A Better Way to Protect Recording Artists

Right now, copyright for music and other sound recordings from before 1972 aren’t covered by federal laws. Instead there’s a confusing patchwork of state laws, and a huge amount of uncertainty about what rights apply to streaming music online.

I’ve proposed the ACCESS to Recordings Act, which would give artists new rights in two ways: first it would apply the current 95-year copyright to pre-1972 works, starting in 1923. So if you are an artist who wrote a top ten hit in 1958, for example, you would immediately get copyright to that song until 2053.

For absolutely every living artist who recorded before 1972, my bill would give you new rights and new revenue from digital streaming, while also creating a uniform copyright law across the whole country. And works that were created before 1923 would enter the public domain, which would be a boon for researchers and archivists working to preserve old recordings.

This bill is part of my long standing view that we need a strong, but balanced, copyright system that not only protects artists and creators, but also fosters innovation, freedom of expression and education. Artists deserve to be compensated for their work, but at the same time, we shouldn’t lock up ideas for decades after the creator has passed away.

That’s why researchers like the Library Copyright Alliance (which includes the American Library Association), the Internet Archive and the Society of American Archivists all have endorsed my ACCESS to Recordings Act.

The other proposal on music streaming has worthy goals, but in my view only partially solves the problem, and creates new ones along the way.

The CLASSICS Act, like the ACCESS to Recordings Act, would create a federal copyright for streaming pre-1973 sound recordings, but CLASSICS would do nothing to solve the confusing mishmash of state laws for all other copyright issues.

So if, for example, someone records and then streams a sound recording, they would have to deal with the uncertainty of navigating two different systems to understand their rights and obligations. The other problem is that CLASSICS creates a streaming copyright for any song or recording from 1923 until 2067 — up to a whopping 144 years — which is long past the time any artist would benefit from their work.

To be clear, I support one of the goals of CLASSICS, and the reason it is supported by artists — to open up the revenue from new digital streaming services to older artists. Due to pending litigation, or the threat of litigation, virtually all streaming services are making payments to the copyright owners — often record labels. But, without the safeguards in federal law, we don’t know whether or how distributions are being made to the artists.

ACCESS creates more legal certainty and uniformity by applying all federal copyright law to the recordings. It also ensures a stream of revenue for artists well into the future most likely well after the artist’s lifetime, while ensuring that older works enter the public domain to the enrichment of our cultural heritage.