Sound recordings made prior to 1972 don’t enjoy federal copyright protection. There’s a thorny legal and legislative history behind this, but the end result is that these recordings are only protected under state law. Federal copyright has evolved, with new rights, limitations, and user protections applied to copyrighted works -- but not to pre-’72 recordings. And as the internet became ubiquitous, consumption of these works began to cross state lines, further muddying the waters.
Today, Public Knowledge sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and to the House Judiciary Committee’s Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).
Last Friday, the federal district court overseeing the BMI consent decree rejected the Department of Justice’s interpretation, holding that it did not prohibit so-called “fractional licensing.” In an opinion with little meaningful analysis, the court dismissed DOJ’s reading of the plain language of the consent decree, calling the consent decree language merely “descriptive.”
Yesterday, the Songwriters of North America (SONA), a songwriter advocacy group, sued the Department of Justice over its interpretation of the antitrust consent decrees governing ASCAP and BMI, the two largest U.S. performance rights organizations (PROs). The lawsuit alleges that the DoJ has, by simply reading the words of the consent decrees, unconstitutionally seized their property. While heavy on rhetoric, the complaint is light on actionable facts. It not only misunderstands the DoJ’s mandate, but is anchored in a breathtakingly overbroad vision of copyright law that should give any sensible observer pause, and serves as a reminder of the Copyright Office’s problematic relationship with industry.