We Create Music Blog
November 12, 2012

What the US Election Results Mean for ASCAP Members

By Alec French (Thorsen French Advocacy) and Harriet Melvin (The Capitol Group)


Now that the dust has settled, it's time to take stock of what the election results mean for ASCAP members. Despite billions upon billions spent trying to convince the American people that the 2012 elections represented a choice of momentous proportions, the status quo largely prevailed. President Obama is still President; Republicans still control the House of Representatives, albeit with fewer seats; Democrats still control the Senate, albeit with a few more seats. While at least one congressional Committee important to ASCAP (the House Judiciary Committee) will have a new Chairman, most other Committee Chairs and key congressional Leadership are likely to remain intact.

On the surface, it might appear that government policy won't change much with regard to ASCAP's policy priorities, foremost of which is preventing the further devaluation of music performance rights in the online realm. However, several developments below the surface indicate that the 2012 elections present challenges for ASCAP members.

Unfortunately, ASCAP members lost two of their strongest champions in the US Congress: Representatives Howard Berman (D-CA) and Mary Bono Mack (R-CA). For thirty years, Howard Berman has zealously protected the interests of the music community, which constitutes an important economic and cultural part of his Los Angeles Congressional District. As one of the most senior Members of the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees, Howard Berman fought tirelessly to ensure that music creators could earn a living through creation of their copyrighted musical works. For her part, Rep. Mary Bono Mack, widow of Sonny Bono, a prolific songwriter among other things, was a particularly articulate and knowledgeable advocate for the need to protect copyrights in musical compositions. As a senior Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Mary Bono often spoke on a uniquely personal and authoritative level about the importance of copyright protection.

While discouraging, the loss of these two songwriter champions also underscores the need for ASCAP and its members to continue educating policymakers about the critical role that performance royalties play in enabling us to make the music that America and the world love. Only through sustained education efforts will we find champions to replace those that depart.

While the policy agenda of the new Congress will not come into complete focus for some time, we do know one agenda item of great importance to music creators will be addressed by the House Judiciary Committee in the next Congress - music licensing reform. A push by Pandora and other Internet webcasters to reduce the rates they pay for both sound recordings and musical works has lit a fire under this issue. For the first time in many years, the leadership of the Judiciary Committee has signaled that they will be taking a more in-depth look at music licensing, which is likely to include a review of royalty rates, the Section 115 mechanical license, the lack of a sound recording performance right for over-the-air radio, platform parity, and an examination of copyright protection in the digital world.

The opening salvo in this extended congressional discussion about music licensing is likely to be a late November Judiciary Committee hearing on the Internet Radio Freedom Act (IRFA), introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). Pandora and other online services complain that cable and satellite music services pay lower sound recording performance royalties, and the Pandora-backed IRFA is designed to reduce the royalty rates paid by Pandora and its online brethren. Of course, ASCAP's position is that streaming services pay too LITTLE for music - specifically, musical works, which only garner a fraction of the royalties as those received for sound recordings for each performance. So, on our members' behalf, ASCAP will advocate that Congress examine the entire online music licensing picture, including rates for both musical works and sound recordings.

The need to engage and educate many Members of Congress will be paramount to our success, and we will need your help along the way. Here are two ways to stay in the loop about ASCAP's legislative efforts:

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