Legislation to reinstate provision of 1976 Copyright Act

WASHINGTON — Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.) made his first priority upon returning to Capitol Hill on Wednesday the introduction of legislation repealing a controversial 1999 law classifying recordings as “work for hire.”

The legislation would reinstate a provision of the Copyright Act of 1976 allowing recording artists to reclaim rights to their original master recordings after 35 years. The clock was set to begin ticking in 1978, putting recordings back in the hands of the original artists starting in 2013.

“We’re very pleased. I think we got the right result,” said Jay Cooper, a Los Angeles attorney representing various artists’ groups in the matter.

The Recording Industry Assn. of America also supports the legislation, which was hammered out after weeks of negotiations with the various parties involved.

“We are pleased that chairman Coble and Congressman Berman have introduced legislation that resolves this issue, and we look forward to working with the artists to see it enacted this year,” RIAA spokesman Doug Curry said.

Coble calls for help

Coble, chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts & Intellectual Property, co-authored the bill with Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.). Coble is calling for lawmakers, who returned to work this week after a summer break, to take up the matter before Congress adjourns in early October.

The original provision was overturned in 1999 through a controversial amendment inserted in an unrelated Satellite Home View Improvement Act.

“People got wind of this, and all holy hell broke loose,” one Capitol Hill staffer said.

In prepared remarks Monday, Coble thanked the RIAA and artists’ groups for working together to come up with workable legislation. Both sides had testified.

“Given the complex nature of copyright law, this compromise was not easily reached,” Coble said. “H.R. 5107 implements that solution. It is a repeal of the amendment without prejudice. In other words, it restores both parties to the same position they were in, prior to the enactment of the amendment in November 1999.”

Berman said in his prepared statements that the issue might still come up in the courts, but that it remains imperative that Congress pass the legislation introduced Wednesday.

“In short, we believe passage of this bill is vital to ensure that whatever rights the authors of sound recordings may have had previously are restored, and that such restoration is achieved in a way that does not unfairly impair the rights of others,” Berman said.

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