ASCAP, gov’t revise rules

First change in 40 years puts limits on court cases

NEW YORK — The American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers and the Dept. of Justice have agreed to changes in the consent decree that governs ASCAP’s operations.

The changes, expected to become final by the end of this year, include a dramatic streamlining of the rate dispute process for licensing, as well as updated rules to deal with such contemporary technologies as cable TV and the Internet.

If implemented, the decree revisions would be the first in 40 years. They would relieve much of the burden on the courts to adjudicate lengthy and expensive cases involving the rates charged to ASCAP customers for using the org’s licensed content.

Specifically, the amended decree would require all rate-related court proceedings to be ready for trial within one year, with the possibility of a one-year extension. Prior proceedings have drawn out over a decade or more, said ASCAP general counsel I. Fred Koenigsberg.

“Times have changed dramatically,” Koenigsberg added. The bottlenecks under the current decree “weren’t good for anybody — ASCAP, its members, the licensees or the public.”

The amendments also extend the jurisdiction of the consent decree to include all artists’ rights groups, including main ASCAP rival BMI, making the two organizations subject to the same rules for licensing and rate disputes.

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