The workings of the US Copyright Office rarely provoke a smile let alone a laugh, so brace yourself for this. The agency is shuffling some of its rules, thrown its doors open to the public for comment, and has been livened up by possibly the best submission ever made to any quango.
The office is inviting responses to changes over the licence for mechanical royalties for compositions. Translated into civilian speak, this is the royalty returned to the composer, or their publisher, from copies made of the sound recording. This is a statutory or compulsory licence, which means the composer cannot stop the distribution or performance of the work, but must hope for remuneration.
Traditionally, the song was reproduced on vinyl or as a CD, and accounting was performed by the record label which made it. But today, copies are made by third-party services too. The songwriters or publisher receives very little information, and are not allowed to demand an audit, as David Lowery explains in his submission (PDF).
Songwriter Michelle Shocked (aka Karen Johnston) puts it in altogether plainer language.
I work in a candle factory. I scrape flesh from skins of carcasses and process rendered fat into lumpy bars with wicks. I used to be a poet. I would write, late into the night, by candlelight.
ARTISTS MAKE LOUSY SLAVES!!!
NEVER PISS OFF A SONGWRITER!!!
PLUTOCRACY DEVOURS ITS OWN CHILDREN!!
And concludes, in fine style:
Like growers in Columbia, we see the price of our 'beans' being manipulated and devalued for the commodities market and we understand the consequence of not being able to make a living wage from our work. Beck released his new album as sheet music. I will boycott this system of exploitation and my work will be only available through underground means. I am part of a revolution that will watch your children grow up listening to soft porn, being raped and abused by a porn-and- contraband-drug machine that uses music as a blackmarket portal for its sausage-grinding wares; that will consume your own children and then, heartbroken at their funeral you can reflect back through your guilt and wonder if you caused your own misery and this puny little rant will come back to your rememberance like the prophetic cry of anguish that it is.
One to cherish. And quite a decent political analysis of the brave new world.
You would think the opaque accounting practices of digital music companies would make a fine "cause" for the tech blogosphere, as changes could benefit the little guy and hardly inconvenience the big operator. Songwriters and composers are at the weakest end, and this is an easy win. But as ever on copyright matters, they're missing in action.
Big Tech steamrollers on. ®