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They Write The Songs

Representing a coalition of recording artists who are upset over changes in music ownership rights, singer Sheryl Crow testified on Thursday in front of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property. The changes could cost them millions of dollars, reports CBS News Reporter Teri Okita.

There was little harmonizing on Capitol Hill as Crow spoke out against an amendment to copyright laws made last year without hearing or testimony. The artists say the amended law would ultimately prevent them from reclaiming copyrights of their work after an imposed 35-year period. Instead, the material would be considered the property of their record company.

Crow spoke against the change initiated by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) that designated all sound recordings as "works for hire."

Under the law, a work for hire is considered the property of the employer – that is, the record company -- and not the artist, preventing artists from reclaiming their copyrights.

Crow and other artists such as Billy Joel, Jimmy Buffett and Don Henley strongly feel they are entitled to recapture the ownership of their copyrights.

"To legislate that the record label should be recognized and credited as the author of the sound recording undermines the framers' intent of the Constitution," said Crow. "I am the author and creator of my work… ... We give the labels our work to exploit for 35 years. Like all authors, we should be to reclaim our work as Congress intended."

But recording industry executives chimed in too, saying the amendment simply clarifies a law that has been on the books for almost 25 years. And they claim record companies play an important role in the making of music.

"It's marketing. It's promotion. It's creating a demand. Find the fans, sell the music," said Hilary Rosen of the Recording Industry Association of America.

The change in law could adversely affect older performers the most, as Ronnie Spector, lead singer of the Ronettes, attested. "For instance, my record Be My Baby was in Dirty Dancing and it sold more than 10 million copies. I didn't get one red dime."

Unlike movies, which have long been considered works for hire, albums have been treated more ambiguously by the courts, with artists generally becoming eligible to reclaim copyrights to performances 35 years after recordings were made.

The House subcommittee will consider all the testimony, but have no timeline for taking any action.

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