Songwriters Just Got Screwed: Here’s How
Here a music industry lawyer lays out exactly what went down with the recent consent decree review, and how the decision put forth by the Department of Justice is bad news for writers and publishers alike.
Guest Post by Erin M. Jacobson on The Music Industry Lawyer
The Department of Justice has recently come to a decision regarding the review of the 1941 consent decrees that regulate the license fees and operations of ASCAP and BMI. Because ASCAP and BMI are non-profit organizations, they are subject to government-regulated consent decrees, meaning the government regulates ASCAP and BMI’s license fees and regulates how they operate in order to prevent monopolization and encourage competition. When ASCAP and BMI cannot settle on a equivalent fees, the dispute is taken to a rate court where the fee is settled. There have been massive lobbying efforts on the part of the music industry to reform these consent decrees and update them to the needs of writers and publishers in the Internet age.
A review of these decrees opened in 2014 in order to modernize the decrees so that they were more applicable to the ever-changing and evolving music industry – an industry where music is vastly consumed through Internet and streaming services. The goal of the modernization was to bring royalty rates up to fair market value and for the ability of music publishers to remove digital licensing from blanket licensing in order to earn more money from online music and digital streams. Much to the music community’s dismay, no changes were made to the consent decrees and the DOJ has also declared the implementation of full work licensing, also known as 100% licensing, which will end the current practice of fractional licensing that has occurred in the industry for decades.
Under the practice of 100% licensing, any person with a percentage of ownership of the work has the right to license 100% of the work, not just the percent owned. Even a 1% owner of a composition can now license 100% of the work without consent from the other co-owners, and is responsible to account to the other co-owners for their share of the payment. This creates problems because it enables music users to shop for the lowest price between owners and will make it harder for music owners to get paid due to frequent lack of communication between co-owners. It also disrupts the effective system of fractional licensing, a system that has helped insure that owners receive equal income shares and rights.
The other aspect of the DOJ’s decision removes the option for music publishers and composition owners to do direct deals with digital and other service providers, while still allowing PROs to collect other aspects of performance income. Now, music publishers have to choose to be “all-in” or “all-out” with the PROs, allowing PROs to collect all performance royalties on their behalf or none. This will wreak havoc by further complicating the licenses needed by music users, complicated the tracking of performances from these users, and disrupting the income flow that would otherwise be collected by the PRO’s.
The DOJ’s decision will cause drastic decreases in the income streams for music creators. It not only affects the PRO’s themselves but also the thousands of music publishers, writers, companies, and foreign performance societies that hold business with these societies and rely on these rates. Not only does the ruling further cripple the already narrowing income streams for music creators, but it also inhibits the industry from growing and progressing within the digital age, and prevents streaming from becoming a financially viable method of music consumption.
So what can you do? As a music consumer, you can #valuemusic and pay for any music you listen to. If you own an establishment that uses music, make sure you are paying what licenses you can so the music owners and creators are fairly compensated. Everyone can go to standwithsongwriters.org and write to your congressional representative as well as sign up to get updates on this issue and how to stay involved in supporting this much needed reform in valuing music.
I became a music attorney because I am passionate about protecting and advocating for the rights of my clients — the creators and owners of musical works. Contact me to protect your rights.