April 20, 2018
ARSC Position on the CLASSICS Act
The Association for Recorded Sound Collections is concerned about major changes to copyright that are currently before the U.S. Congress. While the needs of financial stakeholders have been taken into account, those of libraries, archives--and the public--may not be.
The Music Modernization Act (H.R. 5447) is an omnibus bill likely to be voted on in the near future, and is believed likely to pass. Details are still in flux. ARSC is most concerned with the portion of this act called the CLASSICS act, which would be an important win for recording copyright holders (e.g. Sony, Universal), granting them streaming royalties for recordings made before 1972. Current federal law only covers recordings made after 1972. We think that this fix is justified, and support that goal of the bill.
However under normal copyright law such benefits are supposed to be counterbalanced by an eventual public domain for the public, and exemptions for libraries and archives so that they can preserve and make available historical recordings. The legislation, as initially drafted, ignores the first issue and falls short on the second. Under present law, there is effectively no public domain for sound recordings in the U.S., and won't be for at least another fifty years. Recordings are the only type of intellectual property in the U.S. with no public domain, and the U.S. is the only major nation that doesn't provide for one.
Once this bill passes, it is unlikely that other copyright legislation will be enacted, possibly for many years.
ARSC along with other academic organizations urge that provisions be included in the CLASSICS Act that would establish a public domain for these newly covered recordings, consistent with other intellectual property, as well as allow archives to legally preserve all copyrighted recordings.
Commercial sound recording began in 1890, and since then a huge and rich cultural heritage has been built up, including the songs and speech of immigrant and minority groups, the early sounds of jazz, country music, the theatre, soul music, and so much more. The films of Charlie Chaplin are freely available, and so are thousands of literary works such as those of Robert Frost and O. Henry and The Wizard of Oz. Why shouldn't recordings be treated the same? We believe this national treasure should be preserved and available to students and the public today. But virtually all of it is owned by copyright holders who are not equipped to permanently preserve it or incentivized to make it available. That is the job of libraries and archives. With no public domain and inadequate provisions for preservation activities, America's sonic heritage is in danger of disappearing altogether.
The CLASSICS Act is being drafted by the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, which are chaired by Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, respectively. We urge them to consider the needs of the public, as well as rights-holding corporations, in finalizing this legislation.
--Tim Brooks, Chair, ARSC Copyright and Fair Use Committee