Is it time to compensate songwriters appropriately for their contribution to music that streams digitally?
The Federal Government is addressing the issue. Earlier this month, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust panel listened to cries for change from Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and additional songwriters, pleading for an updated method for calculating songwriter royalties.
Representatives from ASCAP, BMI and affiliated music publishing companies are targeting an antitrust consent decree that was established in 1941.
The consent decree allows broadcasters, retailers and bar owners to license performance rights for music from multiple songwriters, without company consent. The problem is, just about anyone that applied for a license would receive instant privileges to use songs, while any discrepancy that arose regarding royalties would have to be taken up in court.
According to the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) website, both ASCAP and BMI have already made amendments to the consent decrees prior to the digital boom. The ASCAP Consent Decree was last amended in 2001 and the BMI Consent Decree was last amended in 1994.
Still, all parties involved at the recent Senate hearing seemed to believe that music streaming companies such as Pandora, iTunes, and Spotify have taken over as the leading outlets for music consumption.
ASCAP’s CEO Elizabeth Matthews addressed the matter by telling the Senate that “the use of music has increased exponentially, but the payments have not followed.”
“For a songwriter, this is a terrible trend,” she proclaimed. “If consent decrees are not changed and major music publishers resign from ASCAP and BMI, then the system of collective licensing may collapse and everyone loses.”
The opposition, which includes the National Association of Broadcasters, and several prominent streaming services, fear if ASCAP and BMI are given too much control, they’ll be able to unfairly leverage the payment being dished out to performers and songwriters.
Though the Justice Department is still reviewing the consent decrees to address the disparities, major changes could occur in the near future.