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RESPECT Bill Would Require Pay For Internet Play of Pre-1972 Music

A pair of legislators this week introduced a bill that would require online music services to pay copyright fees for pre-1972 recordings.

Currently those are subject to state laws, not federal copyright license requirements, and some services don't pay under state law either, claiming they don't apply to digital play, according to Judiciary committee member Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.), cosponsor of the RESPECT (Respecting Senior Performers as Essential Cultural Treasures) Act. Committee ranking member Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) is co-sponsor.

The RESPECT Act requires any digital music service that takes advantage of federal compulsory licenses to also pay royalties for any pre-1972 music they play.

Holding said among those losing out are "North Carolina’s own John Coltrane, and our Beethoven of Banjo – Earl Scruggs."

It doesn't preempt state laws or "fully federalize" all pre-1972 recordings, which Holding says is a thornier issue that has been referred by the Copyright Office to the committee. Holder says the bill does not affect noncommercial uses of music.

The bill was not getting full-throated support from some groups pushing for greater copyright protections for artists.

"Public Knowledge supports protecting pre-1972 sound recordings under federal copyright law, but this bill fails to give pre-1972 recordings actual copyright protection and fails to solve the uncertainty created by a patchwork of state laws," said Public Knowledge senior staff attorney Jodie Griffin. "Pre-1972 sound recordings should be given actual copyright protection that lasts for the lifetime of the author."

The Future of Music Coalition said it was pleased Congress at least was recognizing the importance of compensating artists, but said that, unfortunately, the bill "doesn’t offer performers the full suite of rights afforded to artists who made recordings after February 15, 1972." The group called the bill a step in the right direction, but added that "adding scaffolding to an already unwieldy structure may not be the best way to ensure artist compensation across the board."