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SoundExchange launches campaign over pre-1972 copyright debate

By | Published on Friday 30 May 2014

Project 72

American record industry rights body SoundExchange has launched a new initiative called Project72, calling on the music community, and music fans, to back legislative proposals put forward by Congressman George Holding and John Conyers that would settle the pre-1972 debate in American copyright law once and for all.

The story so far: under US copyright law, traditional broadcasters do not pay royalties to the record companies for using their recordings. But online radio-style services do. They pay via SoundExchange. But the law that forces those payments is federal law. Copyright only started being ruled at a federal level in the US in 1972, prior to that it stemmed from state law. So some digital services are saying they don’t have to pay royalties when they use recordings that pre-date 1972. Resulting in some litigation good times.

But rather than leave this in the hands of the courts to interpret (judges have swung in both directions on this one), the record industry has been lobbying for some legislative clarification, because why not? And if Holding and Conyers’ proposals – dubbed the Respect Act – were to be made law, the digital services would be forced to start paying SoundExchange royalties on the pre-72 recordings. So it’d be “more money please Pandora”, as they say.

Project 72, with its own website and open letters signed by the likes of BB King, The Supremes, members of Steely Dan, The Beach Boys, Roseanne Cash, Martha Reeves, Cyndi Lauper and Al Green, hopes to swing the debate in Washington in their favour.

The campaign’s positioning statement reads: “In one year alone, this practice [not paying royalties on pre-1972 recordings] caused artists and record labels to lose nearly $60 million in royalties. Half of these royalties would be paid directly into the pockets of artists. This is a matter of fairness. Stand with us for the artists who inspire you and the generations of artists who followed in their footsteps. Tell Congress to support the Respect Act to ensure that digital radio respects all music!”