The U.S. Senate Just Introduced a Completely Different pre-1972 Bill — Separate from the MMA

A totally different pre-1972 ‘oldies’ copyright protection bill has emerged in the U.S. Senate.  That could create complications for the Music Modernization Act (MMA), which also contains pre-1972 provisions.

The Music Modernization Act (MMA) scored a unanimous victory in the U.S. House Representatives.  But it now looks like the Senate vote will be a little more complicated.

Just this morning, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden introduced a totally different bill designed to protect pre-1972 copyrights.  The bill, called the Accessibility for Curators, Creators, Educators, Scholars, and Society (ACCESS) to Recordings Act, fers a different approach to oldies recordings than the MMA, which itself includes a fully-baked pre-1972 provision.

Here’s a copy the ACCESS bill — at least the most recent version shared with DMN.

The introduction pits two oldies bills against each other — which is exactly what MMA opponents wanted.

More specifically, the MMA is actually a collection different music reform bills traversing issues like mechanical licenses, producer credits, and oldies recordings.  The oldies sub-bill, called the CLASSICS Act, was recently absorbed into the ‘uber’ MMA and aims to grant digital recording licenses to pre-1972 artists.

+ The Music Modernization Act Is Officially Introduced Into the Senate — With a Few Ugly Warts

Just one problem: big tech, librarians, preservationists, and even Sirius XM seriously hate that provision.  The reasons for that opposition are varied, though the music industry appeared unwilling to compromise (at least enough)  Which opened the door for a new, alternative bill that threatens to complicate that entire MMA.

That’s called politics.

“Copyright reform for pre-1972 sound recordings must consider the interests all stakeholders — not just those the for-prit record labels,” Wyden blasted.

So what’s the ACCESS bill all about?

The ACCESS to Recordings Act essentially federalizes all pre-1972 recordings, but replaces state-level laws in the process.   And that goes for all uses, not just digital performances.

Sounds pretty simple, though it’s a major differentiator from the MMA, which preserves existing state protections.  Accordingly, works would enter into the public domain sooner under ACCESS.

“CLASSICS exacerbates uncertainty for artists, scholars and others by adding a new federal right on top the current patchwork state laws, while also providing copyright protections for up  to 144 years, 49 years longer than the current copyright term,” Wyden’s fice explained.

“ACCESS to Recordings would also provide a term protection 95 years for published sound recordings – the same as for post-1972 recordings.”

In the MMA’s CLASSICS Act, pre-1972 works would start passing into public domain starting in 2067.  Under Wyden’s approach, many works would start losing copyright protection far earlier — depending on the exact release dates involved.  That includes coveted and valuable recordings from the ’60s and early ’70s.  In the case a recording released in 1960, public domain status would arrive in 2055 (95 years later).

Wyden thinks that copyright terms are getting too long and complicated, and notes that scholars, historians, and preservationists are suffering.

“The ACCESS to Recordings Act, by applying the same term limits and rights and obligations that apply to other copyrighted works, would help preserve our cultural heritage and open up older works to rediscovery by scholars, creators and the public,” Wyden continued.

“I have serious concerns about the lengthy terms in current U.S. copyright law that tip the balance toward limiting rather than promoting creativity and innovation, but until Congress is willing to reconsider it, we shouldn’t go beyond those protections and provide unprecedented federal copyright term for sound recordings.”

Unsurprisingly, the Library Copyright Alliance and the Association for Recorded Sound Collections are both supportive ACCESS.

Sirius XM may also be far more supportive, given the broader-reaching and simplified treatment pre-1972 works.  That means a more level licensing landscape, a major concern for Sirius.