In this latest chapter of the "address unknown" saga, Google, Amazon and Spotify are apparently unable to locate Paul McCartney or John Lennon in the public records of the Copyright Office, according to research by Chris Castle, in another troubling revelation as to just how broken the compulsory license system is.
Guest post by Chris Castle of Music Technology Policy
The “address unknown” saga continues – it appears that Google and Amazon can’t find John Lennon and Paul McCartney (pka The Beatles) in the public records of the Copyright Office in order to send their notice for a compulsory license. Because it’s not enough to have a way to force songwriters to license to them at the government’s cheesy rates. A quick check of the SX Works NOI Lookup database shows us how bad it really is.
But two of the biggest companies in commercial history shouldn’t feel bad – Spotify can’t find The Beatles, either. That’s right – the saviours of the music business can’t find one of the biggest bands in history.
Of course what is interesting about Big Tech’s inability to find Lennon & McCartney in the public records of the Copyright Office is a little inside baseball. If you are prepared to believe that these companies actually look for the copyright owners of songs they want to claim as “address unknown” (which I am not prepared to believe), Lennon & McCartney’s publisher would have registered the copyright in, say, Penny Lane when it was written or released. (The Lennon/McCartney publisher is Northern Songs which I believe was administered by EMI at the time. For those reading along at home, that’s 424 Church Street, Suite 1200, Nashville, TN 37219, at least for the moment. They’re in the book.)
Penny Lane was released in 1967 as a double A side single (remember those?) with Strawberry Fields Forever. It was later included on Magical Mystery Tour also in 1967. That date is significant because it is before January 1, 1978–which is an important date because that is the earliest date that can be searched online in the Copyright Office Public Catalog.
If you agree with me that it doesn’t matter because they’re not looking anyway, then this is not an important fact. If you are prepared to give these Digital Media Association companies the benefit of the doubt, you would look at their “address unknown” NOI filing and notice that the filers attest that they have looked for the copyright owner in the Copyright Office public records as required in the filing instructions. (“In the case where the Notice will be filed with the Copyright Office pursuant to paragraph (f)(3) of this section, the Notice shall include an affirmative statement that with respect to the nondramatic musical work named in the Notice of Intention, the registration records or other public records of the Copyright Office have been searched and found not to identify the name and address of the copyright owner of such work.” This language is fixed in the template for each NOI served on the Copyright Office.)
If they are looking in the pre-1978 records, then how would they accomplish this search? Copyright Office Circular 23 tells us:
Together, the copyright card catalog and the online files of the Copyright Office provide an index to copyright registrations and records in the United States from 1870 to the present. The copyright card catalog contains approximately 45 million cards covering the period 1870 through 1977. Registrations and records for all works dating from January 1, 1978, to the present are searchable in the online catalog, available at http://www.copyright.gov/records….
The copyright card catalog is located in the Copyright Public Records Reading Room (lm-404) on the fourth floor of the James Madison Memorial Building of the Library of Congress. The public can use the catalog, which is staffed
by a Copyright Office employee, between 8:30 am and 5:00 pm, eastern time, Monday through Friday, except federal holidays. Before starting your search, consult Circular 22, How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work, available on the Copyright Office website or from the staff member on duty.
Alternatively, Copyright Office staff can search copyright records for you.
So…if these companies really are doing the research they attest to doing, the Copyright Public Records Reading Room must be quite a busy place. In fact, there must be a line out the door. Or the research staff must be buried.
Or…these companies are telling what we call in the trade…a lie.
And of course, nobody is checking.
Why does this matter? Because the Music Modernization Act would have us all rely on the kindness of strangers in doing the intial match for monies heading for the black box. Why in the world would you ever trust these people to do that matching if they really can’t find two of the most successful songwriters in history? Or if they lie about it?