Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Billy Joel and Rod Stewart are asking the U.S. government to reform provisions of copyright law that they say enrich large technology companies at their expense. The four musicians are among the more than 100 artists and managers who have filed petitions asking the U.S. Copyright Office to amend parts of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The office has said it will study the effects of so-called safe harbor provisions in the law, which shield services such as YouTube from liability when users upload copyrighted material without permission.
The music industry has long argued that the law placed too much of the burden on artists to police websites and allowed Internet services to host pirated material with impunity. The services have rejected these claims, pointing to tools, like YouTube’s Content ID, that identify infringing material.
The industry is stepping up its fight as streaming becomes a more significant source of sales. Revenue from such services increased 29 percent last year, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, with most of that growth coming from paid subscription services that license music. Sales of CDs, along with online purchases of music, are shrinking.
“Section 512 of the DMCA has become the all-purpose shield that tech companies hide behind while they threaten the livelihood of music creators,” the artists wrote in one of the letters. “This outdated law forces us to stand by helplessly as billions of dollars in advertising is sold around illegal copies of our work.”
In addition, 18 music organizations filed a joint brief identifying what they see as the flaws in the DMCA. Aware that Congress may not change the law, the organizations also identified ways in which tech companies could reform their practices on their own.
The deadline for initial comment on the matter is April 1, and the Copyright Office will host hearings in Palo Alto, California, and New York in May. While the office has no authority to change the law, it can issue a recommendation to a congressional subcommittee that has been conducting a broader review of copyright law since 2013. The Computer & Communications Industry Association, representing the affected technology industries, responded that the music industry lacks data to back up its claims of losses.
“While complaints that the DMCA safe harbors ‘do not work’ are at times advanced by rightsholders who would prefer to shift more enforcement costs onto intermediaries, these complaints lack empirical evidence,” the group said in a statement. Recording executives have often asked artists to lead the charge against technology companies, as they attempt to revive an industry that’s been in decline for almost two decades. The film and TV industry failed in a recent effort to pass legislation that was intended to curtail online copyright infringement.