Smokey Robinson is one of the best witnesses for artist rights. Mr. Robinson was on stage yesterday in the clinch at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Music Modernization Act, the new omnibus package that finally includes all of the pre-72 protections and closes that loophole for Big Tech. (Read his written testimony here.)
The records of the 50’s and 60’s aren’t called “classics” because of their age. They’re called classics because of their greatness. They still resonate today. They add value to our lives and bring people together. They define America.
While Mr. Robinson’s written testimony was eloquent and inspiring, where he really showed his genius was in his ability to synthesize key issues and think on his feet in front of both the cameras and the U.S. Senate.
Watch this clip in which he corrected DiMA head Chris Harrison about a cavalier statement regarding “artists can always sue.” This is what these people always say, and too often our Congress full of lawyers gets drawn into the “lawsuit as remedy” thinking–which most of the time is a dodge. I’d even go so far as to say it’s laziness.
As Mr. Robinson pointed out so precisely, artists and songwriters can hardly ever sue because they can’t afford to hire a lawyer or even investigate their rights. So if that’s the result–and a good justification for the copyright small claims court–that’s no remedy at all and results in an income transfer. It’s called YouTube, Twitter, Facebook–the biggest income transfers of all time.
Fortunately, Texas Senator John Cornyn, a supporter of the pre-72 fix, gave Mr. Robinson a chance to hit it out of the park and he took it. Smokey the Closer.
If there ever was a better defense of the need for statutory damages and attorneys fees (the “private attorney general” clause of the Copyright Act), I haven’t heard it.
And while no one said it at the hearing and taking nothing away from Mr. Robinson, it must be said that the only reason that this bill is where it is, the only reason that the pre-72 and mechanical licensing fixes are where they are, is because of Howard Kaylan & Mark Volman, David Lowery, Melissa Ferrick, Bob Gaudio and Bluewater Music and the lawyers like Henry Gradstein (both Turtles and Ferrick class actions), Sanford Michaelman and Richard Busch. And that’s the fact.