June 25, 2014

Paul Williams to Congress: Modernize the Music Licensing System

Tells House Judiciary Subcommittee collective licensing system is at risk of collapse without swift and meaningful reform

WASHINGTON, DC, JUNE 25, 2014: Award-winning songwriter and ASCAP President and Chairman Paul Williams today urged Congress to protect the rights of songwriters and preserve the value of voluntary collective licensing as it considers ways to reform the nation’s music licensing system. Williams’s comments came in testimony before the US House of Representatives Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet.

This hearing comes at a critical moment for American songwriters, as the US Copyright Office has undertaken a study of the effectiveness of existing methods of licensing music and the U.S. Department of Justice has opened a review of the Consent Decrees that govern the nation’s two leading performance rights organizations (or PROs), ASCAP and BMI.

Williams emphasized the benefits of voluntary collective licensing through PROs for music creators, licensees and listeners, but warned that outdated federal regulations increasingly threaten to undermine the entire system. To prevent that, Williams outlined three specific updates to the 73 year-old Consent Decree, which ASCAP is asking the DOJ to consider:

  • Allowing ASCAP to accept a partial grant of rights from its members, meaning ASCAP is able to license certain uses while the rightsholders handle others directly. Allowing greater flexibility is necessary to hold the system together.
  • Replacing rate court with a faster, less expensive dispute resolution process.
  • Permitting ASCAP to offer all the rights in a music composition a licensee needs to operate their business – something that ASCAP’s competitors are free to do.

Without meaningful regulatory reform, Williams expressed serious concerns about the future of American songwriters and the music industry as a whole.

“We are here today because technology is changing the world in wonderful ways. We are moving into a world where people no longer own the music they love, they stream it whenever and wherever they want,” Williams said. “At the same time, the federal regulations that govern how music is licensed – and thus, how songwriters, like me, are compensated for our work – don’t reflect the way people listen to music today. Indeed, they are stuck in the distant past. And it’s threatening the very future of American music.”

Williams added, "We need a music licensing system that works the way we will be, not – to paraphrase a great songwriter and friend – the way we were."

Today’s hearing was the second hearing held this month by the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet to address music licensing reform. The panel of witnesses also featured representatives from across the music industry, including Recording Industry Association of America, SoundExchange, the American Association of Independent Music, the National Association of Broadcasters, SiriusXM and Pandora.

Click below to read Paul Williams’s oral remarks and full written statement.

The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) is a professional membership organization of songwriters, composers and music publishers of every kind of music. ASCAP's mission is to license and promote the music of its members and foreign affiliates, obtain fair compensation for the public performance of their works and to distribute the royalties that it collects based upon those performances. ASCAP members write the world's best-loved music and ASCAP has pioneered the efficient licensing of that music to hundreds of thousands of enterprises who use it to add value to their business - from bars, restaurants and retail, to radio, TV and cable, to Internet, mobile services and more. The ASCAP license offers an efficient solution for businesses to legally perform ASCAP music while respecting the right of songwriters and composers to be paid fairly. With 700,000 members representing more than 11.5 million copyrighted works, ASCAP is the worldwide leader in performance royalties, service and advocacy for songwriters and composers, and the only American performing rights organization (PRO) owned and governed by its writer and publisher members. www.ascap.com