Momentum is building around a number of bills proposed in Congress that could increase royalty payments for music creators in the digital age while making life more efficient for digital music services.
Although the four bills affect different sets of people, the music industry at large has gotten behind all of them collectively in hopes of getting them passed this year, calling the collection of bipartisan proposals the Music Bus(as in “omnibus legislation”). But a more appropriate metaphor is a train; the question is whether all of the cars will stay on the track or if a single car will derail and cause a wreck.
Music creators are paid royalties through an ad-hoc patchwork of laws, industry conventions and private deals, many of which date back decades. The industry has struggled to adopt, adapt, stretch and contort these structures as music has transitioned to digital. These four bills are part of that process; collectively, they are the biggest copyright legislative package to reach Congress in decades.
Each recorded music track — that you might download from iTunes, own on vinyl, play on Spotify or hear on an FM radio station — has two copyrights: one for the musical composition and one for the sound recording. In the simple case, the former is created by a songwriter and managed by a music publisher while the latter is created by a recording artist and managed by a record label.
In addition, each of those two copyrighted works has two sets of rights that digital music services may need to license from the owners in order to play the track: the reproduction and distribution right (known as a “mechanical” for musical compositions) and the public performance right.