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Lovett, Vivendi, Real, MP3.com Testify on Compulsory Licensing


Here are some excerpts from testimony given to the House Subcomittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property. Ironically, two of the presenters at this May 17 hearing were a top executive at Vivendi Universal and Robin Richards of MP3.com. Ironic, since today, May 21, Vivendi announced it was buying MP3.com for approximately $372 million.

Testimony centered on the issue of music publishing rights, specifically on Napster's proposal for compulsory licensing of rights. Alt country star, songwriter, and ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. ) member Lyle Lovett and Vivendi Universal exec Edgar Bronfman spoke against compulsory licensing, while Real CEO Rob Glaser and Robin Richards of MP3.com argued in favor. Glaser also demonstrated MusicNet, the subscription music service that Real is developing in connection with threee of the major labels.

While Lovett's testimony is interesting for his star appeal, he functions here solely as a mouthpiece of ASCAP. Glaser holds out an interesting future of legitimate music-on-demand services, lays out a reasonable plan of action, but speaks fairly weakly about the need for Congress to iron out the licensing knot. Bronfman says very little of interest, except that no additional legislation is needed. Most interesting is Richard's testimony in which he details the whole, complex saga of MP3.com's attempts to get proper licensing for every song for the My.MP3.com service.

To get the full testimony, click on the speaker's name.

Lyle Lovett:

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"The songs I create mean many things to me. Foremost among them is my goal, and I think the goal of every artist, to connect with and communicate my thoughts, emotions and beliefs to my audience. My songs therefore are truly my creations -- extensions of who I am and what I believe. But, my songs also are my livelihood. If I can't earn a living from them, I'll have to do something else. And if every songwriter is unable to earn a living from creating music, if every songwriter has to do something else to make ends meet, who will write the songs of America and the world?

I love what I do. But this is a tough business. ... Success would be meaningless without strong copyright laws and a vigorous and vigilant ASCAP. For it is only through the protection of the copyright law, and through ASCAP and similar groups, that our right to earn a living from our creative work is assured.

Please let me be clear: I have no objection to songwriters or performers agreeing that their work be free on the Internet or anywhere else if they want. Some have made that choice. But for me, and for the overwhelming majority of my songwriter and performer colleagues, our choice is that we be compensated for the use of our creative work, which is our property.

1. ASCAP has licensed every Internet user who has requested a license to perform ASCAP music. ASCAP has never turned down an Internet user who requested a license and was willing to pay a reasonable license fee. ASCAP has not sued any Internet user in an attempt to shut the website down rather than license it. And, through the mechanism of the ASCAP license, every licensed Internet user has the right to perform all the many millions of works in the ASCAP repertory. If, there are any difficulties that Internet users have in licensing works piece-by-piece, those difficulties are solved by an ASCAP license.

2. ASCAP is an Internet licensing success story, right now. There has been much discussion about when various licensing systems would be put into place. ASCAP's is already in place, and has been since 1995. I am told that ASCAP currently has about 2200 websites licensed to perform music.

Therefore, there is no need for Internet users to worry about whether they may operate lawfully if they perform ASCAP music, or to wonder when a usable licensing mechanism will come about. It has been here, it is here, and thousands of websites are using it.

Comment on this articleJump in and talk about MP3.com's arguments, or ASCAPs. Is there a future for pay-for-online-music?
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There are a few conclusions from these facts which go to the heart of several issues of interest to the Subcommittee:

There is no justification for a compulsory license for Internet uses of ASCAP music. Those arguing for a compulsory license have ... said that it was justified because, for whatever claimed reason, they couldn't engage in individual negotiations with copyright owners. But ASCAP's license means that the entire repertory of music ... is licensed in one transaction. ... ASCAP has successfully licensed thousands of Internet users since 1996. ... ASCAP will license any user who wants a license, at a reasonable fee, and the user will be licensed simply by virtue of requesting a license.

Compulsory licenses should be repugnant to those who believe in the free market and the sanctity of private property, including intellectual property. The undisputed facts of ASCAP's Internet licensing demonstrate that a compulsory license is not justified.

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