MUSIC COMMUNITY & ARTISTS TO CONGRESS: FIX THE DMCA

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Remember watching the little orange AOL man walk across your screen as you waited to log on to the Internet? Hearing “You’ve Got Mail” upon entering the World Wide Web was a cultural phenomenon that excited everyone lucky enough to be granted access – until you were booted off when someone answered the phone. What a new and fickle technology the 1998 Internet was!

Naturally, this fickle technology has evolved tremendously in the past 18 years. And as we all know, so have the many ways in which music is distributed online. Unfortunately, a digital piracy law enacted by Congress way back in 1998 is still on the books today, but with the opposite intended effect. This antiquated law – called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) – places an undue burden on creators by forcing them to police the entire Internet for instances of theft while unfairly favoring technology companies and rogue pirate sites. Perhaps searching for and taking down links to illegal uploads was possible back in 1998 when getting online required a landline and a prayer, but not so for today’s sophisticated Internet (the musicFIRST coalition, a broad-based coalition of artist and industry groups, has its clever take on the issue here).

Further, the DMCA has propagated an unfair licensing regime where some of the biggest ad-supported music services like YouTube pay artists and musicians peanuts, all while music consumption on those platforms has skyrocketed. The stark disparity between the meager music revenues from these services and the enormous amount of music consumption on them has been dubbed “the value gap.” In short, the DMCA has effectively helped enrich big tech companies who distribute music at the expense of artists and creators who have tirelessly worked to bring that music to life.

That’s why this past summer an unprecedented coalition of more than 500 artists – from superstars to independent artists spanning across all genres and generations – and 20 music organizations and companies signed an open letter to Congress decrying a broken DMCA. The open letter was published as advertisements in major Washington D.C. political publications, coming at a critical time as U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte is reportedly planning to soon unveil reforms to U.S. copyright law. “As songwriters and artists who are a vital contributing force to the U.S. and to American exports around the world, we are writing to express our concern about the ability of the next generation of creators to earn a living,” reads the letter. “The DMCA simply doesn’t work…We ask you to enact sensible reform that balances the interests of creators with the interests of the companies who exploit music for their financial enrichment. It’s only then that consumers will truly benefit.”

As we all know, the music industry is relatively small compared to the weight of Silicon Valley who would prefer to keep the DMCA as is. But a unified music community lending its voice to ask for reforms sends a powerful message to policymakers. It’s important to stand together to strengthen the music economy and create a healthier, more stable ecosystem for the next generation of singers, songwriters, and musicians.