Artists Rights Caucus moves forward

Volume 117, No. 4April, 2017

Shane Gasteyer

In a short time since its inception, the Local 802 Artist Rights Caucus has already generated an enthusiastic response from members. The caucus, which was first announced in last month’s Allegro, was created as a forum for members to make their voices heard on the issues of copyright reform and digital rights issues. The newly-formed caucus had its first meeting on March 1, during which members discussed their objectives for the group, and engaged in a larger discussion of the struggles musicians face in the digital music economy.

Much of the meeting’s focus was on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and its effect on artists, including the mass infringement of their copyrights. Section 512 of the DMCA contains the “safe harbor” provision, which as currently written gives tech companies and online service providers little incentive to shut down copyright infringement. These companies continue to benefit from traffic and ad revenue generated by infringing content that gets posted to sites like YouTube. The safe harbor provision ensures that they are not held liable for things posted to their sites that might violate copyright.

Artist Rights Caucus members were very encouraged by the music community letter to the U.S. Copyright Office, which was a joint statement from several organizations (including the AFM, Songwriters Guild of America, ASCAP, and SAG-AFTRA) in response to the copyright office’s request for public comment on Section 512. The music community letter, which can be seen at, addresses a number of problems with the current system, including the harm done to musicians by the overly broad definition of “safe harbor,” as well as the ineffectiveness of the DMCA “takedown notice” system. To quote the letter, “Today, digital services enjoy an (expanding) safe harbor while content owners face an increasing onslaught of digital infringement, with no effective recourse.” One of the main goals of the Artist Rights Caucus is to give voice to union members who want to see the principles of the music community comments put into action.

The group also discussed some recent positive news coverage, including the widely-shared video of legendary producer T-Bone Burnett delivering what Billboard called a “scathing message to [the] copyright office, urging reform” of copyright laws.  The video, produced by the Content Creators Coalition, is a must-see for every musician tired of Silicon Valley’s attacks on our rights, livelihoods, and culture.  The video can be found at

Looking forward, the Artist Rights Caucus seeks to expand the group and bring in more musicians who want to work to protect their livelihoods and their right to protect their recordings online. Meeting attendees underlined the need to better educate themselves and their fellow musicians and develop outreach materials to help get people up to speed on the union’s position on the DMCA, and the workable, common–sense solutions proposed by the music community response. Several members also expressed the desire to see artist rights caucuses created in other AFM locals, in an effort to get locals throughout the AFM to mobilize their members in support of the music community’s pro-artist goals. The caucus members hope to see the AFM take an active leadership role in a campaign to achieve the legislative changes that the music community letter calls for.

“I’m really gratified to see this finally moving,” said founding caucus member Marc Ribot. “This reform [of DMCA Section 512] is what we need to do if we want to see a fair market for our work restored.”

Any members of Local 802 who are interested in becoming active in the caucus should e-mail for more information, and to receive updates on future meetings and actions.