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Musicians Fight for a Change in Law to Stop Streaming from Cutting into their Royalties

Published onAug 18, 2016
Musicians Fight for a Change in Law to Stop Streaming from Cutting into their Royalties

Over the last several decades, the ways in which music has become available to the public have been numerous: records, 8-track tapes, compact cassettes, CDs, downloaded music, and, now, streaming.  Nowadays, it is rare for a teenager to race to the music store to buy the latest CD from their favorite band.  In fact, CD sales have dropped 84 percent in the last decade.  Downloads, which were thought of as the “industry’s savior,” have been in a three-year decline. These changes are all due to the efficient trend known as streaming. Efficiency aside, streaming has started a fight between musicians and streaming providers.  YouTube has been accused of paying too little in royalties. “Last year, YouTube and sites like it generated $385 million in  royalties. In comparison, vinyl records . . . brought in $416 million.”  With an 84 percent decline in CD sales, the streaming statics are hardly comforting to musicians.

Debbie Harry, the lead singer of Blondie, stated, “In this digital world, the up-and-coming artists of today are being denied the chance to earn a living, when companies such as YouTube don’t pay them fairly. This is crippling for new artists who depend on their earnings to make new music.”  This fight, however, is not just over royalties but how the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998 protects companies such as YouTube from liability when copyrighted material is streamed on their sites.

Under the DMCA, if a user posts content containing copyrighted material, and the provider receives a notification from the copyright owner that infringing material has been posted, if the provider acts quickly and removes the content, the DMCA will provide immunity to the provider in a copyright infringement suit.” This means musicians must spend the time and money to go on a quest to find videos or music, which contain copyrighted material, and send takedown notices to streaming providers in order for any liability to occur. Irving Azoff, the manager of groups like the Eagles, Van Halen, and Christina Aguilera, stated that he did not think when President Clinton signed the DMCA into law that there was an intention that tech companies would use it to hide behind. Without the resources to fight the big tech company, the best choice is to change the law.

Changing the law is not an easy task. Maria Pallante, head of the Copyright Office, admitted that the copyright Act is broken in a speech at Columbia University, where she argued for tougher penalties on illegal streaming and for the Copyright Office to have real regulatory authority.  Three years later, the Copyright Office is still fighting as they put out a public call for comments in April of this year. While the Copyright Office still has no authority to change the law, they continue to make recommendations to Congress.  A quick change to the Copyright Act is unprecedented and, with the timer already set at three years, this fight is unlikely to be a short one.

Charity Barger is a second year law student.  She received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, with a minor in pre-law, from the University of West Florida.  After law school, Charity hopes to work in corporate law, specializing in Mergers & Acquisitions.

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