Is America’s copyright system broken?
Some people level that curious claim, but they face an extremely heavy burden of persuasion.
After all, America’s system of copyright and intellectual property (IP) protections, which incentivize creators and reward their efforts, has resulted in the most innovative, influential, artistic, and prosperous nation in human history. No country or alternative system even rivals our record of creative preeminence in music, movies, television shows, news, and literature.
That relationship between copyright protections and creative dominance isn’t coincidental. It is causal.
To illustrate, the Property Rights Alliance’s annual International Property Rights Index ranks the U.S. second among the world’s nations in IP rights. Similarly, the Heritage Foundation’s annual Index of Economic Freedom also regularly places the U.S. near the very top in its property rights ranking. In contrast, nations like Venezuela, Libya, and Serbia rank at the bottom in terms of property rights protections. Although those real-world illustrations don’t settle the matter, they confirm the truth that greater property rights, not weaker property protections, lead to innovation and prosperity. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
Given that relationship between IP rights, innovation and worldwide artistic preeminence, it is therefore peculiar when critics disparage copyright protections, which have provided the very foundation for American innovation and prosperity. It’s even more peculiar when those critics include self-professed conservatives or libertarians. Antagonism toward copyright protections, however, is neither conservative nor libertarian.
Recently, we witnessed a perfect example of such intellectual vertigo in an October 14 Daily Caller commentary by technology activist Derek Khanna. In addition to attempting to discredit America’s system of copyright protections generally, Khanna specifically maligned proposed legislation entitled the Free Market Royalty Act (FMRA). That bill would finally end terrestrial radio’s special government privilege against paying performance rights that artists are allowed to negotiate with all other forms of use.
Simply put, the proposed legislation doesn’t “regulate the market” as Khanna claims. More accurately, the FMRA seeks to create a more level playing field for all forms of broadcast. Currently, artists aren’t compensated when their works are played on terrestrial radio, except through a cumbersome licensing process. This bill would change that and allow them to negotiate.
If some artists truly prefer to have their music played on radio for free, as Khanna alleges by magically placing himself in their shoes to divine their desires, then they would still possess that choice instead of having it forced upon them. That is the essence of free market negotiations and bargained-for mutual agreement, as opposed to the current environment in which AM-FM radio enjoys unjustified legal protection from negotiating performance rights that other forms of broadcast do.
It is for that reason that tech observers from Jerry Brito to Rob Pegoraro, and conservative voices from RedState to Free State Foundation, have applauded the principles embodied in the FMRA proposed legislation. They are joined by Americans for Tax Reform, American Commitment, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), Taxpayer Protection Alliance (TPA) and my organization in favor of performance rights for artists, as well as genuinely pro-market reform of radio music royalties.