As the clock ticks down for the MLC under the Music Modernization Act, the Copyright Office oversight role may require some innovation on the global rights database mandated by the MMA. One way would be to harmonize copyright registrations with registrations for the Mechanical Licensing Collective. (Songwriters outside the US may be puzzled by all this registering due to the prohibition on formalities in the Berne Convention, but right or wrong that MMA requires songwriters to register with the MLC if they want to get paid under the blanket license.)
Remember that you don’t have to register your songs to get copyright protection, but a lot of people do. Here’s what the Copyright Office says about registration:
Do I have to register with your office to be protected?
No. In general, registration is voluntary. Copyright exists from the moment the work is created. You will have to register, however, if you wish to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration.”
Why should I register my work if copyright protection is automatic?
Registration is recommended for a number of reasons. Many choose to register their works because they wish to have the facts of their copyright on the public record and have a certificate of registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages and attorney’s fees in successful litigation. Finally, if registration occurs within five years of publication, it is considered prima facie evidence in a court of law. See Circular 1, Copyright Basics, section “Copyright Registration” and Circular 38b, Highlights of Copyright Amendments Contained in the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA), on non-U.S. works.
So while you don’t have to register to get copyright protection, you will have to somehow get into the MLC’s database if you want to get paid by the MLC (and file an IRS Form W-9, etc.). But–if you are going to register your song for copyright, why should you have to start over again to register for the MLC?
It seems like a simple solution for the Copyright Office to harmonize these separate but related registrations would be to have the Copyright Office online registration system have a check box to allow you to sign up with the MLC. Simply a box to check that would autopopulate your MLC registration along with other docs you might need for the MLC (like the W-9 the MLC will no doubt have to get for every songwriter they pay.)
If there’s a cost for this extra IT, that cost could easily be charged back to the services to be paid through the “administrative assessment”. The first assessment is currently being litigated, so there’s no time like the present to get this issue in front of the Copyright Royalty Judges. Plus, there’s no reason for the MLC registration to be delayed while the copyright registration is processed since the right to get paid under the blanket license is not contingent on the copyright registration. Songwriters wouldn’t be charged to register with the MLC because the copyright registration fee is already established for the copyright registration alone.
And of course, the MLC could have a reciprocal sign up for copyright registration as part of the MLC registration process for songwriters who start there first. Again, all that IT cost should be paid by the services.
Seems like a no brainer.