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Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Extend Copyright to Pre-1972 Recordings

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Legislation was introduced this week to close a long-standing quirk in copyright law: Sound-recordings made before 1972 do not get federal protection.

It’s long been a source of complaint among artists, musicians, and record labels, among others, particularly with the dramatic changes in revenue streams in the digital age. It has created confusion in the marketplace for oldies radio, as streaming services depend on the classic recordings popular with their subscribers.

The Compensating Legacy Artists for their Songs, Service and Important Contributions to Society Act (CLASSICS) was introduced by a group of House Republicans and Democrats, including Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). Issa is the chairman of a key House Judiciary subcommittee on intellectual property, and Nadler is the ranking member.

“This is an important and overdue fix to the law that will help settle years of litigation and restore some equity to the inexplicable gap in our copyright system,” Issa said in a statement. “It makes no sense that some of the most iconic artists of our time are left without the same federal copyright protections afforded to their modern counterparts.”

Supporters are hopeful for the bill’s prospects, citing its support among groups from the music industry like the Recording Industry Assn. of America, musicFIRST and the Grammys, and those that at times have a divergent agenda, like Pandora and the Internet Assn.

It was not until 1971 that Congress put sound recordings under federal copyright protection, but they applied only to works made after Feb. 15, 1972.

That has created confusion, as artists and labels have instead turned to state laws to establish copyright protections, but it has created a patchwork of different state laws.

The legislation would make the owners of the pre-1972 recordings eligible for royalties for digital broadcast. The legislation also ensures that artists are entitled to the same share of royalties regardless of whether a label and a digital music platform reach an agreement on payment.

SoundExchange would distribute the royalties for the pre-1972 recordings, just as it does for music after that date.

The legislation does not address another contentious issue that has long been a source of dispute: Broadcast radio stations do not have to pay royalties to artists and labels for airplay, even though the music industry has long sought legislation to require compensation for broadcasts of performances.

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