How Copyright Law May Affect Pop Music Without Our Knowing it

UMKC Law Review, Vol. 83, pp. 363-401, 2014

39 Pages Posted: 1 Oct 2014 Last revised: 8 May 2023

See all articles by Peter K. Yu

Peter K. Yu

Texas A&M University School of Law

Date Written: September 30, 2014


Commissioned for a symposium on copyright law and the creation of music, this article explores five questions about popular music that can be illuminated by greater insights into copyright law and the music business: Why do popular songs usually last for less than five minutes? Why are professional songwriters dissatisfied with Pandora and Spotify? Why can we bring European CDs back to the United States? Why can't YouTube videos be created with blanket licenses offered by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and Broadcast Music, Inc.? Are digital downloads sales or licenses? And as a bonus, this article includes a rather obscure yet illuminating sixth question: Why does the royalty rate for sheet music stay at seven cents per copy?

It is my hope that answering these questions will enable us to develop a deeper understanding of copyright law and how it can affect both the music business and popular music. The copyright debate has been repeatedly and frequently framed as one between different stakeholders. In the area of popular music, these stakeholders include record labels, music publishers, professional songwriters, recording artists, individual users, retail stores, online service providers and other third-party intermediaries. Because the laws we include in Title 17 of the United States Code will affect these stakeholders--both directly and indirectly--they will ultimately affect our music. Thus, the more we understand the copyright law's impact on the music business--and, by extension, our culture--the more we will notice the high cultural stakes involved in striking the proper balance in the copyright system.

Suggested Citation

Yu, Peter K., How Copyright Law May Affect Pop Music Without Our Knowing it (September 30, 2014). UMKC Law Review, Vol. 83, pp. 363-401, 2014, Available at SSRN:

Peter K. Yu (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University School of Law ( email )

1515 Commerce St.
Fort Worth, TX Tarrant County 76102
United States


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