×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Music Groups Urge D.C. Lawmakers to Revamp Licensing Laws

Characterizing the current system as outdated as the heyday of vinyl records and 8-track tapes, representatives for musicians and music publishers called on Congress to overhaul laws governing how songwriters and others in the industry are compensated when their works are licensed.

The hearing on Tuesday before the House Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet highlighted the patchwork of regulations and compulsory licensing that the industry says has made it more and more difficult for songwriters to earn a living in the digital age.

“An American profession is in a lot of trouble. We are hurting,” said Lee Thomas Miller, songwriter and president of the Nashville Songwriters Assn. International.

Neil Portnow, president and CEO of the Recording Academy, called for a “music omnibus bill” that would cover “fair market pay, for all music creators, across all platforms.”

There are signs of movement on some of the issues.

Last week, the Department of Justice announced that it was reviewing 73-year-old consent decrees that dictate how music rights organizations ASCAP and BMI set rates for licensing songs. The decree was entered into in 1941 after the DOJ filed antitrust cases against the organizations. Michael O’Neill, the CEO of BMI, argued that songwriters and publishers should have the ability to make more of their own private agreements on the free market.

Meanwhile, legislation has been introduced in Congress to address what songwriters say are inequities in the system.

The Songwriter Equity Act, introduced last month, would change the way that the Copyright Royalty Board calculates how much songwriters are paid for song sales, tying it to “fair market” rates. The rate is now 9.1 cents per song sale. That is up from 2 cents — in 1909.

The RESPECT Act would  require digital services like Pandora and SiriusXM to pay artists and labels when they play recordings made before 1972. That is the year when sound recordings were placed under federal copyright.

And some lawmakers again are calling for a change in the law to require that broadcast radio stations pay artists when their songs are played over the air.

Broadcasters and streaming services oppose many provisions of the proposed legislation. Lee Knife, executive director of the Digital Music Assn., warned that a big problem is that the system was too opaque and inefficient. Streaming services “are paying hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties yet we still hear complaints that songwriters are not being compensated appropriately,” he said.

Others argued that the licensing business is still prone to abuse.

“It doesn’t take much of copyright aggregation to be in a monopoly position,” said Will Hoyt, executive director of the TV Music Licensing Committee.

Whether the legislation gets anywhere this year is another question, in a Congress where the best bet seems to be on nothing much getting done.  That may be even more the case with the midterms in the coming months, and after the stunning upset on Tuesday of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to a Tea Party-backed challenger.

Those urging action put it into the context of Congress taking steps to put more of the negotiations over music rights into the free market, and away from government regulation.

At the hearing, there also was a call for some kind of streamlined process for determining just who owns the rights to a song, an often complicated process that has left much music dormant.

“The best way to build transparency is to put us in a free market, because then you would have an incentive, if you want to license your copyright, for it to be known,” said David Israelite, president and CEO of the National Music Publishers Assn.

The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled another hearing on music licensing on June 25.

More Music

  • Dear Evan Hansen

    Broadway Cast Albums Find Fresh Footing With Hip New Sounds, Viral Outreach

    Mixtapes. YouTube videos. Dedicated playlists. Ancillary products. Viral marketing. Epic chart stays. These are things you expect to hear from a record label discussing Cardi B or Beyoncé. Instead, this is the new world of a very old staple, the Broadway original cast recording. Robust stats tell the tale: Atlantic’s “Hamilton” album beat the record [...]

  • Ali Stroker Oklahoma

    Ali Stroker on 'Oklahoma!': 'This Show Doesn’t Follow the Rules and That Is So Who I Am'

    Ali Stroker is no stranger to rewriting history. With her 2015 Broadway debut in “Spring Awakening,” she became the first actor in a wheelchair to perform on the Great White Way. Three years later, she’s back onstage in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” as Ado Annie, the flirtatious local who splits her affections between a resident [...]

  • Hadestown Broadway

    'Hadestown': Inside the Musical's 12-Year Odyssey to Broadway

    “Hadestown’s” 12-year journey to Broadway was an odyssey in its own right.  Singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell’s buzzy musical, a folk-operatic retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus, a musician who ventures to the underworld to rescue his fiancée, Eurydice, was in development for more than a decade before arriving on the New York stage. The show [...]

  • The Prom Broadway

    'The Prom': How the Little Show That Could Found Its Way to the Tonys Dance

    Does a Broadway musical still count as an underdog if it’s got über-producer Ryan Murphy in its corner? It does if it’s “The Prom,” the labor of love from a team of Broadway veterans that’s carving out a place for itself as an original story on a street full of familiar titles and well-known brands. [...]

  • lucian grainge: cannes lions media person

    Vivendi in Talks With Tencent About Universal Music Sale (Report)

    In the 10 months since Vivendi confirmed that it is seeking a buyer for as much as 50% of Universal Music Group, the industry has watched analysts’ proposed valuations of the company balloon from an initial $22 billion to as much as $50 billion. But according to a report in Bloomberg, private equity investors have [...]

  • Watch Karen O & Danger Mouse’s

    Watch Karen O & Danger Mouse’s ‘Encounter With Lux Prima’ Documentary (EXCLUSIVE)

    Karen O & Danger Mouse’s “Lux Prima” is one of the year’s best albums so far — but it’s more than an album. “An Encounter with Lux Prima – The Art of Collaboration,” a short documentary chronicling the 18-month development of their multisensory art installation “An Encounter With Lux Prima” premieres today exclusively on Variety. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content