Last week the eyes and ears of the country were focused on the Supreme Court as they started oral arguments around the constitutionality of key aspects of the Affordable Healthcare Act. Outside the Supreme Court things were contentious as advocates squared off with Tea Party types who opposed having HCR to be a requirement.Many said this case would be one for the history books…a landmark case for the ages.
Not too far from the Supreme Court sits the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. There another case of historic proportions is underway. The large crowds and onslaught of media trucks weren’t present, yet what comes of this Court of Appeals could have an immediate and long lasting impact for anyone who listens or plays music in today’s digital world. In these hallowed halls justices are debating copyright and who pays for what when it comes to music. The proceedings are entering it’s 4th week.
Judges of the US Copyright Royalty Board
What’s at stake is whether or not the 3 appointed administrative judges who make up the US Copyright Royalty Board are constitutional. For those who don’t know, this 3 judge body which consists of James Scott Sledge (Chief Copyright Royalty Judge), Stanley Wisniewski, and William J. Roberts are the ones who soley determine royalty rates and set terms for copyright statutory licenses. many have suggested these 3 individuals who are appointed by the Librarian of Congress are too powerful and need to have additional oversight.
For a long time very little attention was paid to this office, but in recent years the CRB has determined royalty rates for Internet radio, Satellite radio like Sirius XM, cable TV, cell phones, ring tones and anything else where music is broadcasted or transmitted digitally. Many feel that over the years the rulings from CRB have been a Godsend for corporate copyright owners, major record labels, publishing houses who been able to collect enormous sums of money from digital music users.
The most recent rates set by the CRB, which will stay in effect to 2015, require commercial internet stations to pay upwards to $50,000 per station annually and .25 cent per song/ per listener. Many webcasters, including the world’s largest, Pandora as well as many others who own digital media businesses, have long complained thatCRB royalty rates were too high and crippling business. On the other side, music industry tycoons have been clamoring to charge more. They said anyone using music in digital form hasn’t paid enough and needs to ante up and help fill their coffers. It’s a vicious tug of war that has led to CRB’s constitutionally being challenged.
It’ll be at least a year before the final arguments are heard in before the Appeals Court, in the meantime industry executives have been rushing to put ironclad laws in place, so in the event CRB is dismantled the rulings they enacted stay in place.
Industry tycoons are now turning their sights to Club and Mobile DJs and want to start charging them for the commercial and non commercial use of their songs. This added fee would be on top of what night clubs and restaurants already pay to organizations like ASCAP and BMI. They’ve been emboldened by a recent 9th Circuit court ruling where deejays were found to be in breach of copyright for playing music at Roscoe Chicken and Waffles in Los Angeles.
Industry big wigs are anxious to get a ruling on DJs just as American Idol executive Simon Cowell is set to launch a DJ Talent Show.. You can read about that HERE Many feel that the DJ talent show will move millions away from playing instruments and into the DJ realm which now thanks to digital tools and mp3s make it easy for anyone to get involved in the profession. many are seeing the potential for huge dollar signs..Others see dollar signs but have a specific beef..
Ernie Le Saviour a veteran musician, film maker and now music executive has been leading the charge.In a recent interview he said; “DJs have been illegally profiting off the hard work us musicians put in. They make thousands of dollars a night and we don’t see one red cent.”
Saviour continued, “What really chaps my hide, is these DJs have been illegally rearranging (mixing) and ruining the composition of songs. A lot of hard work was put into making a song. As a professional flautist, one needs to understand that hours were spent perfecting the final product. We didn’t put our heart and soul into a song only to have some lazy, non-musicially inclined disc jockey to go tinkering and MIS-arranging our stuff”.
Saviour who is a flute player, can be heard playing in the back of classic songs like Flashlight by Parliament, Getaway by Earth Wind & Fire and most notably Paid in Full by Eric B & Rakim. He is scheduled to testify next week before the Court of Appeals. There he will plans to express his outrage at nightclub deejays..
Savior explains; Late last year, My son dragged me went to some fancy nightclub in Vegas where I had to pay 50 dollars to go see some bib Black guy with a 1960s style Afro and an Afro pick in his head spin records. My son was all excited and told me it Questluv. I thought it was strange, because this guy Questluv is a musician.. I see him every night on one the Jimmy Fallon show where plays drums..”
“Seeing him on the turntables troubled me. I kept asking myself; ‘Why would a professional drummer be deejaying? In my world that’s going backwards. As a professional flautist, I would never stoop down and deejay. It takes skillz to blow..it requires very little to spin”, said Saviour
He continued; “Anyway as the night goes on, we’re getting ready to leave when suddenly I hear this song ‘Paid in Full’. This is the song where I play both the transverse flute and the western style, Db piccolo better known as a soprano flute. I’m excited and thinking this large crowd will get to hear a master musician. Then boom disappointment.. First problem This DJ Mr Questluv, sped the song up, so when you hear me playing my flute its in an F key when the original was done in a C…That was unacceptable”
Savior goes on; “Next problem is this Quest guy cuts off the flute mid stream, right before my crescendo. He repeats this over and over again.(Quest was back spinning)”
“I told my son, ‘That is not how the song was made’ . It made me look incompetent. As a professional a flautist I was embarrassed. Who gave this deejay permission to change the arrangement in my song.. in front of hundreds of people nevertheless.? I said to my son there ought to be law against this and I wanna be compensated”
Saviour expressed his outrage to fellow music executives. He called Congressman John Conyers who has doing lots of work to help musicians get paid through a performance royalty tax under HR 848. Conyers wants radio stations to pay for each song they air and may soon get his way.. Saviour who attended two briefings put on by Conyers, concluded: “If radio can pay, why can’t these damn deejays?”
The way current copyright laws are written now, Ernie Le Saviour is not entitled to any compensation accept what is determined by ASCAP or BMI.. If he has his way sections 114 and 115 of current copyright law will be re-written to add provisions that will apply to deejays and remixers.
Saviour says anyone who presents music in a digital form on popular platforms like Serato, Torque or any other digital music device, either as deejay or any other presenter, should be required to obtain a compulsory license before rearranging a song in public. In other words you will not be allowed to, mix, remix or alter the song in anyway without the permission of the artist and copyright holders. Saviour contends that the public has a right and reasonable expectation to hear the music as it was originally intended.
“Can you imagine if I ran up on stage and started playing the drums any old way and said it was a Questluv composition? It would be foul.. So I ask that people not mess with the arrangement of my flute. As a professional flautist I have standards and they can’t be respected, then we’ll have to legislate it.”
Saviour also wants deejays to pay similar rates like Internet Radio, 25 cent per song..he noted that with the new technology, digital devices can be checked remotely, so as soon as a deejay puts on a record, it will leave digital footprint allowing Saviour and other executives to collect royalties.. Thus far Saviour’s proposal is being well received and may get some favor before the Appeals Court.
written by Davey D