U.S. Copyright Office opinion equates MIDI files with CDs and audio cassettes
September 1996: The MMA, with assistance from multimedia industry leaders such as Thomas Dolby/Headspace, Microsoft, Apple, Yamaha and Kurzweil announced today at the Interactive Multimedia Association Expo that legal opinions from the U.S. Copyright Office state that MIDI files are subject to mechanical compulsory licenses when not accompanying a motion picture or other audiovisual work.
This groundbreaking and controversial decision will significantly lower publishers per unit licensing fees for MIDI recordings of musical works. At the same time, it will allow for a substantial increase in the number of published MIDI files, increasing publishers overall revenues and bringing MIDI into the mainstream consumer audio market.
"MIDI technology can dramatically improve music education, games and Internet applications," said Tom White, president of the MMA. "But until now, licensing for audio-only MIDI files has been difficult and expensive."
According to Charlotte Douglass, principal legal advisor to the general counsel, United States Copyright Office: "The Office still considers the media upon which aural sequences are recorded (unaccompanied by visual images) to be phonorecords and that such media are subject to a mechanical license or compulsory license under Section 115. The output of Standard MIDI files are works of authorship copyrightable as sound recordings since the information in the file causes the sound device to render the pitch, timbre, speed, duration and volume of the musical notes in a certain order, as does a player piano in conjunction with a piano roll, or a compact disc player in conjunction with a compact disc."
"This opinion clarifies for everyone that MIDI files are no different from other forms of audio," said Brian Ward, special counsel to the MMA. "This has been the critical missing link for growth in consumer interactive audio applications."
While removing barriers to the use of MIDI data in many areas, this opinion still leaves unresolved other creative control issues affected by a compulsory license. "Our intent is to continue our dialogue with publishers and songwriters to help create solutions which will allow everyone to benefit," noted White.
Comprised of over 140 hardware and software companies from various industries, the MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA) is dedicated to improving and standardizing the capabilities and marketability of MIDI-based products. Membership includes leading companies from every application of audio and MIDI technology, including stage and theater, music performance, home and studio recording, multimedia computing, film and broadcast, and others.
The MMA's SMF Copyright and Licensing Committee was formed with the assistance of charter members Roland and Yamaha to communicate the interests of the music products industry and its customers to music publishers, artists, and copyright holders in hopes of developing a strong market for commercial MIDI files.