Why is Music Copyright Law so Confusing?

music copyright law

The world of copyright and music copyright law is a murky and confusing situation which leaves musicians who try and unravel it, even more confused and bewildered.

Here’s a list of why music copyright is designed to be messy and keep musicians from obtaining what is truly owed to them.

1. Complicated music copyright makes royalty collection organizations very wealthy.

SoundExchange. ASCAP. GEMA. HFA. PRS. etc. What do all of these royalty collection societies have in common? They make an incredibly large amount of money from super-complicated copyright structures. Because the more complicated the structure and the less sophisticated the tracking and payout mechanisms, the more money piles up in unpaid, unallocated accounts.

2. Complicated music copyright makes it really easy to cheat artists.

There’s a reason why your Spotify payouts are inscrutable even to industry professionals. It’s simple: the more complex and unexplainable the royalty calculation, the less money you have to pay the artist. It’s really, really simple (and complex at the same time).

3. Complicated copyright makes it really easy to cheat songwriters.

Why did Desmond Child get paid $110.42 after 6 million plays on Pandora? Why did Linda Perry get paid $349.16 after 12.7 million plays? The reason is that copyright royalty-rates were structured decades ago by Congress and the courts, and publishers have no option but to play along. Or, change the law, which could take more decades.

4. Complicated music copyright makes large recording labels and publishers wealthy.

What happens to all of those unmatched, unpaid piles of money collected by royalty collection agencies (see #1)? They get divided amongst the largest music publishers and labels, even if the money doesn’t belong to them. Because smaller publishers, artists, and labels usually aren’t sophisticated, educated, or staffed well enough to claim what is theirs (or even know it exists).

5. Complicated music copyright benefits large streaming radio services like Pandora.

Pandora says they’re the victim of burdensome copyright requirements. But the reality is that they pay pennies to publishers, and try endless tricks to lower royalties in the courts and Congress. And none of that makes it back to the listener, who doesn’t really know or care what copyright is anyway.

6. Complicated music copyright makes it easier to claim rights that don’t exist.

PROs spent millions arguing to federal judges that ringtones were public performances, just like a song played at a bar or club. They also spend millions to make companies pay blanket licenses for broadcasting, even on content that isn’t theirs to license. They make streaming services pay mechanicals, which are for physical reproductions.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. Musicians don’t have to lose out to what they are entitled to. They can receive can what they are owed so they can continue to make great music for all to enjoy.

This belief underpins our mission to put they value of creation back in the hands of the creators


Also published on Medium.