In the debate over illegal downloading of music, Rep. Howard Berman finds it incredible how that act is viewed by many people. Whereas the taking of a tangible good is seen as theft, in the context of a creative work it is simply ignored and diminished, said Berman, chairman of the subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property, during a panel discussion at the ASCAP Expo in Hollywood on April 21. “Acts they would never contemplate doing they are more readily willing to do [with music],” Berman told the audience of nearly 150 people. The panel featuring Berman – whose district includes a portion of the San Fernando Valley – and three experts on legislative issues of importance to songwriters, publishers and musicians went a half-hour beyond its scheduled end time and easily could have gone another hour. When moderator Marilyn Bergman, ASCAP president and chairman (and award-winning lyricist) ended the program, a half dozen people remained lined up behind the microphone to ask questions. The message Berman and the other panelists gave to the audience was that to better protect their work, songwriters need to have their voices heard by federal lawmakers while at the same time educating the public that illegal downloading of music hurts their ability to make a living. Only with the advent of the digital age and music sharing via the Internet has there ever needed to be a public discussion about copyright violation, explained ASCAP Board member (and songwriter) Dean Kay. Previously, music had always been “locked” onto an album or compact disc. Once music was set free, there little understanding of what a copyright is, other than a person seeing the letter “c” with a circle around it, Kay said. “It’s an educational matter that is going to take a while,” Kay said. Contributing, or non-direct, infringers of protected work also need to take a stand against violating that protection, Berman added. “If a YouTube has a technology to filter out copyrighted work…it seems to me they have a responsibility to employ that,” Berman said. Berman has served in Congress since 1983 and became chairman of the sub-committee after Democrats took control of both houses of Congress in the November elections. Copyright protection has existed in the U.S. for over 200 years, starting with laws against unauthorized replication of books, maps and charts. Not until the late 19th century did Congress add protections on the public performance of music. The Copyright Act was amended in 1909 and again in 1976. “The only way you are able to make a living from your creativity is through the good graces of Congress,” said ASCAP General Counsel Fred Koenigsberg. Lawmakers continue to address changes in how copyrighted material is presented as delivery of music expands beyond terrestrial radio to include satellite and Internet distribution. Berman co-sponsored a bill last year to reform a section of the Copyright Act to create a licensing system to make it easier of online services to sell music, but it faltered. A more interesting recent development to some in the audience was a decision by the Copyright Royalty Board to increase royalties to $0.011 of a cent each time a song is played on Internet radio stations. The rate goes up to $0.019 in 2010. Marina Garza, a composer and webcast host on Pandora.com, told Berman outright that she didn’t want to lose her job because of the increased rates. The three-member royalty board replaced the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel starting in 2005. The webcasters got what they wanted in the formation of the royalty board and his judgment of the royalty rate amount shouldn’t substitute for the decision of a board with “an incredible amount of data in front of them,” Berman said. “They [the webcasters] thought they could get a better rate through the board than through negotiations,” Berman added.