Is Congress Pushing Obamacare for the Music Industry?


This week, the Foundation for Economic Education’s Jeffrey Tucker offered an interesting theory on what’s driving the ongoing stock market boom: political gridlock.

Tucker makes an important point. While it’s true that passing tax cuts or replacing Obamacare would benefit our economy, gridlock offers its own economic benefits as well. All too often when Congress is “getting along,” it spells trouble for American taxpayers.

Political gridlock is pro-growth because when Congress has consensus, we see the passage of legislation such as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and Medicare Part D — to name just a few. For this reason, it’s highly possible our current stock market gains are, in part, attributable to Congress’s inability to pass economically destructive legislation.

As the passage of TARP and Medicare Part D show, having a Republican President or Congress is no panacea to stopping the expansion of government. Even in 2017, efforts still persist among our Republican Congress to increase the size and scope of government, as was recently exemplified by the introduction of Representative Jim Sensenbrenner’s (R-Wis.) “Transparency in Music Licensing and Ownership Act.”

In all fairness to Rep. Sensenbrenner, this bill seeks to tackle a very real problem — the growth of the music industry’s streaming economy has resulted in $2.5 billion in unpaid royalties to artists, many of whom are unpaid merely due to a lack of available or accurate information on who holds the copyright.

But as the slippery slope of government regulation goes, identifying a problem in the marketplace rarely necessitates the heavy-handed government action that comes after, and Rep. Sensenbrenner’s bill is no different. The congressman’s legislation calls for the Library of Congress to establish a database to provide a “complete, easy-to-navigate system” to identify the copyright holders for music.

To put it plainly, if Rep. Sensenbrenner thinks the government is capable of building and accurately maintaining a real-time database for hundreds of millions of music copyright holders, I’ll also notify him of the oceanfront property in Wisconsin I have for sale.

Remember the fiasco? The technological sophistication needed to effectively maintain all music copyright info (it is not atypical for a single song to have numerous persons entitled to compensation) is vastly superior to building a website to buy health care… yet the government botched that.

And while one could elaborate on the wasteful nature of funneling massive amounts of tax dollars to build such a database, especially since the private sector is actively working towards a solution to the problem of unpaid royalties, here’s where Sensenbrenner’s bill morphs from mere government waste to the outright absurd. As RedState’s Neil Stevens notes, the bill also contains a provision that:

would threaten every musician out there. Your ability to sue someone for copyright infringement would be limited if the information in that government database was missing or inaccurate for any reason. We would turn an entire industry into one that is one hundred percent dependent upon Big Brother to approve your ability to make a living.

You read that correctly. If, for whatever reason, Sensenbrenner’s Big Government database does not contain accurate copyright information on a song, the artist is denied the ability to sue for lost revenue. 

If government incompetence in maintaining such a massive database is to be presumed, in effect, this bill would tackle the problem of artist’s inability to collect music royalties… by creating a system where many artists will be denied their royalties!

While a private sector solution is needed to address the unpaid royalties in music, this bill is not the answer. Rep. Sensenbrenner, it’s time to face the music: the “Transparency in Music Licensing and Ownership Act” would be a disaster for musicians and taxpayers.

Jonathan Decker

Jonathan Decker is the Chief Economic Correspondent for

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