Tyler Shines a Light on Copyright, Payments for Musicians

Following his little dust-up with The Donald, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler took to the Huffington Post to elaborate on the importance of copyright protection and licensing rights for musicians.

As a member of the GRAMMY Creators’ Alliance, a new organization that started last February, Tyler and others—including Alicia Keys, Maroon 5, Jennifer Hudson and Lady Antebellum—are trying to create better protections and laws to safeguard the rights of musicians, not for themselves but for up-and-coming talent, he writes. “To bring hope. To try and change laws that are hindering the music biz. To make sure that songwriters and artists can practice their art without threat of extinction. To make sure those who practice their craft get paid fairly when others use their work.”

Much like any organization wanting to get their particular causes heard by elected leaders, Tyler and the GRAMMY Creators’ Alliance dedicated a day to visit their congressional representatives in their home offices, away from Washington, D.C., to explain the importance of copyright laws and a fair division of royalties for songwriters, producers, musicians and those who make music.

“Big changes are happening right now in copyright reform as a result of massive technology changes and the with the way fans pay for music and consume music,” Tyler writes. “These changes can be a good thing for songwriters and up-and-coming artists, if we are paid fairly by those who make money using our work. Everyone deserves to be able to pay their bills, support their families, and do the work they love. Too many can’t because we are being shortchanged by new and old technology companies.”

Tyler’s column goes on to touch on a handful of topics, including a nod to the Fair Play Fair Pay Act, legislation introduced earlier this year in the US House of Representatives that would, among other things, secure payment for artists and labels when songs are played on terrestrial AM and FM radio stations, something that already exists in other nations around the world. The bill, if enacted, also would establish a minimum fee to be paid by all services that play music—terrestrial radio, satellite broadcasts, streaming services, etc.

“The laws need to change,” Tyler continues. “We have so many laws in America that control how we get paid for our music. Seventy-five percent of songwriters’ income in the US is regulated by the government? Too much government intervention in art and music is a bad thing.”

Of course, the issue at hand for Tyler most recently was the use of one of his songs, “Dream On,” by Trump during a political rally. Despite a long history of Trump and Tyler hanging out together, Tyler was concerned that use of that song at Trump’s rallies would imply an endorsement.


According to the Future of Music Coalition, a Washington, DC-based nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, any time a song plays at a rally, campaigns must “ensure that they have a public performance license covering the composition’s use. Most major public venues such as convention centers and arenas typically purchase blanket licenses from performance rights organizations” like ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, which allow campaigns to use songs to which they have secured permission.

“However, these licenses may not cover all uses, so most national campaigns also purchase their own blanket licenses covering all campaign events; an additional benefit is that if they have a whistlestop event on the campaign trail at a factory or in a park and they throw a playlist on the PA, they’d still be covered.”

If a candidate hasn’t secured the rights to a song, an artist is well within his or her rights to ask the candidate’s campaign office to stop playing the song, but if the proper blanket licensing has been secured, “you probably don’t have legal grounds to stop them from playing the music or a legal basis for a cease and desist order based on copyright infringement,” FMC says.

It’s unclear whether Trump’s campaign had properly secured the rights to play Aerosmith’s song, or which musicians would be fine with that particular campaign featuring their music—remember, Trump’s already been called out by Neil Young and REM for using their music without permission—but there’s still more than a year left in the campaign for president, and Tyler’s not likely to be the last person to comment on these arrangements.

His commentary was a little all over the map, certainly, and his arguments might have become a little muddled as he tried to build one big tent for a number of intricate, multi-faceted problems, but Tyler was smart to use his status to draw attention to a handful of issues that most music fans aren’t aware of at the moment. He can’t be blamed for trying to educate his fans, or music fans in general, about the behind-the-scenes activism artists are engaged in to protect their rights, ensure fair payment for performers and songwriters, and hoping that any up-and-coming artists have the opportunity to earn a living doing what they love.

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