Ok. This one took some time to write. Not necessarily because of the size, but because I needed to keep walking away from the keyboard before I punched my screen. First and foremost I apologize for some of the profanity you will see below. Very rarely will I come across a piece of news that so thoroughly pisses me off that I find that profanity is the only appropriate wording to be used. That said let me explain whats going on with new copyright law and why Orrin Hatch can go fuck himself.
Sen. Orrin Hatch introduced a bill that almost purposely flew under the radar back on May 10th of this year. The bill, S.2823, which seems to combine the Music Modernization Act of 2017 with the Classics Act. In addition, this could find itself combining with the Case Act and the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act. Now that sounds like a bunch of legalese that would take forever to read through and piece together for the average citizen, and that seems to be the point.
With every little convoluted line, I found myself getting more and more pissed off as the connections started to become clear. Luckily these acts have yet to pass, but considering the similarities of those that are cosponsoring S.2823 and those that cosponsored the other acts it is quite apparent that these other bills could pass in short time following this main bill. Let me simplify the key features of each bill so we can get a total picture.
The original Music Modernization Act, while being an extension of IP law, isn’t completely a bad one on its own. Some of the wording is wonky, but the purpose of the bill is to extend copyright protections to the digital world as far as royalties and fees are concerned. While this could fluctuate the pricing of some online content, it would allow artists to be fairly paid for their work as music consumption moves more into the online realm. The other bills fuck that up.
The Classics Act aims to extend copyright laws for music recorded prior to Feb 15, 1972; music that would normally fall to public domain. The Classics Act effectively retroactively renews the copyright on all recordings that were previously free use. This includes music from all the way back in the 1920s and won’t re-enter public domain until 2067. Now you might think “at least the families of the artists will still get royalties” and you’d be wrong. For some of the more excessively used pieces the families may very well receive some of the money, but in truth, the real winners are the recording companies. Unlike the descendants of the artists, the record companies actually have the resources to go after each and every violation, assuming the hosts of the content don’t simply remove it as has been suggested under another bill.
Speaking of fighting it lets look at the equally fucking stupid Case Act. This act would effectively turn the Copyright office into a claims board. The Copyright office would have to select 3 appointees and hire a minimum of 2 full-time attornies to oversee disputes, civil copyright claims, counterclaims, etc. What this means is that claims that would previously have been settled in a court of law will now be settled before a closed claims board internal to Congress. Now you might be saying “The Librarian of Congress at least will try to remain impartial” and again you would be wrong.
This brings us to the nail in the coffin: The Register of Copyright Selection and Accountability Act. This act would change it so that the head of the copyright office would be selected directly by the POTUS and approved by the Senate. The concept is that it would add transparency by making things more democratic, but it fails. Miserably. You see politicians have this weird thing where people with lots of money tend to give them that money to help them get elected. In turn, those politicians tend to make decisions that every once in a while (read: damn near fucking always) benefits their main contributors. The whole reason that the selection of the Register has been outside of the world of the politicians is to allow integrity by being away from the politics. This act would undo that.
Now this will probably get your blood boiling the same way it did mine. Let’s put the total package together here. S.2823 would combine the concepts of the Music Modernization Act and the Classics Act to allow people and companies (really just the companies) to pursue enforcement and compensation for use of recordings that have been public domain for years. If the Case Act and Register Act are revived and go through that would mean that the President and Senate would select the board that you would need to go before. So the government would pass a bill that would allow companies to go after people with no real gain for the public at large, followed by those accused of violating the copyright having to go to before a board appointed by the same people that favored the initial bill and receive massive political funding from the plaintiffs. Fucking incredible.
Now let’s review the man himself: Sen. Orrin Hatch. He’s the lead on the bill and has a rather interesting connection to the entire scene. He started his political career back in 1976 when he won his first election over incumbent Frank Moss in Utah. Of his contributors, lawyers, lobbyists, the music industry, communications companies in general (all of which would benefit from the outcome of S.2823), and “misc business” are up there with his top contributors only being beaten by the health and finance industries. Granted, he has had a rather illustrious career with various committee appointments and chairmanships, but it’s his life outside of the government that makes his connection with this atrocious bill all the more insidious.
Orrin Hatch’s personal life is an interesting one in the context of a bill that aims to make record companies and the small army of lawyers that would need to fight all the upcoming cases incredibly rich. Hatch is the founder and co-chair of the Federalist Society, an organization for lawyers that support a classical and textual interpretation of the constitution (not a bad thing in and of itself). Considering the massive surge in work that the passing of this bill would create for the legal industry the conflict of interest is startling, to say the least. It’s also important to note that Orrin Hatch’s son Brent O. Hatch, a noted partner in his law firm, is himself a lobbyist though his father would claim that he never lobbied him.
Further, Orrin Hatch has been tied to and involved in the music industry for years. He’s written songs such as “Heal our land” which was performed at the 2005 Bush inauguration, and “Souls along the way” which was used in the Oceans 12 film. He’s even made several appearances in television and film (which might explain the $650,000 in campaign donations those bastards gave him). As he is to retire at the end of this term he won’t be around to deal with the consequences of the bill, but he will be around to reap the rewards.
This could cause some tension amongst his friends though. This bill, as it is reapplying copyright retroactively, could lead to the music industry attacking the television and film industries over shows that used previously public domain recordings. Thanks to Orrin Hatch, the main people likely to be affected by this will be online content creators. Nearly any and all videos that used previously public domain recordings are now going to be subject to either removing their content or potentially have to face massive fines or royalty fees.
The end result of all of this, as usual, is the average person getting screwed. All this amounts to is a last-minute use of power to try to do one last good thing for his buddies. The consumer doesn’t benefit here. Hell, the artists barely get anything out of it. The only people that win if S. 2823 goes through are the companies who tend to be hypocrites about this kind of thing, and the lawyers that get all the lovely new work to fight over. In short and to summarize: The bill is terrible for almost all of us, the government screws up again, IP law needs to end, and Orrin Hatch can go fuck himself.
Read more articles from Killian on Think Liberty here.