Songwriters Need Bold Reform in 2015
Last year, one of The Recording Academy’s key legislative priorities was the “Songwriter Equity Act” (SEA). When Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) introduced the new legislation on February 24, 2014, standing right by his side was Daryl P. Friedman, the Academy’s Chief Advocacy & Industry Relations Officer. On April 2, at the annual GRAMMYs on the Hill Awards, Rep. Collins was invited to take the stage with veteran songwriters Gary Burr and Victoria Shaw to debut “Fair,” a song written especially for the event to illustrate the principle of ensuring fairness for songwriters. And the very next day, when nearly 200 members of The Recording Academy descended on Capitol Hill, support for SEA was their primary lobbying message. The day even closed with an inspiring keynote address from lead SEA co-sponsor Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). A few weeks later, when Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) traveled to the famed Bluebird Cafe in Nashville on May 12 to announce the introduction of the Songwriter Equity Act in the Senate, I had the privilege of participating. And our support for SEA was featured in our blog and in comments filed with the U.S. Copyright Office.
But 2015 is not 2014.
The legislative landscape for songwriters today is entirely different from what it was a year ago. In June of last year, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it was opening a review of the consent decrees that govern ASCAP and BMI. These decrees, which date back to 1941 and have failed to keep pace with changes in technology and the music marketplace, put severe restrictions on how those PROs operate, and hinder them from securing fair market pay for songwriters. The Recording Academy submitted comments to the DOJ in August with several recommendations on how the consent decrees should be changed to help songwriters get fair value for their work and preserve the important role of the PROs. These recommendations included 1) providing an arbitration process that would streamline the licensing process and produce fairer rates; 2) allowing PROs to bundle mechanical and synchronization rights along with performance rights to increase licensing efficiencies and level the playing field for large and small publishers; and 3) permitting publishers to partially withdraw their catalogs from the PROs for certain licensing rights, thereby eliminating the incentive for publishers to withdraw from the PROs completely, which would be devastating to small and independent publishers.
Our comments were consistent with many of the recommendations of the PROs themselves. And last month when the U.S. Copyright Office released its comprehensive study on how to reform music licensing, we were pleased to see its proposal included many of our recommendations. The report even included newer, bolder proposals to benefit songwriters worthy of consideration, such as moving the rate-setting process for performance royalties out of the New York federal courts that currently set the rates to the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB), which already sets rates for other forms of music licensing.
In 2015, songwriters need more than the two discreet fixes that were contained in the SEA (eliminating the restriction that prevents rate courts from considering all relevant evidence when setting rates for performance royalties, and using a fairer standard for mechanical licensing that reflects fair market value). With DOJ’s review nearing completion and the House Judiciary Committee’s review of copyright law soon moving past the hearing stage, there may be a larger role for Congress to play. We have an opportunity – and an obligation – to do all we can for songwriters.
We applaud Reps. Collins and Jeffries and Senators Hatch and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) for their commitment to helping songwriters achieve fair pay, and we continue to support SEA as an important first step in shining a light on songwriters and how they make a living. We hope these lawmakers and others will continue to work with us as we look ahead toward a complete solution for The Academy’s songwriter members and for the entire songwriting community.