FMC is pleased to submit the following comments to the Department of Justice (DOJ) Antitrust Division regarding the agency’s review of the Antitrust Consent Decrees for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI).
Moreover, FMC appreciates the opportunity to address the persistent issues songwriters and independent music publishers face under the Consent Decrees, particularly a lack of transparency and failure to balance interests in the licensing of musical works for public performance, as well as barriers of entry for independent songwriters, publishers, and music platforms.
FMC commends the DOJ for reviewing the Consent Decrees and also commends the agency’s commitment to maintaining healthy competition within the licensing of musical works for public performance. Despite some differences with ASCAP, BMI, and the major consolidated music publishers, we are encouraged that many in this space have expressed their desire to nurture songwriters and expand transparency. We see the DOJ’s review of the Antitrust Consent Decrees as an important opportunity to highlight issues with consolidation of the music industry, the need for fair compensation and stronger protections for songwriters, as well as the importance of ASCAP and BMI to a functional music industry that serves the needs of creators.
FMC’s comments will address the specific questions raised by the DOJ in soliciting public comment for the review.
General Comments for the Review of the ASCAP and BMI Antitrust Consent Decrees
Do the Consent Decrees continue to serve important competitive purposes today? Why or why not? Are there provisions that are no longer necessary to protect competition? Are there provisions that are ineffective in protecting competition?read more
It used to be that big companies were able to define the parameters for debate about music industry issues, and make all the big decisions. What was good for corporate media and big money, we were told, was good for the artists, and for the music industry as a whole.
The desire to tell a more complete and accurate story centered on the needs and experiences of musicians was a big part of why Future of Music Coalition got started 14 years ago. By now, more people understand that the agendas of a handful of giant music companies may sometimes align with artists, but not always. In fact, these companies are very capable of misdirection when it benefits their bottom line. And tech companies don’t have a lot of experience working directly with artists, in part because the existing structures so often compel big-money negotiations with the major rightsholders. Today, we’re thrilled to see more and more artists speaking openly about the issues that impact their livelihoods. Independent labels are getting bolder too, in demanding fair treatment and respect for their different way of doing business.
The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet held its second hearing on music licensing on June 25, welcoming input from a variety of interest groups and organizations as a continuation of the ongoing reexamination of our country’s copyright system. You can find our coverage of the prior hearing here.
Nine witnesses testified before the committee, offering opinions that varied in focus but all highlighted major areas of potential reform. Witnesses for this hearing included singer/songwriter Rosanne Cash representing the Americana Music Association, Cary Sherman (CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, or RIAA), Charles Warfield on behalf of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), Darius Van Arman on behalf of the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM), Ed Christian of the Radio Music License Committee (RMLC), Paul Williams as President of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Chris Harrison of Pandora, President of SoundExchangeMichael Huppe, and David Frear, CFO of Sirius XM.
You may have heard that the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating potential anticompetitive behavior by major music publishers and Performing Rights Organizations (PROs), which collect and distribute royalties to songwriters and publishers for the performance of musical compositions. These “blanket licenses” are made possible by DOJconsent decrees and cover all forms of broadcast as well as concert venues or other establishments that publicly perform music (think bars or restaurants).
Make no mistake, PROs are crucially important to songwriters. They provide leverage to artists who wouldn’t otherwise have it in rate negotiations with music services; they pay their songwriter members directly under fair splits (50-50 between artist and publisher); and they allow music to be efficiently licensed to AM/FM, Internet and satellite radio, which means listeners have more opportunities to hear music, and songwriters have more opportunities to get paid.
There’s been a lot of back-and-forth regarding a recent court ruling that maintains the current royalty rates paid by Internet radio company Pandora to ASCAP, a 100 year-old performing rights organization (PRO) that collects money for AM/FM and Internet radio play then distributes that revenue to songwriters and publishers.
In the coming days, we hope to offer varying viewpoints from individuals and groups in this ecosystem. For now, we’ll try to demystify this decision and the licensing frameworks that informed it.
This week Pandora negotiated directly with Universal Music Publishing Group, one of the largest music publishers, to acquire continued use of UMPG recordings in its streaming stations. BMI recently won a court judgment against Pandora, which allowed its client publishing companies (like UMPG) to escape the government-set “consent decree,” which provides a blanket usage license to listening outlets like Pandora. Pandora normally sticks with government-set rates, but was nudged onto the direct-negotiating path by that surprising court decision. Read more.
The Internet Radio Rate Wars continued this week, as performing rights organziation (PRO) ASCAP squared off against Internet radio giant Pandora in a federal court. The outcome could determine how royalty rates are set for PROs, webcasters, songwriters and publishers well into the future.
To the casual observer, musicians probably seem like a disorganized bunch. Unlike doctors or lawyers, there are no qualifying exams or prerequisites that certify a musician’s level of “professionalism.” On a group level, there is no central organization that represents their collective interests.
But that’s not the case. In addition to record labels, booking agents, managers and other teammates, musicians and songwriters can align with a vast array of music-related organizations that serve a number of purposes, everything from performance rights organizations like ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and SoundExchange, to unions like AFM and SAG-AFTRA, to genre- or role-based organizations like Folk Alliance, Chamber Music America, or the Songwriters Guild.
As musicians and advocates, we at FMC know that these organizations serve an important purpose, and we have a sense that membership makes a difference. But in what ways? Do musicians that belong to certain organizations participate in more revenue streams? Do they make more money because of these allegiances? Or is the inverse true; do particular types of work make it possible and/or necessary for musicians to join certain organizations?