Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio December
The Law & the Planner
BY JONATHAN HOWE
New Copyright and Music-Licensing Acts
How this legislation affects your meetings
We in the meetings industry have been watching several pieces of
legislation concerning music licensing that have been making slow
progress down in Washington. In this last session of Congress, two
were finally enacted, both parts of the Copyright Act. One is an
amendment called the “Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act,”
which is a paean to the composer, ex-husband of Cher and former
member of Congress who died in a ski accident at the beginning of
this year. The other is a new section, the Fairness in Music
Licensing Act of 1998.
The Bono Act has significance to meeting professionals in
several ways. First, it extends the life of copyright protection
not only for the meeting professional who has or garners the right
to copyright, but also for the sponsor of the event or a third
party who uses the copyrighted material. For works created after
Jan. 1, 1978, copyright protection is extended for the life of the
author and out for 70 years after his death. (It used to be 50
years.) If it is a joint work, the copyright continues for the life
of the last surviving creator plus 70 years.
Occasionally, organizations have songs or other works created
specially for an event. These are considered works that are “made
for hire” that is, you have contracted to have someone write it for
you, and you lay claim to the copyright. In this case, the
protection now lasts for 95 years from the date of publication or
120 years from its creation, whichever expires first. This applies
to any organization that has a person write a book, compose a song,
take a picture, or create any other item where the copyright is
taken in the name of the organization rather than the individual
To avoid conflicts later, be sure when you hire someone to
create for you that there is a written agreement between the author
and the organization stating the product is a work for hire and
that the creator cedes all copyrights to the organization. That way
a song your clients might associate with your organization can’t be
played at your rival’s meeting without your permission.
The Bono Act also extends by an additional 20 years the
copyright-protected time period for works created before 1978, when
the copyright law underwent a complete revision.
Some interesting provisions also have been added that allow a
library, archive or nonprofit educational institution to reproduce,
display or perform portions of a copyrighted material in its last
20 years of protection for purposes of preservation, scholarship or
research, without the need of obtaining consent or paying a
royalty. But, only one copy of the work can be reproduced.
The creator can object to such use, especially if the reason the
work is being reproduced does not appear to be to preserve it. In
other words, under no circumstances can a work be reproduced,
distributed, displayed or performed if it is going to be
commercially exploited or it is otherwise available at a reasonable
price through the copyright owner or licensee. Many times a
nonprofit organization may use and distribute copyrighted material
thinking this is an exempt opportunity. It generally is not. For
instance, before you distribute articles like this one, get the
consent of the copyright holder, which in this case is
As to the Fairness in Music Licensing Act, it primarily exempts
small retailers, restaurants and bars from paying royalties. The
exemption is based on square footage and requires the performing
rights society ASCAP, BMI or SESAC not to charge royalties for
music played over radios or on TVs. This does not apply to CDs
being spun by a deejay or songs being played by a live band.
What is significant about the legislation is what it did not do.
Congress did not pass a provision that attempted to eliminate
“vicarious” liability, which was advanced on behalf of various
meeting and trade show associations. Currently, if you are a trade
show sponsor and one of your exhibitors uses music that is
unlicensed, you would be liable for the exploitation of the
copyright because you let the exhibitor use the material.
All the debate on the issue of music licensing has resulted in
changes to the basic contract between BMI and meeting professionals
for the use of music at various programs, changes that benefited
planners (see The Law & the Planner, November 1997). We’re
still waiting for a revised agreement with ASCAP.
Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is
a senior partner in the Chicago and Washington, D.C., law firm of
Howe & Hutton, Ltd., which specializes in meetings, travel and
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in a future edition of this M&C column. We regret all questions
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