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UMKC Law Review


Commissioned for a symposium on copyright law and the creation of music, this article explores five questions about popular music that can be illuminated by greater insights into copyright law and the music business. Why do popular songs usually last for fewer than five minutes? Why are professional songwriters dissatisfied with Pandora and Spotify? Why can we bring European CDs back to the United States? Why can't YouTube videos be created with ASCAP/BMI licenses? Are digital downloads sales or licenses? And as a bonus: Why did the royalty rate for sheet music stay at seven cents per copy?

It is my hope that answering these questions will enable us to develop a deeper understanding of copyright law and how it can affect popular music. The copyright debate has been repeatedly and frequently framed as one among the different stakeholders. However, what laws we include in Title 17 of the United States Code will ultimately affect our music, both directly and indirectly. The more we understand the laws' impact on the music business — and culture in general — the more we will notice the high cultural stakes involved in copyright law reform.

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