Copyright Law Changes That May Affect You

Below are some major changes in copyright law that may affect you or your business.


The Public Domain Opens for Business

On January 1, 2019 — for the first time since 1998 — expiring copyrighted works entered the public domain. The Sonny Bono Copyright Act, effective in 1998 extended copyright for twenty years, and at the same time, prevented any works from expiring for twenty years. That ended in 2019 when works first published in the U.S. in 1923 entered the public domain. In 2020, works first published in 1924 will enter the public domain, and so forth.

Filing an Application Does Not Equal Registration

In 2019, the Supreme Court held that registration of a copyright is required as a condition of filing an infringement action.  The copyright owner had filed a suit after it had applied for but not received a registration. The Supreme Court also held that once copyright is registered, the owner can recover retroactively for infringement.

Music Modernization Act (MMA) Signed Into Law

This Act was signed into law on October 11, 2018 and it incorporated three pieces of legislation that alter copyright law as follows:

  • New music licensing collective. The Act simplifies the licensing rules for digital music providers and creates a new music licensing collective (MLC) which should take effect in 2021. Once in place, the MLC will act as a toll booth for Spotify, Pandora, Soundcloud and other digital music providers. These providers will pay the MLC for each use of a song and the MLC will compensate the owners accordingly. The MLC will also identify copyrighted material embodied in sound recordings, locate the copyright owners of such material, administer copyright owners ownership claims, and assist with setting of royalty rates and terms.
  • Pre-1972 recordings covered by copyright. Prior to the MMA, pre-1972 sound recordings were protected under state law, making them ineligible to collect the digital performance right granted to sound recordings in 1995. The MMA extends the public performance right to pre-1972 recordings, thereby requiring digital music providers to compensate those recording artists and song owners.
  • Music producers collect royalties directly. Individuals who create sound recordings (producers, engineers, mixers) can now seek royalties directly from SoundExchange, rather than pursuing the sound recording artists and performers for the payment.

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