'Neutral language' sought to give creators ownership

Inspired by the need to present a united front against MP3.com, Napster and the rest of the unauthorized digital downloading community, the Recording Industry Assn. of America (RIAA) and a diverse coalition of artist groups have hammered out a legislative recommendation to Congress that, if passed, would remove language classifying sound recordings as “works for hire.”

The controversial phrase was inserted at the 11th hour into an unrelated Satellite Home View Improvement Act that was, in turn, folded into a huge omnibus spending bill that President Clinton signed into law on Nov. 29.

Without this 1999 change, the Copyright Act of 1976 would allow recording artists to reclaim rights to their original master recordings after 35 years. The clock was set to begin ticking in 1978, putting records back in the hands of their creators starting in 2013.

Outcry set off

When the l999 change was discovered, it set off a tremendous outcry in the artistic community that culminated in widely publicized testimony before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts & Intellectual Property (Daily Variety, May 25).

Wednesday’s agreement allows the warring parties to go back to Congress when the legislative bodies reconvene after Labor Day and try to insert the new clause into a bill that could be passed as earlier as September.

This may prove harder than it sounds and would not prevent future court battles over specific works.

Attorney Jay Cooper — who represented artist groups that stretch from the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, the American Federation of Musicians, the Artists Coalition and AmSong to the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences and the Music Managers Forum — told Daily Variety that the challenge was coming up with “neutral language” amenable to both artists and the RIAA.”The change in the law last November was something that should never have happened,” Cooper added. “The artists needed the protection. They created the recordings. They paid for the recordings. They were entitled to have their recordings back.”

NARAS prexy-CEO Michael Greene said, “We look forward to now continuing to fight on all the many other fronts against those who would threaten the livelihood, vitality and legacy of our artists community.”

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more