Science and Economic Development and Heritage Canada will participate in a mandatory review of the Act in 2017, to reassess its effectiveness.

Prior to this assessment, pressure will be brought to bear on Ottawa by Canada’s music industry. They will seek changes to federal copyright law that can permit users and ISPs to transmit music digitally without depriving artists of the royalties that their careers largely depend on.

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission – at the behest of Chairman Tom Wheeler and President Barack Obama – adopted a new set of regulations called the Open Internet Order. The regulations were designed to increase government supervision of the Internet to promote free speech and deter unfair uses of bandwidth. Whether or not the Copyright Office will pursue similar reform of U.S. legislation like the DMCA remains to be seen, although the Office is currently undertaking a study of the Act’s safe harbour provisions.