LOS ANGELES — The events leading up to the Grammy Awards have plenty of glamour and glitz. But there are also industry gatherings over important but decidedly unglamorous topics like online royalty rates and legislation.
On Friday, Representative Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat who has been a longtime friend to the entertainment industry, spoke at a Grammy-related lunch for lawyers and executives about some of the challenges facing music interests in Washington. He was encouraging, but had a stern message for an industry that has its share of internecine squabbles: get yourself on the same page if you want to accomplish anything.
“I implore you,” Mr. Nadler said at the event, the annual Entertainment Law Initiative luncheon. “When it comes to legislation, the issues are too important and the opposition too powerful for you to win as a divided community.”
He added: “If the industry is not united it will not be well represented or able to participate adequately in the discussions going on in the halls of Congress. These discussions are going to happen with or without you.”
Mr. Nadler is the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary’s subcommittee on courts, intellectual property and the Internet, the subcommittee that last year held hearings on music licensing issues.
The issues Mr. Nadler is referring to are an array of lawsuits, rate-setting trials, regulatory reviews and lobbying discussions going on now, a result of the complex way that federal music copyright has developed over the last century. The problems in this system have become more apparent with the rise of digital technologies, and various players in media technology now say that the system is broken, even if they often disagree fiercely over how to fix it.
Case in point: the vagaries surrounding who gets paid what, depending upon which service sends a given song through your car stereo. If that song is played through traditional AM/FM radio, only the songwriters collect royalties, a longstanding policy that has riled record labels for decades. (Mr. Nadler made a particular pitch for changing this to the cheers of the lawyers in the crowd, many of whom represent recording artists.) If that song is played on Sirius XM or on Pandora, both the songwriters and the performers are paid, but at significantly different rates that are set through different legal processes. And if the song is played on Spotify through a smartphone, there are still different royalty rates, reached through different means.
“From the development of player pianos and phonograph records to the advent of radio and the Internet,” Mr. Nadler said, “the law is a patchwork of reactions to changing technologies.”
There is a growing push for changes to the system, but various sides of the music industry have clashed with one another over how to make those changes. Neil Portnow, the chief executive of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the organization behind the Grammys, has called for a single omnibus bill in Congress to fix music copyright, but so far no clear consensus has emerged.
Mr. Nadler’s comments came a day after the United States Copyright Office made a long-awaited set of proposals for changes to music copyright. Among its changes are royalties for performing artists on the radio, and extending federal copyright protection to recordings made before 1972 — another sore point in the industry that recently led to a series of lawsuits by the 1960s band the Turtles against Sirius XM and Pandora.
But some of the Copyright Office’s recommendations are likely to deepen existing divisions within the music industry. For example, the 245-page report suggests putting recordings and songwriting — covered by two separate copyrights, and often controlled by different companies — “on more equal footing.” That would please music publishers but upset record companies, who — thanks to the patchwork of existing regulation — currently earn far more money from online services like Pandora than the publishers do.
Leaders in the music world made diplomatic statements in response to the Copyright Office’s study, echoing the need for change but avoiding much direct criticism. The technology world, however, came out shooting.
Lee Knife, the director of the Digital Media Association, whose members include Pandora, YouTube and Apple, said that the Copyright Office had “missed a significant opportunity,” and added: “The suggestions proposed would continue to fragment the already complex licensing structure and put at risk those platforms that deliver music legally and compensate music creators.”
In his speech, Mr. Nadler offered some good news about navigating these waters in Washington. Music and intellectual property issues, he said, are “largely free” of Washington’s typical partisanship.
“This area is one of the few where the divisions do not go along party lines,” he said. “You cannot simply by knowing if someone is a Democrat or Republican predict where he or she is going to stand on most of these issues.”
“That,” he added, “means that real progress is possible.”