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It’s Time to Honor All Music Creators from All Generations

16 April 2018

At this past weekend’s 33rd Annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Cleveland, OH, six honorees were recognized for their lifetime accomplishments. Congratulations to Bon Jovi, The Cars, Dire Straits, The Moody Blues, Nina Simone and Sister Rosetta Tharpe on being honored this year!

But these and all artists deserve better. A quirk in U.S. federal copyright law does not cover songs recorded before February 15, 1972. So, most artists who created music before 1972 are not guaranteed compensation under the law when their work is played on digital radio, satellite radio and, of course, FM radio. That means that the hitmakers of Motown, the legends of Jazz & Blues, and the people who gave birth to Rock n’ Roll aren’t being paid, or worse, have to spend years in court trying to recoup lost compensation that they would have received had they recorded their songs after February 15, 1972.

That means that a vast majority of this cherished community of rockers aren’t held to the same payment standards as musicians who created their music post-1972.

Listening platforms like SiriusXM – ironically the broadcaster of this weekend’s ceremony – exploit this loophole in federal copyright law to avoid paying legendary artists when their recordings are played on their platform. This forces musicians to conduct expensive, lengthy legal battles to claim their rightful royalties from the media giant, and that’s just wrong.

Fortunately, legislation to remedy this injustice is making progress on Capitol Hill.  On April 11, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler, Congressman Doug Collins and others on the House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the Music Modernization Act [H.R. 5447], a bill that will bring music licensing laws into the digital age. The Music Modernization Act and its companion legislation in the Senate, known as the CLASSICS Act [S. 2393], address specific legacy issues such as establishing federal copyright protection for artists who recorded their music before 1972.

The loophole works like this:

The Moody Blues, one of this year’s honorees, recorded hits like “Nights In White Satin” (1970), “The Story in Your Eyes” (1971) and “Tuesday Afternoon” (1967).

And since their songs were created before the arbitrary date of February 15, 1972, they aren’t entitled to fair pay when their songs are played. But, if their songs had been created a few years later they’d be entitled to compensation under U.S. copyright law. This interpretation of an arbitrary date set decades ago is clearly unfair and illogical and in need of remedy.


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