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Two New Major Copyright Revisions Signed Into Law This Week

Calling all creators! On Thursday, October 11, two important pieces of copyright legislation were signed into law by the President. The Orrin G. Hatch-Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act (“MMA”) and the Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act (“MTIA”) are two key pieces of legislation which aim to modernize copyright law and bring it into the 21st century.

The Music Modernization Act is a historic success for the music and indeed the entire copyright community as it shows that important copyright legislation can be enacted when the various interests commit to working together. It is the first time in a couple decades that an entire industry has been able to come together to create a new solution — in this case for a collective licensing regime for the digital age. The law, passed with bipartisan support, has been heralded as “the most significant improvement of music copyright law in more than a generation.” It makes important revisions to copyright law to accommodate the changes in music licensing practices that resulted from the rise of digital music streaming services. The law provides for a new collective licensing scheme that ensures that licensing income will be paid to songwriters, recording artists, and for the first time, sound producers and engineers for streaming and downloads of their work. It also creates a federal right to pre-1972 sound recordings for the first time and makes them subject to the same statutory licenses as post-1972 sound recordings.

The Marrakesh Treaty Implementation Act, which the Authors Guild supported, will ensure that copyright users with disabilities have increased access to printed materials, such as books, that are available in “accessible formats” usable by those with such disabilities. The MTIA will implement changes to US law in accordance with the “Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works by Visually Impaired Persons and Persons with Print Disabilities,” going beyond the current exception under US copyright law allowing copies to be made for the visually-impaired. Under the MTIA, “all literary works” fall within the copyright exception and copies may be distributed to the disabled in any “accessible format.”

Most importantly, the MTIA creates a new provision regarding imports and exports of accessible formats for eligible persons. Importation of accessible formats is allowed and will permit, for example, “[i]ndividuals in the United States who do not speak English as a first language or who are learning a new language [to] benefit from the ability to import accessible formats in foreign languages.”[2] Exportation of copies in accessible formats  is also permitted, but is limited to eligible individuals who reside in countries that are signatories to the Marrakesh Treaty. To prevent abuse, the MTIA requires importers and exporters of accessible works to establish and follow procedures to ensure that the works are distributed among only those eligible under the law.[3]

The enactment of these two bills signifies the importance of a thoughtful and studied approach to copyright reform that balances the needs of both copyright owners and copyright users in the Internet age. Their passage also encourages us to be optimistic about other copyright modernization legislation that the Guild has been working toward, including the CASE Act, which would create a copyright small claims tribunal and, in doing so, would make copyright meaningful to creators again.