Washington DC
05 September 2017
Reporter: Barney Dixon

Music creators stuck in safe harbour trap, says musicFIRST

A new campaign from music industry coalition musicFIRST has accused Google of hiding behind its legal ‘safe harbour’ to make millions at the expense of music artists.

The coalition promises to unite music creators in support of their intellectual property rights in the face of rapidly changing technology and problems within the industry.

The new campaign will help ensure music creators are paid for their work across platforms, wherever and however it is played, according to musicFIRST.

Google features heavily in part of its campaign that addresses the so-called value gap between platforms and artists.

According to musicFIRST, Google “hides behind its legal ‘safe habour’ to make billions selling ads around unlicensed copies of music”.

“It’s a classic ‘heads I win, tails YouLose’ strategy. Music creators can accept much lower payments forced on them by Google, or their music will just end up on YouTube anyway, which has a very convenient government-granted safe harbour from copyright infringement.”

“Being the biggest certainly doesn’t make you the best,” the coalition added.

On top of Google, radio operators use “the music of hard working performers to attract listeners to their stations, but they don’t pay the musical performers for their work”, the group said.

Services such as Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music all pay artists for use of their songs, yet in radio, fair pay for one’s work does not apply.

“Between their profits and government help in the form of subsidies, there is no reason the radio industry can’t pay for using the creative property and work of music performers and artists just as all their competitors do.”

Another part of musicFIRST’s campaign addresses a “quirk” in US copyright law that leaves songs written before 15 February 1972 without copyright.

Once again targeting radio, musicFIRST said that many radio stations are “dedicated exclusively to such music”, but “refuse to pay anything to the performers who created these classics, shortchanging creators and copyright owners well over $60 million a year”.

The coalition plans to launch a national digital ad campaign, targeting music creators and recruiting them to its advocacy efforts. Artists will share stories on musicFIRST’s website and send messages to Cngress to ask for support.

Chris Israel, musicFIRST’s executive director, said: “Music has incredible value and music creators should always be fairly compensated for their work.”

“It is a very exciting time and the ways that we are listening to music are changing rapidly. Unfortunately, many laws remain outdated and often fail to protect music creators by denying them fair pay for their hard work.”

He added: “Our goal is to rally the people and organisations who make and love music to ask Congress to address obvious flaws in our copyright system.”

“The music industry has evolved, innovated and grown. Some of those who told us to ‘adapt to disruption’ are now the ones hiding behind outdated government protections. It’s time to modernize the rules to let competition, innovation and great music thrive.”

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