Valuing our musical heritage

From the pioneers of bluegrass to the deep devotion of gospel, from the sounds of Carolina beach music to the roots of blues and rock – music is deeply ingrained in the culture of my home state.  We value our rich and diverse musical heritage in North Carolina, as we do the many great legacy artists who can claim Carolina roots such as James Taylor, Earl Scruggs, John Coltrane, and Little Eva.  That is why I’ve introduced legislation to ensure that digital radio services that profit from playing this music value it too.  

Through a quirk of history, songs recorded before February 15, 1972, are protected under state law while songs recorded after that date are protected under federal  law.  This has led to a situation where some digital radio stations have decided they can stop paying for the performance of pre-’72 recordings under federal law. These same companies are also claiming that they do not have to pay older artists and rights holders under state law either – arguing that state law does not cover their digital services. Under this reasoning, the legacy recording artists, who have added so much to our country’s musical tradition, are currently being shortchanged by some of the biggest services.  Some estimates put the total royalties lost last year by these pre-‘72 artists and rights owners at $60 million.  

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This music is well-known and immensely popular. Over three hundred of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time were recorded before 1972, as were more than 80 percent of the recordings inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame.  In addition to well-known headliners, there are thousands of bands and musicians whose creative works are also being exploited for free every day simply because of the date on which they were recorded.

It is purely a historical anomaly that resulted in recordings released before the arbitrary date of February 15, 1972, not being covered by federal copyright law.  There is no rational explanation for the situation that exists today but fortunately there is a very simple and straightforward way to make it right. 

There is also reason to act now.  This glitch in federal copyright law has gone decades without really being noticed.  But in the context of today’s world of digital music, its impact is being felt like never before. Up to 15 percent of all the music on some digital radio services was recorded before 1972.  There are entire channels dedicated to it, and yet some services provide no compensation to the recording artists who brought it to life.  The glitch has now become a glaring problem.

This situation has also led to several lawsuits at the state level as artists attempt to assert their rights under a patchwork of state copyright law.  This is a costly and complicated outcome for everyone, and provides further impetus for Congress to act and provide legal clarity for our legacy artists and growing digital music platforms.  

Legislation I have introduced – the Respecting Senior Performers as Essential Cultural Treasures or “RESPECT” Act - would require any digital radio service that benefits from the current federal statutory license to make royalty payments for songs recorded before 1972 in exactly the same way they now pay for songs recorded after 1972.  It means that Little Eva’s original version of “The Loco-Motion” that shot to #1 in 1964 would get the same treatment as Grand Funk Railroad’s #1 cover of that same song from 1974, or Kylie Minogue’s hit reprisal in 1988.

Every member of Congress can speak to the musical treasures from their home states.  Every region of the country contributes to the American fabric of recordings that are the envy of the world.  To discount the contributions of older artists, to use their property and not pay them while more recent artists get paid, is an inequity.  The RESPECT Act corrects this situation and will help to ensure that, as all us enjoy their musical legacy, those who came before us and created some of our country’s greatest musical treasures get the RESPECT they deserve.

Holding has represented North Carolina's 13th Congrssional District since 2013. He sits on the Foreign Affairs and the Judiciary committees.