Where oh where to put this thread? Rights, legislation, lobbyists, the RIAA, creative geniuses, poets, musicians, you, and me…
Be advised, while the verbosity light is lit, remain securely fastened to your patience, and try not to resort to the verbiage-sickness bag, those
things are expensive…
Perhaps when I began researching this tidbit of information, I overlooked the light it shines on ‘how things are’ in a corporate-controlled
government, such as the (secretly new) United States of America (the ‘favored’ enterprise of the ‘enlightened.’)
I have always been interested, for the most part, because I have been inclined to consider the struggle of the entertainment industry to maintain
their control on works of art created by others, as symbolically representative of the war to control the development and behavior of American
society, only in miniature.
“In the end, this is about money”…, how many times have we heard that tired old phrase? In fact, it’s not. Often we think of the ventures of
corporate lobbyists being aligned with the narrow goal of ‘getting rich.’ Truthfully though, these “players” are already rich, and getting
richer every day. What this is really
about is keeping it that way.
Imagine if you will a young person who develops a talent; great lyrics writing, and or good musical composition and the like. That person makes a
personal recording; all who hear it are very moved, and encourage a wider spread of the creation. The person goes to the local radio station (if ever
there was a venue made to propagate music, this was it) and inquires about having their song played for others to hear….
NOT GONNA HAPPEN.
Perhaps it would have, had it been in the 50’s and 60’s, when disc jockey’s seemed to rule the airways, but not anymore. Why? You may ask. Is
it because the 5 or so owners of every media outlet in the country (or the 10 or so media owners of the world) will not allow it anymore? Is there
some “law” that says disc jockeys can’t throw a local talent up for their community to hear? Perhaps it’s a ‘liability’ thing? Who knows
for sure? The story changes….
It starts with practice, translates into policy, and evolved into law…. Here’s one story of how that happens:
When the corporate person says, “That’s mine!”
I am inclined to explain a few things in regards to the subject of corporations, intellectual property, and the RIAA; but that would extend this
article’s length beyond what I think the kind readers will tolerate. So, suffice to say that long ago, in a country markedly different from ours
today, musicians particularly, relied upon a business model developed by others, to make their creative efforts commercially successful.
Now, there were rules about what musical artists create, namely, that after 35 years of transferred intellectual property rights, the business
benefiting from the revenues of that work can no longer benefit from those exclusive rights which return to their creator, or his legal interests.
Needless to say, the industry was unhappy about this particular “status quo”…
… copyright law includes a "termination right," which cannot be contractually given up, which allows the original content creator to
"reclaim" the copyright on their works 35 years after it was created. The only real exception is in cases where the work qualifies as "work for
Understand that this idea is based upon property principles. What’s yours, created by you, “the fruits of your labor" is always
because it is, after all, your
creation. Thus, you may contractually allow others to have rights to use, propagate, and benefit from your
creation; but unless you were specifically paid to create that specific work, all use rights return to you after 35 years of ‘use’ by your
“publisher” (so to speak.)
At that time, media ownership was not consolidated, industry insiders had not been yet “politically inducted” into government; and what’s more,
music “piracy” was singularly confined to trivial or foreign markets which were outside the reach of the corporation’s influence or control.
Today, things have changed somewhat. Transportable media found the Internet, and like wildfire, people began to listen to (and often snag) their
favorite tunes all over the world. “It’s a madhouse!” I can imagine some industry ‘owners’ saying, when they realized just how much they
could have made if the same number of people had to go through them to get the music. As far as the industry was concerned, something had to be
Enter the RIAA… the stalwart defenders of the recording industry and its associated allies.
However, the reason we know that the RIAA is fully aware of the fact that copyright termination does apply to most sound recordings is because a
dozen years ago, recognizing that this was going to become an issue, the RIAA famously had a small time Congressional staffer by the name of Mitch
Glazier sneak four innocuous looking words in the middle of a totally unrelated bill to quietly and retroactively have sound recordings declared
"works for hire." This literally happened overnight with no elected officials who were voting on the bill being made aware of it.
By adding four words -– "as a sound recording" -– deep within the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act of 1999, Congress essentially
changed the work-for-hire section of the copyright code.
The language adds sound recordings to the categories of artists' work deemed work-for-hire, and therefore not subject to the stipulation that
copyrights return to the artist 35 years after first granted.
Since it was passed in November, that change has denied musicians the opportunity to obtain copyrights to the materials they created.
Bear in mind that adding a clause which alters the nature and spirit of the legislation retroactively, should have been a matter of open debate; or at
least should have involved the actual legislators (not to mention the artists whose work this is all about) … it did not.
Legislation in the 1976 Copyright Act does lay out certain exceptions, including the work-for-hire clause that lets employers retain the rights
to work they have contracted or paid for with salaries and benefits.
Sound recordings were not listed among the nine work-for-hire exceptions, which meant that musicians have always had the opportunity to retain their
The RIAA’s relationship with congressional staffer Mitch Glazier, had paid off in spades. Not all artists were oblivious to this development, and
Once that became public, artists (quite reasonably) freaked out and went very, very public about how the RIAA was totally screwing them over.
It’s one of the few times in history when Congress actually went against the RIAA, removing the language soon after it was approved. Of course, the
guy who slipped the language in, Mitch Glazier, came out of this fine. Just three months after putting in that language, he was hired by the RIAA at a
$500,000 per year salary, and he’s just been promoted to the number two spot at the RIAA.
Means, motive, and opportunity prove to point out how the government-corporate revolving door works. Now it appears, that artists have to undergo a
lengthy, costly, and protracted battle with the industry to recover their own works… because….
“We believe the termination right doesn’t apply to most sound recordings,” said Steven Marks, general counsel for the Recording Industry
Association of America, a lobbying group in Washington that represents the interests of record labels. As the record companies see it, the master
recordings belong to them in perpetuity, rather than to the artists who wrote and recorded the songs, because, the labels argue, the records are
“works for hire,” compilations created not by independent performers but by musicians who are, in essence, their employees.
I suppose many artists might feel they had created their soul-wrenching, foot tapping, or otherwise meaningful artistic creations “for the
company” but I have yet to hear one say so.
There is a contingent of copyright experts, (lawyers, judges, and the like), who are not in agreement about the whole ‘perpetuity’ part. At best,
cold logic shows that the artists are not ‘employees’ of the industry, they are independent contractors. So their work cannot be considered
Just to show you how the deck is stacked… consider this gem of a procedural requirement imposed upon the creators of the work; as opposed to the
peddlers of the work…..
Congress passed the copyright law in 1976, specifying that it would go into effect on Jan. 1, 1978, meaning that the earliest any recording can
be reclaimed is Jan. 1, 2013. But artists must file termination notices at least two years before the date they want to recoup their work, and once a
song or recording qualifies for termination, its authors have five years in which to file a claim; if they fail to act in that time, their right to
reclaim the work lapses.
I wonder about the mental gymnastics necessary to evoke the notion of a “lapsing” right. The magic of dates and legislative ‘compromise’
leads to this kind of ‘wording’ in legislation… the kind that only those present at the time and engaged in the topic would have any inclination
to question. As of this legislation, the artist must now jump through “hoops” to get what is “rightfully” their property (by law.) Better
still, for the industry, they need do nothing. But legislators can still proclaim that the artist's have a mean of redress, so they can pretend not
to be the pro-corporate government shill.
I would have presumed that the more reasonable approach would have been for the industry to file their intention to contest any reversal of ownership
rights… but then, that would mean they would have to take action, instead of the presumptive owners of the works.
Sources for this essay:
RIAA to musicians: ‘bend over’
Braces for Artists’ Battles Over Song Rights
Dear Musicians: The RIAA Is About To Totally Screw You Over (Again!)
Rule Reversal: Blame It on RIAA
Out With The Old... In With The Older At The
Copyright government circular
Thanks for reading!