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Music battle moves to D.C.

Sheryl Crow takes on the Recording Industry Assn. of America

The battle over whether sound recordings should be classified “works for hire” comes to Capitol Hill today.

In one corner: recording artist Sheryl Crow, National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS) prexy-CEO Michael Greene and law professor Marci Hamilton.

In the other: Recording Industry Assn. of America (RIAA) prexy-CEO Hilary Rosen and law professor Paul Goldstein.

Today’s hearings before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts & Intellectual Property will determine whether Congress repeals an amendment to the 1976 Copyright Act that classified sound recordings as “works for hire.”

This amendment was inserted at the eleventh hour into an unrelated Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act that was folded into a huge omnibus spending bill, which President Clinton signed into law on November 29, 1999.

Two months later, the subcommittee’s majority chief counsel, Mitch Glazier — who drafted the four-line provision — landed a six-figure gig as the RIAA’s top lobbyist.

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

The RIAA, which represents the Big Five record congloms (EMI, Warners, Sony, BMG and Universal), is opposed to this because it would prevent them from being able to use these recordings in perpetuity.

The RIAA claims that owing to the high costs of marketing records — and because only about 15% of the records released each year make their costs back — such protective measures are necessary.

NARAS and the recording artists want the offending clause repealed because it wasn’t subject to public debate.

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