Film, TV music composers urge copyright law change

Wed Jun 10, 2009 5:29pm EDT
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By Sue Zeidler

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Nathan Barr has scored horror films like "Hostel" and the HBO vampire series "True Blood," but what really keeps the composer up at night is fear he will not get paid for music distributed online.

"'True Blood' is my first big show for TV and it's definitely going to see a lot of play on the Internet. It's a big issue for me," Barr, 36, told Reuters in an interview. "I don't understand why composers don't get paid if someone downloads it."

The issue is the latest digital copyright debate pitting creators in the entertainment industry on one side and studios, broadcasters, cable operators and technology companies on the other. Barr underscores how a growing number of artists -- writers, actors and, yes, composers -- feel they are not fairly compensated for content distributed on the Internet.

Actors and writers have aired their grievances and demanded Hollywood studios pay up. Now, composers, along with publishers, are urging Congress to change copyright law so that when music airs in an audio-visual download, it is considered a public performance that earns them royalties.

The stakes are high: Industry experts believe composers could potentially earn nearly $100 million in additional royalty payments annually as Internet viewing grows -- if the law was changed to deem downloads of music in audio-visual works as public performances.

"We see audio visual as a vigorous growth area for composers, whether it's on Hulu, Netflix or iTunes, and a big issue is clarifying public performance rights as they apply to digital downloads," said Richard Conlon of Broadcast Music Inc (BMI), a performing rights group that collects royalties on behalf of artists.

The copyright issue, apart from being proposed legislation, is also expected to be the subject of a House Judiciary committee hearing in July, industry experts say.

At the center of the debate is a federal court ruling in April 2007, considered a victory for companies like AOL, RealNetworks and Yahoo! Inc YHOO.O> that found that downloading a music file was not considered a "performance."   Continued...