We're not talking about Bach, Frank Zappa or DJ Shadow. We're talking about how spellbindingly complex the process of licensing music is.
We just brought up the actions of the US Copyright Office (Bigger than Grokster?) in taking the first steps to possibly creating a new content licensing methodology and how important it will ultimately be when solutions are created in a post-Grokster decision world.
But, as they say, the journey could be a lot more interesting than the destination. And, the inherent complexities of the copyright process could make it incredibly important for the technology industry to remain vigilant during the legislative process. After all, there is simply no way that more than a handful of congressional offices will be able to fully comprehend and drive policy development here. It's not that others are dumb or disinterested. It's just that they have a million other priorities and will naturally gravitate towards issues that you quickly grasp and master. When the can't do that, they'll take the advice of trusted advisors and supporters. There's a good chance that not all these well-paid souls from K Street will have the tech industry's best interests always at heart.
How complex are these issues? Consider....
excerpts from an excellent summary of music licensing from Music Musings....
Music licensing in the digital world is a complex maze, to say the least. For each and every song that is either downloaded or streamed over the Internet, there are at least four different types of licenses that have to be thought through.
If the song is being "performed" over the Internet (eg, streamed or broadcast), then you have to make sure that you have the proper public performance licenses from both the record labels (SoundExchange) and the music publishers/songwriters (ASCAP/BMI/SESAC). If the song is being "downloaded" over the Internet (eg, ala carte downloads from iTunes) , then you have to make sure you have the proper reproduction/distribution licenses from both the record labels (major labels, indie labels, individual artists) and the music publishers (Harry Fox Agency, publishing houses, individual publishers/songwriters).
While that's a handful to think about for each and every song streamed or downloaded, it's just the beginning. There are numerous additional wrinkles. For example, when a song is streamed "on demand" then the publishers believe you have to get a license from them too. The publishers feel that a stream on demand is really "like" a download. And if that doesn't convince you, then the publishers will argue that a stream on demand really requires alot of little, temporary copies of the songs in order for the stream to make it from the streamers server to the listener's computer.
Ok, but what about the fact that each song might have multiple different publishers? It's like a complex algebra equation to figure out what licenses are needed from what copyright owners for each different type of digital music delivery option for a song. If there weren't clearing agencies and societies, it would literally be a cost nightmare to clear each and every song for any kind of music service.
And, again, you can drill down for pages and pages on each and everyone of the issues above. Again, go to Ernest Miller's blog for a flavor for this, or this handy recap of the key issues in the Copyright Office propsal and blogosphere reaction at Tech Law Advisor.
Those who want a world of unfettered, yet compensated, distribution of entertainment content online will need to redouble their efforts to effectively communicate their positions on these matters as the leave the legal arcana of the Copyright Office and move to the bullet-pointed land of The Hill.