Last November, a Congressional aide named Mitch Glazier,
with the support of the RIAA, added a “technical amendment”
to a bill that defined recorded music as “works for hire”
under the 1978 Copyright Act.
He did this after all the hearings on the bill were over.
By the time artists found out about the change, it was too
late. The bill was on its way to the White House for the
That subtle change in copyright law will add billions of
dollars to record company bank accounts over the next few
years — billions of dollars that rightfully should have
been paid to artists. A “work for hire” is now owned in
perpetuity by the record company.
Under the 1978 Copyright Act, artists could reclaim the
copyrights on their work after 35 years. If you wrote and
recorded “Everybody Hurts,” you at least got it back to as a
family legacy after 35 years. But now, because of this
corrupt little pisher, “Everybody Hurts” never gets returned
to your family, and can now be sold to the highest
Over the years record companies have tried to put “work
for hire” provisions in their contracts, and Mr. Glazier
claims that the “work for hire” only “codified” a standard
industry practice. But copyright laws didn’t identify sound
recordings as being eligible to be called “works for hire,”
so those contracts didn’t mean anything. Until now.
Writing and recording “Hey Jude” is now the same thing as
writing an English textbook, writing standardized tests,
translating a novel from one language to another or making a
map. These are the types of things addressed in the “work
for hire” act. And writing a standardized test is a work for
hire. Not making a record.
So an assistant substantially altered a major law when he
only had the authority to make spelling corrections. That’s
not what I learned about how government works in my high
school civics class.
Three months later, the RIAA hired Mr. Glazier to become
its top lobbyist at a salary that was obviously much greater
than the one he had as the spelling corrector guy.
The RIAA tries to argue that this change was necessary
because of a provision in the bill that musicians supported.
That provision prevents anyone from registering a famous
person’s name as a Web address without that person’s
permission. That’s great. I own my name, and should be able
to do what I want with my name.
But the bill also created an exception that allows a
company to take a person’s name for a Web address if they
create a work for hire. Which means a record company would
be allowed to own your Web site when you record your “work
for hire” album. Like I said: Sharecropping.
Although I’ve never met any one at a record company who
“believed in the Internet,” they’ve all been trying to cover
their asses by securing everyone’s digital rights. Not that
they know what to do with them. Go to a major label-owned
band site. Give me a dollar for every time you see an
annoying “under construction” sign. I used to pester Geffen
(when it was a label) to do a better job. I was totally
ignored for two years, until I got my band name back. The
Goo Goo Dolls are struggling to gain control of their domain
name from Warner Bros., who claim they own the name because
they set up a shitty promotional Web site for the band.
Orrin Hatch, songwriter and Republican senator from Utah,
seems to be the only person in Washington with a progressive
view of copyright law. One lobbyist says that there’s no one
in the House with a similar view and that “this would have
never happened if Sonny Bono was still alive.”
By the way, which bill do you think the recording
industry used for this amendment?
The Record Company Redefinition Act? No. The Music
Copyright Act? No. The Work for Hire Authorship Act? No.
How about the Satellite Home Viewing Act of 1999?
Stealing our copyright reversions in the dead of night
while no one was looking, and with no hearings held, is
It’s piracy when the RIAA lobbies to change the
bankruptcy law to make it more difficult for musicians to
declare bankruptcy. Some musicians have declared bankruptcy
to free themselves from truly evil contracts. TLC declared
bankruptcy after they received less than 2 percent of the
$175 million earned by their CD sales. That was about 40
times less than the profit that was divided among their
management, production and record companies.
Toni Braxton also declared bankruptcy in 1998. She sold
$188 million worth of CDs, but she was broke because of a
terrible recording contract that paid her less than 35 cents
per album. Bankruptcy can be an artist’s only defense
against a truly horrible deal and the RIAA wants to take it
Artists want to believe that we can make lots of money if
we’re successful. But there are hundreds of stories about
artists in their 60s and 70s who are broke because they
never made a dime from their hit records. And real success
is still a long shot for a new artist today. Of the 32,000
new releases each year, only 250 sell more than 10,000
copies. And less than 30 go platinum.
The four major record corporations fund the RIAA. These
companies are rich and obviously well-represented. Recording
artists and musicians don’t really have the money to
compete. The 273,000 working musicians in America make about
$30,000 a year. Only 15 percent of American Federation of
Musicians members work steadily in music.
But the music industry is a $40 billion-a-year business.
One-third of that revenue comes from the United States. The
annual sales of cassettes, CDs and video are larger than the
gross national product of 80 countries. Americans have more
CD players, radios and VCRs than we have bathtubs.
Story after story gets told about artists — some of them
in their 60s and 70s, some of them authors of huge
successful songs that we all enjoy, use and sing — living
in total poverty, never having been paid anything. Not even
having access to a union or to basic health care. Artists
who have generated billions of dollars for an industry die
broke and un-cared for.
And they’re not actors or participators. They’re the
rightful owners, originators and performers of original
This is piracy.