[This post first appeared on MusicTech.Solutions and was posted on Hypebot]
You may recently have heard the term “CRB reform” tossed around by various music industry entities. The term usually means changes to the law or regulations governing the Copyright Royalty Board in the interests of the lobbyists or the big music publishers. And yes, so far it has just been the publishers raising “CRB reform” aside from the odd comment of A2IM filed with the CRB that would, if adopted, create a massive change to the Copyright Act and make controlled composition clauses even more pernicious. (As I explained in my reply comment, I don’t think the CRB has the authority to make the change A2IM asked nor do I think they have the inclination for self-surgery judging by their opinion concluding the “Subpart B” proceeding in Phonorecords IV.)
What you don’t hear, what you never hear, is how the music users will respond, particularly the Big Tech companies that participate in the Phonorecords proceedings for streaming mechanicals. You don’t even hear speculation about that little issue, which ignores the very important fact that the enemy gets a vote. (If you don’t think Amazon, Apple, Google, Pandora and Spotify are the enemy, then ask yourself why they brought 26 lawyers to the Phonorecords IV streaming mechanical proceeding and conducted a scorched earth discovery campaign in that proceeding. Not to mention dragging out Phonorecords III as long as they possibly could without remorse. And then there’s UGC 2.0 called AI and ChatGPT designed to take the human out of transhumanism. That’s not how friends treat each other.)
The fact that you don’t hear anything about how Big Tech views “CRB Reform” suggests one of two things is happening. Either there is no deal in place with the services or worse yet there is a deal but it just hasn’t been surfaced yet. That would be in keeping with the disastrous 2006 S1RA legislation (“Section 115 Reform Act“) the first version of the Harry Fox Preservation Act that failed, but eventually became Title I of the Music Modernization Act.
The way that one worked was Big Tech woke up and said, oh, you want to amend the Copyright Act? We have some things we want, too. (Big Tech in those days mostly Google led by their many proxy NGO front groups including the person of Gigi Sohn who is now unbelievably still being put up for FCC commissioner). So not only could Big Tech bring their considerable lobbying muscle to bear on any statutory “reform” (which usually means a further consolidation of power in the ruling class by closing loopholes favorable to the people), but they might make it actually worse.
For example, it would not be difficult for Big Tech to leverage their superior numbers and legal geographical advantage by expanding the discovery and appeal rights in CRB proceedings. That will essentially be the death knell of songwriters ever being able to defend themselves. Both the publishers and Big Tech would probably like to make certain that there is never again a George Johnson figure appearing in the proceedings much less 50 George Johnson’s (apologies for the casual objectification, but you get the idea). The lobbyists and lawyers on both sides share that special Washington moral hazard of wanting everything involving the government to be as complicated and lengthy as possible. Boy have they done that with the impenetrable streaming mechanicals calculations and expensive negotiations to keep it complicated so only the big guys can afford the accounting systems to use the government’s license.
How would anyone keep Big Tech from slurping at that trough if you opened up the CRB statutes and regulations? You can’t stop them–except one way.
If our side in the proceedings found voluntary changes everyone could agree to that would not require amending the statutes, then for better or worse we would be able to operate on the status quo. For example, the publishers could agree that there would be an independent songwriter advocate who would be included in the negotiations. They could agree any one of a number of things that would result in better treatment of songwriters. As long as we are stuck with the compulsory license, we could at least make it more representative.
But what no one wants is to have Big Tech leverage disagreements inside our house over the length of our table to come up with even more limitations and exceptions to copyright. To my knowledge, there is no agreement from the other side to stay out of this issue. If there is such a deal, I’d really like to know what was given up to get it. If there isn’t, I’d love to hear the plan from the smart people.
I’m all ears.