U.S. Congress updating music copyright laws as world goes digital

WASHINGTON Wed Jun 11, 2014 4:34am IST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress is working to update laws on who gets paid for recorded music, in a possible omnibus bill, as old CDs pile up at yard sales and music lovers increasingly shift to streaming services such as Pandora (P.N) and Spotify.

One bill, the RESPECT Act, would close a loophole that allows digital music services, like SiriusXM, to stream music recorded before 1972 without paying for them. These include legends such as The Beatles, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and other Motown artists.

A second bill, the Songwriter Equity Act, would give songwriters more leeway to argue for higher royalties when their songs are played by digital streaming services. Songwriting and recordings are licensed separately.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York, said on Tuesday he was working on an omnibus bill to address these and other legal issues as digital streaming has replaced broadcast radio and albums as the most popular way of listening to music.

"We can create a better system for radio competitors, for artists and songwriters, and for fans, all of whom depend on a vital healthy market for music and music services," he said at a House Judiciary Committee subcommittee hearing on Tuesday.

Lee Thomas Miller, who wrote "I'm Still a Guy" for country singer Brad Paisley, said songwriters were being driven from the business by digital streaming services which paid just a fraction of a cent to songwriters when their songs were streamed. That price is set by a "rate court" at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

"An American profession is in a lot of trouble," Miller told lawmakers.

Another push was for a comprehensive registry of music, with songs given unique identifiers, so that YouTube, a Google Inc (GOOGL.O) unit, Pandora and others could easily determine who owns the various rights to any song in order to assure payment.

A second hearing is scheduled for June 25, with witnesses including officials from Pandora, SiriusXM Radio, the Recording Industry Association of America and singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Ros Krasny and Richard Chang)

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