Congressional Research Service Memo on Constitutionality of IRFA Section 5

Senator Ron Wyden and his staff director Jayme White were kind enough to ask the Congressional Research Service to conduct a legal analysis of the concerns regarding Section 5 of the so-called “Internet Radio Fairness Act” that we have raised on Trichordist and that David Lowery raised directly with Senator Wyden at the Future of Music Coalition Policy Summit in Washington on November 13.

You can read the entire memo here, but the part that interests us the most is this section:

David Lowery, writing for the, has argued that “Section 5 of IRFA is perhaps the most pernicious part of the bill, for it would make it illegal for anyone to criticize digital sound recording licensees. If IRFA becomes law, artists and artist organizations will need to watch what they say in public in opposition to [certain licensees’]direct licensing efforts.”  It seems that Lowery takes issue with the use of the words”any action” that would”prohibit, interfere with, or impede”negotiations.

He argues that these terms are too broad and could apply even to those who would criticize licensees for attempting to negotiate direct licenses with copyright owners. Another concern cited by Lowery in opposition toSection 5 is the ambiguity inherent in the language “any copyright owners acting jointly.”

This language does not necessarily seem to be limited to large member-based royalty collection organizations like SoundExchange. It may be broad enough to encompass, for example,the members of an individual band, who might be considered to be individual copyright owners, acting jointly. Under this broadreading of the language, an argument could be made that a band, posting its criticisms of direct licensing negotiations between a licenseeand a copyright owner, would betaking an action that would interfere with a direct licensing negotiation, therebyviolating Section 5.

Though this hypothetical presents a broad interpretation of the language of Section 5, it is not an implausible one. It is possible that the language may be broad enough to cover a blog post by a band expressing their opinion regarding contract negotiations between a licensee and a copyright owner. Nonetheless, it seems unlikely that, in practice, Section 5 would impinge upon First Amendment rights….

But it’s not “implausible.”

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