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Turning Up the Volume on Music Issues | Commentary

When you think of the great music cities of America, what comes to mind? Los Angeles? Nashville? New York City? Brookside, Rhode Island?

If the last one was a surprise, it shouldn’t be. Nor should hearing about the great music being made in Shullsburg, Wisconsin; Park City, Utah; or Farmington Hills, Michigan. Because in all of those towns, people are making great music — and they’re expecting their elected leaders to protect their intellectual property.

At a crucial time ahead of the midterm elections, songwriters, performers and studio professionals made their voices heard across the country this week for the inaugural GRAMMYs in My District Day. Utilizing the power of grass-roots advocacy, The Recording Academy’s 23,000-strong membership of music professionals raised its collective voice to bring attention to issues affecting the livelihoods of the nation’s creative class. Across nearly 140 districts, Academy members massed in person and flooded email inboxes and phone lines with one goal: achieving fair pay across all platforms for all music creators. For themselves, their colleagues, their professions and their families, music creators are standing up for overdue reforms in music copyright and licensing legislation.

Changes are needed to ensure that music-makers are protected and compensated. With House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte’s, R-Va., forward-thinking review of copyright reform, expected legislation from Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and a Copyright Office study of music licensing due in the coming months, these issues are “ripe for resolution,” to quote U.S. Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante.

These are tough times to be a music-maker in America, and lawmakers must support legislation to prevent this country’s great creative class from disappearing. U.S. broadcasters remain alone in the developed world in their ability to avoid paying royalties to performers and producers. These billion-dollar companies run to Congress when others rebroadcast their intellectual property, yet cling to an antiquated legal loophole that allows them to avoid paying for the intellectual property of recording artists. Adding insult to injury, these same broadcasters are actively lobbying Congress to sign a misleading resolution that would maintain their unfair appropriation of intellectual property.

Today, songwriters and performers are being squeezed by Internet radio and digital music services that pay fractions of pennies per song stream. Artists whose music was released before 1972 don’t earn anything at all for play on these services in most states. The recent victory of Flo & Eddie over Sirius XM in California is a step in the right direction, but an issue this big can’t remain for the courts to decide on an individual basis, and the burden should not be on recording artists to pursue legal remedies in order to receive their due compensation.

Recorded music represents the hard labor, craft, and creativity of many people, from songwriters and performers to producers and engineers. This is their chosen profession, their livelihood; and we enjoy it. Members of Congress and music consumers at large need an education: Music does not emerge from some mysterious and anonymous wellspring, freely available for the taking by terrestrial broadcasters, online radio and streaming services. On GRAMMYs in My District Day, music creators visited their local representatives to begin that education process and let their representatives know that comprehensive reform is needed at the policy level to stop the continued exploitation of recording artists. Heading into the midterm elections, congressional candidates were reminded that their constituents include music creators, who are engaged like never before, and that — come January — they will turn up the volume even higher.

Daryl P. Friedman is the chief advocacy and industry relations officer for The Recording Academy.

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