Why Taylor Swift and Paul McCartney Want New Copyright Laws

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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As reported by NPR, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and Paul McCartney are among the 180 recording artists who recently signed a letter asking Congress to reform US copyright law. The letter was published as an ad in several Washington, DC publications.

The artists object to the “safe harbor” provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA resulted in the last major update to US copyright law in 1998.

As I blogged about previously,  the safe harbor rules mean that an internet service provider (ISP — such as Google or YouTube) isn’t usually responsible for copyright infringement when the infringing material is posted by users.

The ISP has to remove material once it’s been notified that the material’s infringing, but it doesn’t normally have to go looking for it on its own.

Table of Contents

Safe Harbor

That’s the problem, say the performers. The letter said the DMCA safe harbor

has allowed major tech companies to grow and generate huge profits by creating ease of use for consumers to carry almost every recorded song in history in their pocket via a smartphone, while songwriters’ and artists’ earnings continue to diminish.

The performers want the ISPs to be responsible for finding infringing material and removing it without being asked.

Google already allows performers to register for its Content ID service. This lets the performers find videos of their performances on YouTube and run ads over them. Royalties are split 55/45 with YouTube.

The Content ID program has generated $2 billion in revenues to rights holders in the past 10 years.

Lost Revenue

However, as reported by NPR, the Recording Industry Association of America (which represents the major record labels) says that online video plays increased by 100% last year, but revenues sent to artists increased only 17%.

YouTube claims that it catches 99.7% of the infringing material uploaded to its platform, but some record industry executives say the number is closer to 50%, according to the Wall Street Journal. A Sony executive estimated lost revenues at $7.7 million since 2012.

As reported by Rolling Stone, Trent Reznor of the band Nine Inch Nails, who is also chief creative officer of Apple Music, said that YouTube’s business model was  “built on the backs of free, stolen content and that’s how they got that big.”

Another problem is that Content ID works for YouTube but not for Google search. So performers can’t monetize piracy that happens on millions of other sites.

According to the artists,

The DMCA simply doesn’t work. It’s impossible for tens of thousands of individual songwriters and artists to muster the resources necessary to comply with its application. The tech companies who benefit from the DMCA today were not the intended protectorate when it was signed into law nearly two decades ago. We ask you to enact sensible reform that balances the interests of creators with the interests of the companies who exploit music for their financial enrichment. It’s only then that consumers will truly benefit.

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