The United States has the most innovative and influential music culture in the world, but much of the legal framework for licensing of music dates back to the early part of the twentieth century, long before the digital revolution in music. Our licensing system is founded on a view that the music marketplace requires a unique level of government regulation, much of it reflected in statutory licensing provisions of the Copyright Act. The Copyright Office believes that the time is ripe to question the existing paradigm for the licensing of musical works and sound recordings and consider meaningful change.
There is a widespread perception that our licensing system is broken. Songwriters and recording artists are concerned that they cannot make a living under the existing structure, which raises serious and systemic concerns for the future. Music publishers and performance rights organizations are frustrated that so much of their licensing activity is subject to government control, so they are constrained in the marketplace. Record labels and digital services complain that the licensing process is burdensome and inefficient, making it difficult to innovate.
While there is general consensus that the system needs attention, there is less agreement as to what should be done. In this report, after reviewing the existing framework and stakeholders’ views, the Copyright Office offers a series of guiding principles and preliminary recommendations for change. The Office’s proposals are meant to be contemplated together, rather than individually. With this approach, the Office seeks to present a series of balanced tradeoffs among the interested parties to create a fairer, more efficient, and more rational system for all.