The Illustrated Story of Copyright
Media Law Reporter #15

       The focus of the 28-minute interview by Bianca Bezdek for Media Reporter is on copyright and technology, mainly the various amendments to copyright to handle music copyrights, sound recordings, CDs, and the Internet. (The interview covers much of the material in chapter 2 of the book). Here's an excerpt:

Bezdek: What is the Digital Performance Rights in Sound Recordings Act?

Samuels: As you can tell by constantly referring to these, what's happened is, particularly in the music business, you have statute after statute--you have the original protection of music in 1831, the creation of performance rights in music in 1897, the creation of rights in sound recordings in 1972, the Audio Home Recording Act that handled CDs [in 1992] . . .

Bezdek: . . . accommodations . . .

Samuels . . . Right, and at an accelerating pace. Then in 1995, Congress realized, the parties brought it to the attention of Congress, that the major vehicle for distributing music, the major threat to copyright, was the Internet and people downloading music off the Internet. So Congress passed the Digital Performance Rights in Sound Recordings Act of 1995.

Bezdek: Where does that leave us with the Internet and webcasting?

Samuels: It's fairly complicated. I simplify it as follows. There are three categories of music on the Internet. There are some that are exempt. Analog music does not have protection of the sound recording.

Bezdek: Exempt from compulsory licenses?

Samuels: It's exempt from protection. That is, someone may perform a sound recording, such as an analog sound recording, without having to pay royalty fees to the owner of the sound recording copyright.

Bezdek: I see.

Samuels: You still have to pay fees to ASCAP, but the mechanism for paying ASCAP has been set up and pretty well handled. So in 1995, certain performances of digital music were free, that is, there is no exclusive right, people don't have to pay for the privilege. Certain others, that are the displacement of a potential sale--downloading music, where it's either on a subscription service, or a service that allows you to have a schedule of what music will be played so that you can download, you can interactively select the music that you want--that is fully protected by copyright. A copyright owner can say no, I don't want someone on the Internet making my music available on demand, interactively, in a subscription service. And then there's a category in the middle, that's covered by a compulsory license. If music is played on the Internet, is performed on the Internet, downloaded, but not at the user's choice--there's some background music while you look at a particular website, but you don't interactively click on and select what it is--there's a compulsory licensing fee, that's currently been negotiated at around 6-1/2 percent, that will probably be renegotiated shortly.

       Again, the details are very complicated, this goes on for page after page in the statute, but the important thing is that when Congress was faced with a technological challenge, it came up with a statute that more or less handled the problem. Now, the problem is, of course, that whenever you write something that is as technologically driven, it's possible that it will be obsolete. In fact, by 1998, they had to amend the 1995 law in order to make clear that webcasting and audio streaming, for example, on the Internet, was subject to compulsory licensing, and was not exempt, because the definitions weren't clear before. But again, Congress seems to be able to handle the problem. It isn't the death of copyright, it's just an adaptation of copyright.

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