Royalty rate reform looms

Smith's bill would create judge to oversee copyright law

WASHINGTON — A Capitol Hill lawmaker introduced legislation Wednesday that would reform the process by which copyright royalty rates are set, as well as how those royalties are distributed.

“This legislation will streamline the process and help reduce its unpredictability and inconsistency,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Internet Subcommittee.

Smith’s bill comes in the wake of a long and costly fight between the record biz and broadcasters over new royalty rates for streaming music on the Internet.

After months of testimony from both sides, a special arbitration panel appointed by the U.S. Copyright Office — which operates within the Library of Congress — set a rate neither side was happy with.

Librarian of Congress James Billington later adjusted the rate that still left both sides dissatisfied.

The bill drafted by Smith would create a special copyright judge who would be vested with full powers, including the ability to decide both the rates and the law. Rate would be appealed directly to the U.S. Court of Appeals, bypassing the Copyright Office and the librarian of Congress.

Smith has skedded a congressional hearing on the bill for today.

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