So ya know how songwriting was already becoming increasingly harder to monetize in the age of streaming….and how music has been consistently devalued for the past 20 years or so…and remember how WWII-era laws are crippling our ability to negotiate fair royalties in the marketplace….well it gets worse.
I’m not going to go into a full breakdown because this Billboard article already has, but here’s the jist:
The DOJ’s original consent decree in 1941, which was meant to protect Mom & Pop operations playing music in their stores, restaurants, etc.. from the powerful Publishing industry, is now bascially serving the large streaming companies because songwriters and publishers can not choose to opt-out of these services, or negotiate a fair market rate. This decree limits the way in which the 2 largest PRO’s (performing rights organizations), ASCAP and BMI, operate. Artists and Labels are able to collectively negotiate a fair rate, and also remove their music from whichever service they so choose, because this decree does not affect them. Taylor Swift famously pulled her music from Spotify, but she was able to do this because she was the Artist on the album(s), not because of her rights as a writer.
Well, ASCAP and BMI said to the DOJ (paraphrasing a bit here), “hey, it’s been a little while since that consent decree, and technological advancements have completely changed the industry, and computers also fit in spaces smaller than a warehouse now, so maybe we could talk about updating nearly 80 year old laws?” So the DOJ said, “yeah, sure, let’s look it over” as they wheel out an ancient tome and blow the dust off of it in a dimly lit basement (that’s how I imagine it anyways). Then somehow, after reviewing the consent decree, looking at countless petitions from songwriters, publishers, and PRO’s, they decided that the decree was actually not strict enough. While their decision is not binding yet, they decided that now, the PRO’s should be bound by 100% licensing. To make this simple, and to make the completely confounding logic apparent, let’s use this example:
Say you and a friend own a business that builds and sells homes, and let’s just say you both own 50% of the company. Already, since 1941, the DOJ has told you what price you can sell those homes, and that you in fact can not control who those homes are sold to. This new ruling from the DOJ now says that hey, also, if someone wants to buy a home, they can just pay one of you for the home, whoever they see first, at the price we say, and then you figure out the money from there between you, oh, and at the same time, your business partner may have moved away, and you don’t know how to get a hold of them. Still that doesn’t even describe how difficult it would be to make 100% licensing work, because in that scenario, you only have two people, not multiple writers, and publishers with sometimes complex splits in ownership between multiple organizations.
The really crazy thing to me though is that this only affects 2 PRO’s, and not SESAC or GMR. So if this ruling becomes binding, it could extremely hurt ASCAP & BMI’s ability to operate and stay profitable, thereby driving people to other PRO’s.
Does this mean I’m going to give up my career in songwriting, and follow my other dream of owning an Emu ranch? Well not just yet, but there is no emoji to properly convey the perplexing and frustrating battle for control over our own intellectual property and how it’s used.
Fun unrelated fact for the day: the Ozark Mountains are not mountains, but actually eroded plateaus. Who knew?