California musicians could be rocked by fair use changes

Fair use rules are under review by federal officials. The doctrine — title 17, U.S. code, section 107 in the copyright law — sets boundaries for the reuse of artists’ original works. The rules cover what and how copyrighted materials can be reused, with or without the permission of the creator. The doctrine may seem too vague or too restrictive, depending on your position in a copyright infringement dispute.

The U.S. Department of Commerce issued a paper last summer raising ideas about fair use changes that have more than one well-established musician upset. Steven Tyler, long-time front man for the rock band Aerosmith, recently delivered a written commentary to the government agency. At issue is the agency’s suggestion that fee-based compulsory licenses could be employed to permit the reuse of copyrighted work, minus an author’s permission.

Steven Tyler and several other high-profile musicians are against a rule change, which could mean an author has no say in the recycling of material, even when artists find the reuse objectionable. Tyler’s comments were accompanied by letters from other singers like Sting, Ozzy Osbourne and Britney Spears.

Under the current fair use doctrine, limited sections of copyrighted works can be reused under certain circumstances. For instance, criticism and song parodies are acceptable forms of fair use, which may or may not please the original artist. The rule is also sensitive to the motives for copyright reuse, discouraging goals of profit or other personal gain.

Tyler and other singers want the option to veto how their songs are sampled or remixed. A compulsory license might dismiss disapproval by a work’s creator. Tyler’s argument is that authors could suffer from abuses in derivative works.

Reports did not state whether the Commerce Department’s paper directed fees for compulsory licenses to artists or to the government. The answer could determine how palatable the suggested licenses are to authors worried about intellectual property.

Source: Politico, “Steven Tyler, Britney Spears voice copyright concerns” Alex Byers, Feb. 10, 2014