Science & Technology Law

Music Is Here To Stay, But Change Is Needed, Insiders Say

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In what may be an ABA Annual Meeting first, presenters at the Section of Science & Technology Law’s session on the future of music and technology digitally recorded, remixed, replayed and then uploaded their version of the Rolling Stones’ “Last Time” before a rapt audience of music aficionados, recording industry executives and lawyers.

But the impromptu recording session was more then just a stunt. It showcased many of the pressing legal and business issues that the music industry is facing today as technology and copyright law intersect.

“If we had really re-recorded that song, uploaded it to MySpace or LimeWire or iTunes and tried to sell it, it would raise lots of legal issues,” said Heather Dembert Rafter, general counsel of the Daly City, Calif.-based DigiDesign and moderator of the section’s panel discussion “The Future of Music: The Collision of Today’s Tunes and Tomorrow’s Technology.”

According to the panel—which featured Recording Industry Association of America president Cary Sherman, Boston lawyer Mark Fischer of Fish & Richardson, Indie music executive Amaechi Uzoigwe of Definitive Jux and musician Omar Hakim—technological innovations have changed the face of the music industry. Anyone with a laptop, Internet access and a few hundred dollars to buy some digital recording equipment can now be a recording artist.

And while it’s a lot easier to make music nowadays, it’s also a lot harder to make any money selling it because of the increasingly more complex number of stakeholders in the field all with divergent copyright and licensing interests.

Even though digital downloading is a $2.4 billion industry in the U.S., panelists pointed their fingers at outdated copyright laws as a main reason for the problems in the music industry.

While no one believes that music will actually die off, many panelists say the recording artists now have to reshape themselves as brand names as a way to make a living. They singled out the Barbados pop star Rihanna as a prime example of how the industry is changing: She’s licensed her name and her music to different products, such as Totes umbrellas and CoverGirl. They fear however, that those who can’t make themselves into brand names may not ever try to enter the field at all.

Coverage elsewhere:

PC Magazine: “Online Music Sales Muddle Royalties, Lawyers Say”

Annual Meeting 2008:

Read more news from the ABA Annual Meeting.

See candid photographs of attendees on Flickr.

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