Is It Time to Repeal the Section 115 Compulsory License? Singer-songwriter George Johnson believes so and is asking the Copyright Office to start a formal study and discussion on the issue.
Johnson, a longtime campaigner for copyright reform, recently described his position — and the perceived positives associated with the rarely discussed repeal of Section 115 — in a letter to Register of Copyrights Shira Perlmutter. In addition, the Nashville-based musician shared his take on the relevant section of the Copyright Act in a detail-oriented 19-page supplemental resource.
“The compulsory license of 1909 was designed for another time, for the local sale of piano rolls, and was not intended as such used billions of timesfrom the greatest trillions of dollars company in the history of the worldwith teams of lawyers,” the said letter begins, and then describes the “activity” of the Big Three labels anti-competitive Abuse of the compulsory license at the “Copyright Royalty Board (CRB)” as the main problem of the complex situation.
The text also references “several studies” (initiated by former registry officer Marybeth Peters) that have allegedly “challenged the continuing need for compulsory licensing” — before underscoring the perceived need for broader regulatory action being pushed by the Copyright Office.
“The license that fare structureand the CRB process are all really broken in almost every way and must be fixed immediately or completely abandoned‘ reads the letter closer to the end. “Any rational entrant currently using private providers of flat-rate collective licenses would certainly switch, proving that federal licenses are not required to operate efficiently.
“We all could really benefit from the Copyright Office’s input, ideas and legal opinions on these vitally important issues, since no individual songwriter can compete with the attorneys of the RIAA and NMPA, nor with 25 years of their regulatory capture,” the statement said.
The 19-page resource mentioned above, meanwhile, thoroughly examines all sorts of related issues and information, with the central theme being the alleged conflicts of interest created by the big labels owning today’s biggest publishing companies.
Of course, these big three publishers have one significant presence within the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA), which has in the past allied with the majors behind critically questionable royalty proposals.
The CRB rejected such a proposal last year, which would have resulted in a longstanding mechanical price of 9.1 cents per song for physical products and downloads. In justifying the decision, the three-judge panel made it clear that “the vertical integration linking music publishers and record companies is a red flag”.
(Subsequently, the NMPA and the majors agreed to raise that rate to 12 cents per song. 2022 also saw the announcement of a cost-of-living adjustment to webcaster royalties and the CRB’s approval of a Phonorecords IV settlement for 2023 by 2027, for on-demand streaming services. The latter also prompted opposition and tentative calls for the compulsory license to be scrapped.)
Elsewhere in the document, Johnson examined the “broken” Mechanical Licensing Collective (and raised questions about the accuracy of its seemingly vast pile of unmatched royalties intended for distribution to existing rightsholders on the basis of market share, despite being paid by works they do not own is used), reiterated that 16 years had passed since the last “comprehensive” compulsory licensing study, and linked these and other points to the economic reality of songwriters and its impact on the real world.
“I lived At “Music Row for almost 25 years,” says Johnson’s white paper, “and when I got there in 1997, according to the Tennessean, there were about 4,000 songwriters or ‘publishing deals,’ and in 2018.” There were fewer than 400 songwriters! That’s a 90% drop in 20 years and no one cared!
“All due to the negative detrimental effects of price-fixing and central planning by Congress under the 1909 Compulsory License, compounded by the regulatory takeover of three major record labels, their lobbyists, Google/DiMA and their armies of attorneys,” reads the proceeds text .