Songwriter groups hit out at RIAA for ‘betrayal’ over moral rights issue

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A global network of organizations representing songwriters have today (August 16) attacked US recorded music trade body the RIAA for ‘[what] many in the music creator community [see] as a betrayal of our joint commitment to expand opportunities for creators’.

In a strongly-worded open letter, trade orgs from the UK, Canada and beyond have scolded the RIAA for what they claim is a refusal to recognize the ‘moral rights’ of songwriters.

Moral rights have been enshrined in legislative framework since 1928 – with the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works outlining basic rights for songwriters and composers including ‘attribution,’ or the right to be recognized as the author of a work.

At present, there are 172 signatory countries out of 192 countries.

Even though the US signed up to the Berne Convention in 1989 it chooses not to recognize moral rights.

The US Copyright Office this year conducted a study into the issue, including testimony from creators and submissions by writer organizations in support of the US finally recognizing moral rights.

The RIAA has – according to the songwriters – continued to reject this position in recent comments made to the Copyright Office.

Below you can read an open letter on the issue sent today by eleven organizations representing tens of thousands of songwriters and composers to the RIAA’s CEO & Chairman Cary Sherman and its Senior EVP, Mitch Glazier.


Dear Messrs. Sherman and Glazier,

It was with great disappointment that we read the recent RIAA comments to the Copyright Office in connection with moral rights; in particular, with regard to the right of attribution. The RIAA’s argument prioritizes the inconvenience of dealing with accurate metadata over the principle of the protection of the rights of the people upon whose work the music business is built. In our view, and the view of many in the creator community, this is not only irresponsible, it represents a betrayal of the ‘greater common purpose’ to which so many of us are committed—a purpose with which the RIAA claims to agree.

While music creators have greatly appreciated the RIAA’s leadership on, for example, the Music Community submission on Section 512, it’s crucial to note that such a leadership requires buy-in from the community one purports to lead. In this case, not only do you not have buy-in, the RIAA comments have inspired very active opposition, including that from UK and European music creators whose work is consumed widely across the USA but whose moral rights are not recognized, in part, due to your position. The Berne Convention, revised in 1928 to include moral rights, has 172 countries around the world signed up to it; it is only the US that refuses to assert them.

To make our position clear, we urge you to read the comments filed by Maria Schneider in this matter, which we believe capture the general views of the performer and songwriter community. Maria has outlined how enforceable rights of attribution (in the form of statutorily protected metadata) can be useful, if not indispensable, tools in achieving the kind of accountability from the internet that, in other submissions, the RIAA seeks to establish. [See Maria’s comments here.]

More fundamentally, RIAA’s comments are taken by many in the music creator community as a betrayal of our joint commitment to expand opportunities for creators. Unfortunately, this divergence of views gives our common adversaries an opportunity to divide our community.

We certainly are aware that the RIAA and its members have historically not embraced the idea of moral rights, and have tended to view it as a litigation risk. But the basic metadata rights we’re talking about here are already protected by Section 1202. We are not living in ordinary times, and we’re sure RIAA is well aware of the sensitivities regarding transparency and accountability.

Without accurate metadata, contributors to a work risk not getting paid. That’s a moral dilemma intrinsically linked to the issue of moral rights — and on this issue the RIAA has now aligned itself with those who seek to enfeeble IP rights.

“The RIAA comments raise fears about technical issues concerning implementation of the metadata. However, we believe this misses the point. No one is asking to add new requirements here.

Even anti-copyright groups like Creative Commons understand the importance of attribution. If the RIAA is seen as less artist-friendly than Creative Commons, the copyleft and all who seek to undervalue our work will benefit. What’s more, this could make the job of aligning creators with the RIAA around our combined interests infinitely more difficult.

The RIAA comments raise fears about technical issues concerning implementation of the metadata. However, we believe this misses the point. No one is asking to add new requirements here. The current ID3v2 metadata tag is clearly a ‘standard technical measure’, and includes 80 separate ‘fields’ for including all sorts of metadata, including performers, lyricists, studio engineers etc. This capability is baked in to every MP3 and AAC. The RIAA should fully support and encourage all of us in the music community to harness and protect that metadata.

Instead, the RIAA frantically lays out a litany of hurdles they claim will prevent digital platforms from giving credit to the many people that contribute to a creative work. We believe there’s no doubt music platforms will come up with innovative and effective ways to give credit. Certainly there’s no need to set expectations at rock bottom as the RIAA did in their comments.

We have no interest in imposing new requirements that are unreasonable, or that require parties to include information that they themselves do not possess. But we do expect that the metadata capabilities that the industry and Section 1202 have given us will be protected, today and into the future.

Accurate metadata is essential to the healthy digital future of music creators, it is also critical to the healthy digital future of each and every Citizen Creator. The potential to report 100% accurate usage is the greatest promise cyberspace makes to Creators. Yet, in your Moral Rights submission, the RIAA seems to approach attribution and the accuracy that metadata provides as if it were a threat.

“In our view, and the view of many in the creator community, this is not only irresponsible, it represents a betrayal of the ‘greater common purpose’ to which so many of us are committed—a purpose with which the RIAA claims to agree.”

With key efforts like the Open Music Initiative, the future value of metadata to musicians and songwriters will be absolutely critical. And if, in the process of protecting those rights, we also happen to implicate certain moral rights, so be it.

The RIAA comments go in the exact opposite direction on this crucial issue, failing to take into account the potential value of legislated accreditation via metadata and providing ethical and political cover for Google and others to treat the internet as some kind of accountability-free zone. That, of course, has much broader implications than just with regard to the issue of moral rights.

We urge you and your members to think carefully about how to move forward from here in ways that truly reflect the interests of those you claim to protect. There are corporate players here, whose unfettered commercial self-interest masquerades as ideology and who capitalize upon our perceived divisions.

While the comment period may have technically closed, there is no restriction on the RIAA revising its views, endorsing the comments filed by Ms. Schneider, and affirming the following: a) the importance of metadata to musicians and creators; b) its strategic value to rights-holders in the future of payment/accountability technologies; c) the relevance and authority of Section 1202 in protecting those rights; and d) the short-term and long-term damage and chaos that is created by encouraging music distributors such as YouTube to disrespect and strip that metadata from our valuable creative works. In fact, we hope the RIAA will join us in encouraging the Copyright Office to use its authority under Section 1202(c)(8) to expressly include all of the metadata contained in a standard ID3v2 tag as falling within the definition of CMI.

We ask that the RIAA work with the creator community to address the specific issues of implementation.

More important, we strongly urge the RIAA to present a united front in our common cause to protect the rights of music creators and those who present their work.

Sincerely,

British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA)

European Composer & Songwriter Alliance (ECSA)

MusicAnswers

Music Creators of North America (MCNA)

Council of Music Creators (CMC)

Screen Composers Guild of Canada (SCGC)

Societe Professionnelle des Autuers et des Composituers du Quebec (SPACQ)

Society of Composers and Lyricists (SCL)

Songwriters Association of Canada (SAC)

Songwriters Guild of America (SGA)

Songwriters of North America (SONA)Music Business Worldwide

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