March 07, 2014

Growing Consensus in Washington on Need for Modernizing Music Licensing

On February 25th, ASCAP’s advocacy efforts took center stage amidst a flurry of activity (and snow) in the nation's capital. Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) introduced H.R. 4079, the Songwriter Equity Act, to more fairly compensate songwriters and composers; the ribbon was cut at the Library of Congress exhibit celebrating ASCAP’s 100th birthday as a performing rights organization; and a Copyright Matters panel discussion, hosted by US Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante, featured ASCAP President Paul Williams and ASCAP Board Vice-Chair Jimmy Webb sharing their insight on music creation and copyright protection. As the day ended, it was clear to many who attended these events that we have arrived at a pivotal point in the digital era in which the rights of songwriters and composers must be strengthened if music is continue to thrive in the future.

In the wake of all that activity, however, we wanted to highlight several prominent voices that spoke out about the need to modernize music licensing. For an issue so important to the livelihood of songwriters and their families, it’s encouraging to see so many prominent voices calling for reform.

In introducing H.R. 4079, the Songwriter Equity Act (SEA), Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), commented:

“Fostering the development of intellectual property has been an important part of the Constitution for more than 200 years. Now, we have to make sure we’re doing it on 21st century terms. Songwriters, in one way or another, touch the lives of every American. Today, there are more than 45,000 songwriters in Georgia that deserve honest pay for their honest, original work. For their sake and for the generations of these talented innovators to come, we have to update our laws to encourage creativity and ensure fairness in the marketplace.”

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), an original co-sponsor of the Songwriter Equity Act, stated:

"The Songwriter Equity Act endeavors to modernize the music licensing system by updating provisions in the Copyright Act of 1976 to ensure songwriters are fairly compensated for their creative work. In New York, there are nearly 80,000 songwriters, composers and publishers who deserve to make a good living.

As the caretaker of intellectual property law, it is important for Congress to make statutory adjustments when necessary to promote creativity in America. That is what this bill seeks to accomplish. I applaud Rep. Doug Collins for his diligent work on this important legislation, and look forward to our continued partnership on behalf of the creative community throughout the country."

During her remarks at the discussion, “ASCAP on the occasion of its 100th birthday,” US Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante shared a brief history of copyright and demonstrated tension inherit in a system designed for a world of vinyl, not streams and downloads.

Her presentation ended with a glimpse into areas her office is studying and plans to report on shortly, including:

  • Whether the consent decrees governing the licensing practices of ASCAP and BMI are continuing to function as intended in the era of digital music;
  • Whether – and, if so how – the government might encourage the adoption of universal standards and/or practices with respect to the identification of musical works and sound recordings to facilitate the music licensing process;
  • Whether the existing rates-setting standards are efficient and yield fair results;
  • And in the reproduction and distribution context, whether the Section 115 statutory license is effective and whether the music marketplace might benefit if it were updated to permit licensing of musical works on a blanket basis by one or more collective licensing entities.

Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) also spoke out at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Library of Congress’s “ASCAP: 100 Years and Beyond” exhibit.

As Co-Chair of the Congressional Songwriter's Caucus, Deutch spoke about the need for action:

“The consent decrees governing ASCAP and BMI are among the clearest examples of systems in need of review. It is simply impossible it imagine that settlements between the Department of Justice and ASCAP and BMI crafted 70 years ago are still relevant in our time. Everyone can see the tangible ways that new technology and the Internet has fundamentally changed the way we all listen to and discover music, but holding on to restrictions that may have been appropriate in an earlier time is as inappropriate as equating a tweet to a telegram.

Technology has given a new generation of songwriters and musicians new pathways to finding audiences, and it has given fans like myself unbelievable options for listening to our favorite songs in ways that fit our lifestyles. So it seems well past time for our regulatory framework to recognize the world of new opportunities we now have.”

Blackburn, who was the founder of the Congressional Songwriters Caucus, said:

“My background as former head of Film, Entertainment, and Music in Tennessee as well as my time as a State Senator and now Congressman who represents Middle Tennessee, has given me the opportunity to work closely with a lot of innovators and creators in the music industry. I have been able to see firsthand just how important ASCAP is as they represent over 500,000 US composers, songwriters, lyricists and music publishers. ASCAP is vital to our creative community since they serve as the collector of royalties so that songwriters can focus on doing what they do best - which is to be creative and write new lyrics that will inspire others to do the same

Unfortunately, the way we compensate our songwriters hasn’t adapted and changed with the times. We are not operating in a true free market in which songwriters are properly compensated. The reason for this is because songwriters are still governed by outdated settlements between the Justice Department and ASCAP and BMI.”

The actions, comments and show of support for ASCAP from our leaders in DC was encouraging. From the perspective of a songwriter, ASCAP President Paul Williams summed it up best in his remarks about the introduction of the Songwriter Equity Act:

“By updating the outdated provisions of the Copyright Act in Sections 114(i) and 115 [which H.R. 4079 would achieve], Congress has an opportunity to modernize the music licensing system so that songwriters and composers can thrive alongside the businesses that use our music. On behalf of all of ASCAP’s music creators, I want to thank the Members of Congress for their leadership and pledge our support for the Songwriter Equity Act, an important piece of legislation that will help music continue to touch the lives of people across the country and around the world.”

Click here for more info about the Songwriter Equity Act and how you can get involved in ASCAP's advocacy efforts.