Intellectual Property: Whose Song is it Anyway?

The last decade has seen new legislation in the copyright area, once again in response to a new technology — the Internet. The Digital Performance Right in Sound Recording (DPR) of 1995 gave copyright owners of sound recordings (that is, the record companies) the right to authorize public performances, such as certain digital transmissions, including interactive audio transmission, of their work. Traditional radio and television were exempt. Next, the ‘No Electronic Theft’ Act criminalized sound recording copyright infringement occuring on the Internet regardless of whether there was financial gain.

The Digital Millennium Act (DMA) of 1998 implemented the international treaties signed in December 1996 at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) conference in Geneva. These treaties raised minimum standards for international copyright protection. The DMA amended the 1995 DPR to cover cable and satellite digital audio services and web casts. It also made it a crime to circumvent anti-piracy measures in software, outlawed code-cracking devices, and limited the liability of Internet service providers for copyright infringement in the information transmitted on their networks.

As the DMA requires webcasters to pay licensing fees to record companies for use of their sound recordings, another licensing system was required. The Recording Institute of America (RIAA) represents sound recording copyright owners in these negotiations. In September 2000, the RIAA and Yahoo agreed to parameters and conditions for music broadcast via Yahoo. In October 2000, the National Music Publishers Association and the RIAA agreed on procedures to facilitate licensing of musical compositions in recordings for Internet distribution. Like other “mechanical” licensing, this would be done through the Harry Fox Agency.

In the freewheeling world of the Web, the old arguments about who owns what are being played out once again. Technology innovates, and consumers take free access to the intellectual property made newly available for granted, until someone puts up a fight. The Napster controversy has echoes of much older ones. And while Internet technology has the real potential to actually charge consumers for the intellectual property they acquire through cyberspace — think of the ultimate pay-per-view — the legal history of this area indicates that getting there will not be easy.


Intellectual Property: Whose Song is it Anyway?
by Heidi Waleson
©2000 NewMusicBox

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