OVERNIGHT TECH: House panel to take up music licensing

THE LEDE: Musicians’ and songwriters’ advocates will press for an overhaul of federal music licensing laws on Tuesday, when a House Judiciary subcommittee takes up the issue.

Much of the session is likely to focus on Rep. Doug Collins's (R-Ga.) Songwriter Equity Act, which would change the way royalty rates are calculated to give songwriters and publishers higher compensation for their songs. On Monday, he praised the hearing as a first step but said it “needs to be followed by serious action very, very soon.”

In a statement, Collins called for “swift and thorough consideration” of his bill. “In the digital age, our outdated and unfair music licensing policies could totally silence the next generation of songwriters if this Congress delays action on music licensing,” he said.

Lee Thomas Miller, a songwriter who has penned tunes for Brad Paisley, Tim McGraw and others, will urge lawmakers to back Collins’s bill. “Congress, I ask you on behalf of my family and the families of American songwriters to change the archaic government regulations that prohibit us from pursuing a fair market opportunity for the songs we create,” he said in his prepared remarks.” The call will be repeated by executives at the National Music Publishers’ Association and BMI.

The head of the Recording Academy, which puts on the Grammy Awards every year, will ask lawmakers to go even further by enacting “a unified, holistic” bill to overhaul the country’s music licensing regime. That current copyright law “no longer serves as an adequate incentive to create,” according to Neil Portnow’s prepared testimony. He will blame a “patchwork” of federal laws that ignore the marketplace for digital copies of music for creating a “disincentive to make music as a career.”

Lee Knife, executive director of the Digital Media Association, will push back on the support for Collins’s bill as well as a bill from Judiciary ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) that would require digital radio companies to pay for songs recorded before 1972. Knife’s group includes Pandora, Google, Apple and Amazon.

The bills from Collins, Conyers and Holding “take us in the wrong direction by seeking to create additional anomalies within the music licensing framework which cater to the unique interests of only a limited group of stakeholders,” Knife said in his prepared testimony.

Instead of those proposals, an updated music licensing regime should be efficient and transparent, protect licensees from anti-competitive behavior and treat competitors — including digital radio companies, which currently pay higher fees to play songs than cable and satellite radio companies — equally, Knife wrote.

Full witness list for media ownership hearing: The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications released its full witness list for Wednesday’s hearing on media ownership rules at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In addition to the previously reported appearances by Bill Lake, chief of the FCC’s Media Bureau, and Jane Mago, general counsel for the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the hearing will include testimony from RBC Capital Markets analyst David Bank, National Hispanic Media Coalition General Counsel Jessica Gonzalez, Newspaper Guild-CWA President Bernard Lunzer and Paul Boyle, senior vice president of public policy at the Newspaper Association of America.

The hearing comes after an FCC vote earlier this year to keep broadcasters from sharing advertising sales resources. The vote was criticized by the broadcast industry, which asked a federal court to review the rules, as well as Republicans on Capitol Hill, who said the agency should conduct an overdue review of media ownership rules before enacting new ones. “The commission’s decades-old ownership rules simply have not kept up with changes in the media marketplace and are hampering traditional media’s ability to compete,” according to the majority memo for Wednesday’s hearing.

Tech groups tell Virginia to back off Uber and Lyft: Different coalitions of Internet and technology companies are asking Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) to overturn the state’s decision to ban the ride services Uber and Lyft. In letters in recent days, the Internet Association and Consumer Electronics Association said that the move would be bad for innovation and, ultimately, hurt Virginians.

“To be frank, this kind of anti-competitive action threatens to undo the decades of positive relationships that established Virginia as a center for technology and new ideas,” wrote Michael Beckerman, head of the Internet Association. Both Uber and Lyft are members of the trade group, as are major firms like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Yahoo.

In a separate letter, Consumer Electronics Association chief executive Gary Shapiro called Virginia’s action an “anti-consumer move” that “jeopardizes thousands of jobs in Virginia, primarily those of small business entrepreneurs, restricting their ability to contribute to our state’s economy.” Shapiro supported McAuliffe in his bid for governor last year and implied that the recent decision undermines his “pro-business stance.”

FCC honors seven for accessibility: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Monday gave out awards to seven companies that developed communications tools for people with disabilities. Among the winners was a company that makes a portable device with a Braille display and a way to create video descriptions for YouTube clips, which is helpful to people with sight disabilities.

OTI looking to build New York mesh network: The New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) is moving along in its bid to implement a wireless mesh network across New York City and is looking for community groups to team up. The advocacy group wants to deploy the network, which relays signals between a series of points and connects to the Web, in areas of the city that are vulnerable to flooding so that they are not cut off in the event of a hurricane or similar natural disaster.

The model would replicate the success of Red Hook Wi-Fi, which kept parts of Brooklyn connected even when Superstorm Sandy took out phone and Internet access for many residents. OTI wants to train up to 100 city residents to install and maintain the networks on their own.

Broadcast group slams cable prices: Broadcast advocacy group TVFreedom released a video Monday, including man-on-the-street interviews of people complaining about the prices they pay for the cable services they get. “Victimized by a lack of transparency related to unexplained and surprise charges on monthly bills, and a poor customer service experience, the people we spoke with expressed incredible frustration with their pay-TV service providers,” TVFreedom said, introducing the video.



On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property will hold the first of two hearings on music licensing at 10 a.m.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hear testimony about federal information technology projects in the afternoon.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies is talking about safe harbor provisions starting at 10 a.m.



A group representing tech industry giants is calling on regulators to block the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

Netflix on Monday said it will stop telling users that their Internet providers are to blame for slow-loading videos.

Each year, computer crime around the world costs as much as $575 billion, according to new analysis sponsored by the security firm McAfee.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced it has established a third testing site for the use of commercial drones in American airspace. 

A group of conservative and environmental organizations is suing the National Security Agency in order to obtain records about top officials at the Environmental Protection Agency.


Please send tips and comments to Kate Tummarello, katet@thehill.com, and Julian Hattem, jhattem@thehill.com

Follow Hillicon Valley on Twitter: @HilliconValley@ktummarello@jmhattem