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Editorial: Meeting the Challenge of the Growing Threat to Intellectual Property

Posted in News on September 2, 2010

BMI is appealing the decision of the rate court in the recent BMI v. DMX case, which would substantially reduce BMI’s ability to capture the full value of your creative works in the commercial background music service industry (see separate story). We think they got it wrong. The court relied on a small number of direct licenses negotiated by DMX that set fees at a deeply discounted level, rather than the benchmark rate established in the marketplace over many years, which has traditionally been accepted by the entire background music industry. This troubling decision unfortunately reflects a growing pattern of negative attitudes towards copyright and the value of creative works. All of us, creators, copyright owners and copyright organizations alike, must rise to this challenge and fight the forces that would diminish the value of creativity.

The attack we are facing is taking place in both the court of public opinion and the federal courts themselves, and should not be taken lightly. The challenge to copyright affects individuals and businesses across the entire spectrum of creativity and intellectual property. Intellectual property is at the very heart of economic development. Now, in the digital age, creators and copyright owners find their rights challenged on multiple fronts: Songwriters and musicians face illegal downloads, newspapers are “skimmed” by blogs and websites, and television programs are streamed without compensation. The entire framework of how individuals and copyright owners control their works and are compensated for their use in the marketplace is being picked apart, from text to photography, from music to the moving image, across the entire creative spectrum. Intellectual property theft is encouraged by academics and consumer advocates, and new digital mega-corporations try to convince courts that technology creates a new playing field, one where creative products should be used without regard to ownership and without compensation.

As the son of parents who made their living as songwriters, I understand how precious each payment is to those who create music and those who are copyright holders. I also understand the ecology that must exist in order to insure the continued flow of new creative works to the users of music. I view this fight not only from a legal perspective, but also from a personal one.

While we all enthusiastically embrace the exciting opportunities this digital age offers, we remain committed to the architects, the creators, whose work drives the impressive growth of the new media. BMI has a long track-record as a pioneer in monetizing new markets for your works, from AM and FM radio to broadcast, cable and satellite television, to the Internet and digital media, at each step proving that fair copyright protection actually helps innovative, viable businesses grow. Our new media licensing area has been growing at an average rate of 20 percent annually, but it is not yet reflective of the true value of your creativity in this new marketplace, and there is much work yet to be done.

Assuring continued success in the current environment requires an exceptional diligence on the legislative and legal fronts. Fred Cannon, our Senior Vice President, Government Relations, walks the halls of congress and meets with legislators and policy makers on a daily basis, emphasizing intellectual property’s vital role in the economy. Music users, from traditional broadcasting to bars and restaurants, face stagnation in the economy and declines in revenue that make them more price sensitive than ever before. They are seeking to lower their costs across the board, including the cost of music, which has led to an unprecedented number of simultaneous challenges to our licensing efforts in the federal courts. Our legal experts are fully engaged in fighting these attempts to diminish the value of your music. We have also joined forces with those in the academic, economic and political spheres who understand and support copyright’s crucial role in our society. For example, in concert with the George Washington University School of Law, we have created a website, newcopyrightera.com, designed to foster thought, scholarship and debate on the future of creativity in the digital age.

The battle we are engaged in will be won through education, communication and bold, strategic action. The time to act is now and your help is crucial. As creators and copyright owners, you have the knowledge, the strength and the influence in your communities to call attention to the wrongheaded attacks on the ownership and value of creative works. Within the next few weeks, we will be outlining a number of specific steps we believe each of you can take to add your considerable strength to the battle against these anti-copyright challenges. I firmly believe that our combined strength can beat back these assaults and create an environment where both creators and the businesses that use their work can prosper in the digital age.

Del Bryant
President & CEO
BMI