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NPR Interns
Summer 2002
Washington, DC

June 26, 2002 - Brown Bag Lunch with Denise Leary and Michelle Shanahan, Office of General Counsel

Remember that great new song on the radio? You're excited that Nelly had yet another single that sounded exactly like the first one. Overcome with elation, you rushed to your computer, fired up Napster and downloaded every version of the song you could find. It wasn't long before your hard drive was filled with every beat-breaking remix of E.I. ever produced.

And so it went - with every new release came a new MP3 on your hard drive - a fountain of music, new and old, available at your fingertips. Then suddenly, in the summer of 2000, all was lost, as a federal court ordered Napster shut down. The little shiny, flat objects known as CDs would become part of your life once again. The reason? Copyright.

Such was the topic of today's Brown Bag Lunch with Denise Leary and Michelle Shanahan, two attorneys with NPR's Office of General Counsel. First providing an overview of copyright law, and then delving deeper into finer points that are today at the heart of much intellectual property litigation and discussion, the discussion started with a review of how NPR is in a unique position, serving both as a content producer (a copyright holder) and a content user (a copyright licensee).

Copyright law in the United States is designed to give content creators an exclusive right, "for limited times," to duplicate, display, perform, and generally use their work, designed to function as an incentive to promote "science and the useful arts." Protection that once lasted only 7 to 10 years has now been extended to 95 years in some cases, leaving many to wonder if the original intent of copyright law has been twisted into something that benefits large media conglomerates with the lobby power to influence policymakers.

The concepts behind music copyright were discussed at length, as it often considered one of the most complex aspects of copyright in general. Fundamentally, music rights can be divided into two parts - copyright in the musical work and copyright in the recording, which in many cases, are claimed by different parties. Because of this duality of rights idea, music licensing for broadcast uses can become very involved, often requiring multiple agreements for just one use of a particular song. Performance rights societies such as ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC simplify some aspects of the process, but the road to copyright clearance is still, some say unnecessarily, long.

The digital age has changed the face of copyright law dramatically, as new technologies foster new uses of content, and consequently, new restrictions that content producers wish to impose. The sheer ease and effortlessness of duplication today makes it a far more viable alternative to buying a particular piece of copyrighted work and will require that content producers, such as record labels, seriously reinvestigate their business models to see how to best leverage the new technologies rather than fight them.

The lunch closed with some pointers for NPR interns as they work on their Intern Edition stories, such as never promise an interview subject something you may not be able to deliver, never let them pre-approve scripts, and ensure that you have appropriate consent from copyright holders from any work that may be used as part of a piece. Use of music, they assured, was covered under NPR's existing blanket licenses.

Summary by Chris Reed