Attractive Legislation---

Julie London Amendment

A Protection of Property Rights

By James Kilpatrick

The Ocala Star-Banner

April 21, 1967 (Friday)

 
 
WASHINGTON---The House of Representatives finally got around the other day to passing the first bill since 1909 on revision of copyright laws. Twelve years of studies, reports and committee hearings, climaxed by three days of angry floor debate, preceded the roll call vote. But if members of the House had heard Julie London testifying over on the Senate side, they might be in session yet.

Both chambers have been working on a new copyright act, the House more vigorously than the Senate, and it has been an interesting legislative exercise---almost a classic exercise---for a number of reasons.

For one thing, the bill just passed in the House is predicated squarely upon what might be termed an original grant of power. There is no question that Congress has authority to adopt a copyright law---the first such act dates from 1790; and after a steady diet of bills that deal with poverty, potato chips and public schools, bearing only the most tenuous third-cousin kinship to the Constitution, it is a refreshing novelty to seethe Congress back in proper orbit.

                      Merits Applause

The pending legislation has this in its favor, too, that it is designed essentially for the protection of property rights. You just don’t hardly see that kind of bill around here any more. It also merits applause as an excellent example of the refinement process at work.

In this case, the Register of Copyrights, the House Judiciary Committee, and the affected industries (except for the jukebox boys) worked earnestly together to draft a good bill. It was a tedious labor, for the sponsors were trying to apply old principles of copyright law to new ventures in technology. Apparently they came up with an admirable job.

But back to Julie London. While the House was engaged in debating and passing its copyright bill, a sub-committee of Senate Judiciary was continuing its own hearings. Tot the distinct pleasure of the press gang, which has been having a dull time of it lately, Miss London turned up last week to testify. She was accompanied by Mitch Miller and Red Foley, among others, and they had come to ask copyright protection for the recording artist. They made an impressive case.

Steals Show

Miller had the best statement, but Miss London stole the show. He had come in a low dudgeon, full of restrained indignation, but she had come in a high dress, a blue woolly shifty thing that touched all the bases like a grand slam home run. She communicated certain sensibilities that touch a Senator more. Her eyelashes were three furlongs of black beachcombers and her hair was spun-brass, and well! Grandpa Foley also appeared.

Their argument was not new. It was the same argument that was raised thirty years ago by Paul Whiteman and Fred Waring---in brief, that in show business, it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it. The purpose of a copyright law, to quote the House report, is “to insure that authors receive the encouragement they need to create and the remuneration they fairly deserve for their creations.” But in the case of a popular recording, who makes the greater creative contribution---the original composer, or the recording artist?

Copyright law considers only the composer or author. Every time a record is played on a commercial radio broadcast, a small fee has to be paid for use of the copyright.

Keeps Playing

Year in and year out, long after a record has ceased to have much sale for personal playing, the composer continues to benefit from these radio royalties. Under the bill approved by the House, new payments will have to be made by the balking jukebox boys. But the performing artist receives none of this. He gets his original recording fee, and may get a contractual royalty on record sales, but copyright law gives him nothing for commercial use. It’s not fair, said Miss London. And up on the bench, Senator McClellan was making yo-yo nods of agreement; if the buzzer hadn’t signaled a quorum call, he would have been calling her little lady.

It was quite a committee hearing, complete with on-the-spot recordings, but for all of Miss Julie’s charm, it seems unlikely that the performing artists will win their copyright case. As Hawaii’s Senator Hiram Fong observed, it’s already a complicated job to figure out the commercial use payments to which a composer is entitled. If the radio station owners and the jukebox boys also had to pay a copyright fee to every singer, musician, arranger and improviser on the trombone, they’d be stuck in computers forever.