Songwriters Deserve Better Than This, Says NMPA’S David Isrealite

image from www.musicrow.comA U.S. Department Of Justice decision to require 100% licencing of music has sent shock waves through the publishing and songwriting sectors. In this op-ed, David Israelite, the President and CEO of the National Music Publishers' Association (NMPA), argues the musicians deserve better.


By David Israelite, the President and CEO of the National Music Publishers' Association

The Department of Justice (DoJ) has dealt a massive blow to America's songwriters. After a two year review of the consent decrees that govern ASCAP and BMI, career lawyers who were never elected nor confirmed to their positions, led by a lawyer who previously represented Google, determined that songwriters should have even fewer rights, less control over their intellectual property and be treated more unfairly than they already are. The Department ignored the voices of copyright experts, members of Congress and thousands of songwriters and delivered a huge gift to tech companies who already benefit from egregiously low rates.

image from www.tunecore.comWhen the DoJ began its review of the consent decrees, songwriters and publishers hoped for modifications and relief in the face of dramatic market changes to performance rights licensing which made it clear that fair royalty rates were not being paid. At best, we had hoped that the WWII-era decrees would be done away with to permit songwriters the same freedom to license works as other property owners enjoy. At worst, the decrees would be updated to reflect the current digital marketplace and give songwriters and publishers more flexibility to negotiate market-driven rates with global digital services. After all, the consent decrees were put in place before the transistor radio was invented. They were never meant to, nor could they envision, existing in a world of iPhones, streaming and instant access to practically all music.

Unfortunately, the DoJ went the opposite direction and chose the outcome most harmful to songwriters and the creative community.

Regardless of how one feels about the profession of songwriting and the innate right a creator has to control their creation, any legal body should be deferential to the office created to examine and advise on copyright law. That body, the U.S. Copyright Office, was asked to weigh in on the DoJ's proposed changes, and said that, "an interpretation of the consent decrees that would require these PROs to engage in 100-percent licensing presents a host of legal and policy concerns. Such an approach would seemingly vitiate important principles of copyright law, interfere with creative collaborations among songwriters, negate private contracts, and impermissibly expand the reach of the consent decrees." The defiance displayed by these career antitrust lawyers in ignoring the legal opinion of the Register of Copyright is shocking.

In addition to disregarding the Copyright Office, the manner in which the decision was made and delivered was insulting to those most invested in the futures of songwriters. Members of Congress who had expressed interest in knowing the outcome of the review were apparently caught off guard and not given the chance to appeal to the Department. They were simply alerted that a determination had been made and given no recourse to reason with the DoJ.

Congressman Doug Collins of Georgia's office said that the DoJ "sent an email to Congressional staff assuring that the review was not complete and that parties and stakeholders would have a chance to provide their views before the review was completed. However, reports from the meeting and DoJ's own positioning appear to indicate that DoJ has already determined what direction they will take." Additionally, Congressman Collins stated that the "Department of Justice's position is arrogance at its worst."

This move also threatens transparency because while songwriters may have chosen to join one PRO, now their payments may be coming from another. And if each PRO can license an entire song, even if it only controls a small portion of it, then licensees may have the ability to license where rates are lowest in a royalty race-to-the-bottom.

As we've come to know all too well, Washington bureaucrats should not be in the business of regulating music as they are neither capable of understanding or fixing the problems they've created. We are hopeful that through our upcoming conversations, our allies in Congress who support the creative community, and ultimately the voices of those most affected, the creators themselves, we can find a path forward. Until then, there will be no justice for America's songwriters.

David Israelite is the President and CEO of the National Music Publishers' Association (NMPA). Founded in 1917, NMPA is the trade association representing all American music publishers and their songwriting partners.

Share on:


  1. “The rate for commercial subscription services in 2016 is $0.0022 per-performance. The rate for commercial nonsubscription services in 2016 is $0.0017 per-performance.”
    Is this the correct rate for songwriters/publishers per stream? Because a number of songwriters are publishing their PRO statements and the disparity between their statements and this rate is alarming. This published rate is 20% of the current indie rate for streaming on Spotify, which works out to approximately 1¢ per stream. If these songwriters are getting only a very small fraction of this published rate then it’s obvious why they are having a problem with this but Spotify says that it’s paying 85% of their revenue in music royalties so you can continue to demonize the government and streaming services but that percentage of revenue is not sustainable in the long term, no matter how many laws are passed.
    I can’t see how you are really going to change this situation unless you lead with the facts. This whole process of demonizing the DOJ or YouTube or Spotify does not seem to be in accord with reality, when the reality is that songwriters who should be getting $300,000 for 178 million streams are in reality receiving $5000. That’s absurd, and hopefully untrue.

  2. Scott Wilson, this is very true and a very obvious fact that the publishers and music industry steadily complaining is not taking into account. Mainly because 100% licensing is breaking down the control barriers of the industry and giving way to emerging technologies that support a sustainable and novel licensing infrastructure more conducive to the digital world. What the tech world does not fully understand is that in order to get the industry to adopt the emerging technologies in the industry to harmonize and create tools for the existing players in the space to do their job better and compete on a leveled playing field.

Comments are closed.