Rick Carnes, president of the Songwriters Guild of America, expresses his organization's serious concerns with much of the Music Modernization Act of 2017, which seeks to reform music licensing, although not in ways which the SGA believes will benefit songwriters.
Guest post by Rick Carnes, president of Songwriters Guild of America via Artist Rights Watch
Dear Representative Collins:
I write as president of The Songwriters Guild of America, Inc., the nation’s longest established music creator organization run solely by and for music creators, representing thousands of professional music creators and their heirs.
Thank you for forwarding a copy of the draft Music Modernization Act of 2017 yesterday for our review prior to its introduction, which was much appreciated. We continue to believe that reform of the music licensing process is and must continue to be an exceptionally high legislative priority – second only to the need to raise music royalty rates to equitable levels that will sustain our community. We applaud your sincere efforts and the efforts of the many members of Congress who have been hard at work trying to fashion solutions to these challenges over the past several years, and hope to continue working closely with them until those worthy and important aims are met.
While it was impossible for us to fully digest and analyze the more than one-hundred-page draft legislation in the short amount of time provided, we wanted in fairness to point out to your office that while there are many good points about the draft, including the section 114 performance rights-related reforms, our initial review indicates that there are a number of very serious problems that will need to be addressed before SGA and thousands of its music creator colleagues can support the bill.
Just by way of example, enactment of the proposed bill as currently constituted would –to the best of our knowledge—represent either one of the first times or the very first time in history that any Government has acted to sanction the creation of a music copyright licensing and royalty collective over which creators themselves would not share at least equally in governance. That is a concept that we cannot support.
There are many other problems too numerous to detail in this short letter, but they include serious fairness, transparency and practical issues related to the proposed processes of setting up the licensing collective, the distributing of unidentified monies on a market share basis and the need to better protect music creator economic rights in that context, the vague nature of any optout mechanisms, the granting of relief from statutory damages liability to prior willful infringers, the scope of the musical composition database (including songwriter/composer information), the provisions concerning shortfall and other funding aspects of the collective, the absence of direct distribution of royalties by the collective to songwriters and composers, the vague nature of the audit activities to be optionally conducted by the collective, and the complications in that and other regards raised by obvious conflicts of interest issues.
We appreciate that the introduction of a bill is simply a first step, and SGA and its music creator community colleagues look forward to the opportunity to further, carefully review the bill and comment (which we intend to do in consultation with the representatives of the 500,000 American and international songwriters and composers represented by our formal national and global music creator alliances), with far more specificity in the coming weeks. As always, we intend to engage in this process on a constructive basis, with an eye towards working cooperatively with your office on improving the legislation to the point that we will be able to give it our full support.