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Congressman behind US Songwriter Equity Act responds to DoJ’s consent decree conclusions

By | Published on Wednesday 10 August 2016

US Department Of Justice

While six members of the US House Of Representatives have already written to the boss of the country’s Department Of Justice supporting the conclusion the government agency reached over the consent decrees that regulate collective licensing Stateside, there are some political types in Washington getting ready to fight for the music industry’s position on this debate: which is along the lines of “the DoJ can just fuck off”.

As previously reported, having been charged with the task of reviewing the consent decrees that regulate American performing rights organisations BMI and ASCAP, the DoJ concluded that no changes needed to be made, but that the current rules obligate the societies to operate a so called 100% licensing system. The music publishers had wanted various amendments to be made to the consent decrees, while also arguing that the current rules definitely do not enforce 100% licensing, and that introducing such a scheme would be a disaster.

BMI plans to fight the DoJ’s conclusions in court, while ASCAP will lobby Congress to step in to overhaul the way collective licensing is regulated. The hope is that any such intervention by the legislature could include a clarification that the collecting societies can continue to operate a fractional licensing system, meaning that for co-owned works written by songwriters allied to different PROs, a licensee needs a licence from each society with a stake in the song before using it.

Earlier this week six members of the House Of Representatives came out in support of the DoJ’s conclusion on the consent decrees, but the music industry has its own supporters in Washington. One of them is Doug Collins, who has already been championing the songwriters’ cause by co-proposing the Songwriter Equity Act in Congress, which would alter the way the rate courts decide what royalties songwriters are due under compulsory and collective licences in the US.

Although he has called the DoJ’s conclusions on consent decree reform, confirmed last week, “very frustrating”, he also notes that the government department added that maybe an overhaul of copyright law was needed to ensure a better music licensing framework Stateside. This was the positive, Collins reckons, “because the DoJ essentially said Congress needs to act [and] I think that gives us some leeway to work on it”.

According to The Tennessean, Collins confirmed he would be talking to groups representing songwriters about this issue, but added that it was currently too soon to decide what approach he and other representatives who support the music community’s case might take, including whether or not to tackle consent decree issues through amendments to the aforementioned Songwriter Equity Act or through totally new legislation.

Says Collins: “I think the Songwriter Equity Act for me is still the standard. I think it provides some good balance for some of the needs we have out there. But I think there are also some other things we can incorporate in, that digital media would be amenable to. In the end I need this to be a solution that does find common ground in this process. If we can do that and work with the different players, that’s our goal”.