Last week I had the honor of going on the national record to speak out on behalf of music creators. Through my work with The Content Creators Coalition (c3), I was invited to speak at two days of roundtable panel discussions hosted by the U.S. Copyright Office. They seeking in put on how effective some portions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (enacted in 1998) are faring in today’s networked world (2016).
This process began months previously, where the Copyright Office commissioned a Section 512 Study asking for public to comment on how Section 512 was working from their experiences. A diverse group responded, spanning technology providers, copyright owners (music, television, & film creators), academic institutions, policy groups, and individuals. Over 92,000 comments were filed, butt turns out many of the responses came from automated sources. Not to worry – many thanks to the Copyright Office for sorting and alphabetizing them so that the first few hundred are from the most interested parties & groups. We at c3 spent quite some time preparing our first-round comments here.
In the weeks leading up to speaking, I knew I had a lot of work ahead. Firstly, I wanted to be clear when speaking to the national leaders who travelled all the way from Washington D.C. to hear my feedback. I wanted to respect their time, and represent musicians well. Secondly, and I knew that most of the other people in the room would be established lawyers from places like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Disney, The Recording Industry Association of America, Paramount Pictures, Fox Entertainment, etc. I needed to be well versed in not only the law, but how it has been applied to copyright owners. You can take a look at the full agenda, and notice that I was contributing to panels entitled “Applicable Legal Standards” and “Voluntary Measures and Industry Agreements”. I felt confident at least I could hold my own speaking on the “Technical Strategies & Solutions” panel.
I poured through what music-related copyright cases I could, like A&M Records v.Napster, the Grooveshark case UMG v. Escape Media, Lens v. Universal Music, and Capitol Records, LLC v. Vimeo, LLC. I was especially interested in the ABC v. Aereo case. Why? Because the broadcasters who won their case claiming another company was profiting from the distribution of their copyrighted television programs, are the same broadcasters profiting from the distribution of music on terrestrial radio. I think I’ll have to save this bit of irony for another time, and I won’t bore you further with the deeper list of resources. After pouring through dozens of legal decisions and summaries, I had a “forest from the trees moment.” Again, this seems obvious in hindsight, but the vast majority of legal precedent shaping the future for musicians, offered little reference to the actual creators themselves. Most musicians don’t have the resources to sue technology companies. Most musicians can’t afford lawyers to bring their cases to trial. Most of the fundamental issues facing musicians today are not reflected in the public record.
So I found my bearings. By pushing outside my comfort-zone and tolerating countless hours of non-lawyer anxiety – I realized I did have important things to share with The U.S. Copyright Office, the lawyers for technology behemoths, fellow creative arts colleagues, and the nation as a whole. I had important issues that needed to be included in our the public record, and I spent two full days sharing the experiences of of today’s music creators.
What is that story? I think we’ll need to save that for next time. Check back with me when the transcripts become available, and I’ll make sure to bring you the highlights.
P.S. – Just like I found a place to speak with government leaders regarding today’s challenges, you can too.