Somebody Call George Santayana: Songwriter, Union Groups Sell Out Artists
Somebody Call George Santayana: Songwriter, Union Groups Sell Out Artists
Somebody Call George Santayana: Songwriter, Union Groups Sell Out Artists

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    I don't know whether to be flattered or annoyed, but several musician's unions, performance rights organizations and songwriter groups, joined by (no surprise), the National Association of Music Publishers (NMPA), specifically singled out Public Knowledge and the Consumer Electronics Association in a letter to House Judiciary Committee leaders Reps. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and John Conyers (D-MI). The letter is here.

    The groups were responding to our making musician and songwriters groups aware that a number of provisions in the Copyright Modernization Act are flagrantly anti-artist and anti-songwriter. I blogged about it in great detail here. Although they don't dispute the fact that what we said is 100% true, they said that they

    are outraged that the Consumer Electronics Association and Public Knowledge would claim to speak on behalf of creators while consistently working to erode the current legal protections of our intellectual property.

    Of course, neither PK nor CEA purports to speak “on behalf of” the members of these organizations (although most, if not all of the members of PK and CEA are both creators and copyright holders). Instead, we merely pointed out that as the record companies did with “works for hire” legislation that would have harmed artists and their consistent failure to distribute royalties to artists, they are seeking again in the CMA to take away from artists what is rightfully theirs. And I would also posit that if any group is “working to erode the current legal protections” of intellectual property, it is the record companies, which in a constant parade of lawsuits and proposed legislation, are working to erode fair use and consumers' rights until they are rendered meaningless.

    So why have the unions and songwriter groups come out in favor of moving forward with the CMA despite the anti-artist provisions? Because the NMPA has convinced them that on balance, the bill is better for them; that somehow they will reap a windfall from the provisions that make fair use temporary copies licensable, and that the bill is somehow “neutral” as to satellite companies, even though the groups argue that “the satellite companies are attempting to use this bill to legalize their copying practices for which they have been sued by the record labels.” (This raises another interesting question – why is Congress legislating a matter that is currently in the courts?) The problem with the artist groups' gamble is that the parts of the bill which give control over royalties to music publishers and the recording industry are likely to ensure that many of their members never see the money generated by the other parts of the bill that they support so vigorously.

    It boggles my mind that these artists groups would once again be fooled by the same industry parties they have been fighting for years. You know what Santayana said – “[t]hose that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
    (N.B. – yesterday I attributed this quote to Churchill – thanks to Art and Jeff Blattner for the correction)