A bill known as H.R. 789 is pending in Congress, which, if passed, would allow businesses to use songwriters' intellectual property for their commercial gain with no compensation. It is estimated that the effect of this would be to reduce the annual income of professional songwriters by approximately 20%.
This bill, misnamed "The Fairness in Music Licensing Act", is backed by the bar and restaurant owners trade group. They claim that they should not have to pay for music that they play in the background to enhance the atmosphere of their businesses because the music is "incidental" to the main purpose of their business. It costs the average restaurant in the vicinty of $2 per day to license music.
Their reasoning is based on the idea that music should be free, an idea that fails to consider that the music industry, like any other industry, involves professionals whose livelihood is derived from the product they create. As in any industry, music professionals, and songwriters in particular, need to be paid for their product by those who choose to use it.
The reasoning that music should be free because it is "incidental" to the main purpose of their business is entirely without merit. The music clearly has value to the commercial users, otherwise they would have no need to use it in their establishments. By the same reasoning, we would conclude that resaurants should not have to pay for carpeting or wall paintings - these are also "incidental" to the main purpose of the establishment. It is clear that whether or not a product is "incidental" or not is not a relevant issue. The relevant issue is that these businesses want to use the work of songwriters without compensating them.
Unfortunately, because there are more restaurant and bar owners than there are professional songwriters, H.R 789 stands a very real chance of passage. It's hard for songwriters to generate a lot of support from the general public because intellectual property is an abstraction that many people don't grasp because they don't see how infringing on a copyright causes harm to the copyright owner.
Also, there is a widespread perception that songwriters are all millionaires living like kings, when the reality is that most songwriters invest years of time and money before they even see a dime in income, and those that do achieve enough success to make a living from songwriting fall into the middle-income category. Very few songwriters become rich, but those that do tend to have high profiles, which creates a distorted perception.
Finally, the public is not aware that songwriters are already restricted by law in how much they can charge for use of their work. Writers have the right to decide who may first record each song, but once a song is recorded, a compulsory license must be granted to anyone who wishes to record it thereafter. There is a statutory rate that is the maximum royalty to be paid for each record sold. This rate was set at $.02 per copy in 1919, and remained frozen at this level for 40 years before the law was changed to allow the rate to be adjusted for inflation every two years.
If you are a songwriter, this issue concerns you directly, whether or not you are currently earning income from your songs. Passage of H.R. 789 may not affect you immediately, but it would result in a drastic reduction of your future income if you do achieve commercial success at some point.
If you are not a songwriter, H.R 789 should still be of concern to you. If you enjoy music, consider that those who create the music you enjoy will be subjected to hardship if this unfair bill is passed. Regardless of your occupation, try to imagine how you would feel if Congress legislated a 20% reduction in your household income by passing a law that entitles businesses to use your product or service for free without paying you for it. Of course you would not like this, and you would both oppose such a law and urge others to oppose it. This is exactly what is happening with H.R 789, which is why you should oppose it.
The supporters of H.R 789 are actively pushing hard for this, and they currently have 169 co-sponsors of this bill in the House. The only way to defeat this measure is to write, call, e-mail or FAX to your representatives in the House and the Senate and let them know of your opposition to H.R 789, and let them know that you won't be fooled by the "incidental use" argument. Write your Representative and Senators today!
You can find out the names and addresses of your Representative and Senators from the US House of Representatives Web site and the US Senate Web site.