Recently I was at a meeting that featured Congressman, Howard Berman, a great supporter of intellectual property rights, and in the context of preservation of copyright, a voice from the crowd asked the Congressman, what he, as an individual writer, could do to help in this endeavor. As we reflect on Kennedy‘s iconic phrase, now proverbially written in the scriptures of time, asking not what your country can do for you, perhaps it’s worth investigating in these days of striking change how we can favorably affect the way that we are being compensated, while helping sculpt the way we are perceived within the industry at large.
At the end of January, further congressional action was tabled on two important pieces of legislation: PROTECT IP and Stop Online Piracy Acts. A hurricane of opposition came from internet companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, and e-bay, which was steeped in misrepresentations that effectively squelched legislation that would have aided in combating the rising wave of piracy that has pervaded our industry and our work around the world. The misinformation disseminated about the legislation extended as far as leading some people to think that Netflix would no longer be available and that First Amendment rights would be stifled.
In a word, the voice from the Internet companies was louder than ours. My concern is that in moving forward, the ability to introduce legislation even more germane to our interests as songwriters and composers may have been served a severe blow. So how do we move forward? A letter to your member in Congress can do a lot to help spread our message as pertinent issues arise. From what I understand, the disproportionate number of letters and e-mails denigrating this legislation was staggering. It’s essential that we continue to help champions of ours in Washington instill in their fellow members the tenet that as creators, the fair compensation for our work is integral to keeping our small businesses afloat and families fed in these economically difficult times.
Besides the misinformation and misdirection embodied in their verbiage, the arguments submitted by those opposed to SOPA also ignored the fact that protection of our rights were put into place by the framers of the Constitution. In Section 8, the language so specifies that The Congress shall have the power “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive rights to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
In dealing with copyright advocacy, it’s important to separate the accessibility factor from being fairly compensated for our work. The ease in which the public has access to our creative outpourings is a good thing and should not be discouraged, but as we all know, it is indeed a two edged sword. Never has there been more of an outlet for our music and song, but the problem is that those who are using our music are finding every avenue not to pay us. It’s not an exaggeration that Internet companies are created every day that are using our repertoire as venture capital. In many cases, by the time that we have the opportunity to challenge their use of our music in the courts, they have profited from our work and evaporated into thin air.
In another matter critical to our community, a case heard last summer is still pending judgment in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. That case, regarding the background service provider, DMX, could have long term impact on whether carve out licenses can be allowed through the consent decree that both ASCAP and BMI operate under. In the past, the SCL has been a valuable resource in providing our members with information on the mechanics of the blanket license, which is part of what is at risk here. We are planning further evenings to help you explore your choices should you be asked to direct license.
I am pleased to report that our numbers in the SCL continue to grow. We have seen a significant increase in our New York membership over the past year thanks to the exceptional work of a dedicated steering committee headed by board member, Joel Beckerman. Our reach is extending to our colleagues in Australia, through their fine organization, AGSC, whose members are now receiving this publication and who I send out a hearty welcome to here.
I have spent time with our colleagues around the world, including advocacy groups such as FFACE in Europe, who have been instrumental in raising the awareness and prestige of film music in countries under their jurisdiction. Having a united community is essential in times such as this, and encouraging your fellow composers and songwriters to join our organization can have a significant impact on our influence, giving us needed power in spreading our message.
Another thing that is imperative to enhancing our voice is to continue to elevate the quality of what we do. Our adversaries would minimize the importance of our contributions. I even had a music editor indignantly summarize film composition to holding down middle-C on the keyboard. Naturally, we had an exchange of words regarding his disrespect, but it’s this kind of misperception that must absolutely be dispelled.
Recently the SCL held a well-attended symposium at the Musicians Union in Los Angeles, mirroring one that had been done two years ago in New York. The emphasis was put on the contracts that are available to the composing sector and was co-sponsored by Musicians Local 47 and the RMA. I have repeatedly said that I wouldn’t have advanced past by first job without the exceptional talents of the fine musicians of Los Angeles behind me. They have enhanced my scores for thirty years and your inclusion of live musicians will certainly aid not only the quality of your work, but also the quality of our profession.
Finally, we are in changing times; change in the way that we do our business, change in the way that our music is distributed and change in how we are perceived and what our contributions are worth. As we facilitate this change, keeping the spirit of camaraderie and collegiality alive will united us and help spread the vision that we want from our community around the world.
Published in THE SCORE quarterly newsletter [Vol. XXVII, Number Two, Summer 2012]