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Eighteen members of US Congress back music industry’s fight against 100% licensing

By | Published on Thursday 29 September 2016

US Department Of Justice

Eighteen members of US Congress have called of the Department Of Justice to reconsider its decision to force 100% licensing onto American collecting societies BMI and ASCAP.

As previously reported, the DoJ, which oversees the consent decrees that regulate the two performing rights organisations, conducted a thorough review of those regulations after the music publishers requested various changes be made.

But, having done the review, not only did the DoJ decide not to make any changes, it also ruled that – under the current consent decrees – BMI and ASCAP are obliged to operate a 100% licensing system.

That means that where a song is co-owned by an ASCAP member and a BMI member, a licensee can make use of that song with either an ASCAP licence or a BMI licence, whereas previously a licence would be required from both (aka ‘fractional licensing’). The licensee would then pay one society any royalties that are due, and it would be for the PRO to ensure both rights owners got paid their respective share of that money.

The DoJ ruling has been widely criticised by the music industry, and as soon as the government agency’s decision had been confirmed BMI announced it would fight the move in the courts while ASCAP would lobby Congress. BMI then secured a win in court way quicker than everyone anticipated, with judge Louis Stanton immediately ruling that the DoJ had incorrectly interpreted that society’s consent decree.

With the DoJ still having the option to appeal that judgement, plus the status of ASCAP’s consent decree still in limbo, the wider campaign against 100% licensing continues. And to that end eighteen allies of the music industry in Congress signed an open letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who heads up the DoJ.

According to Billboard, in it they write: “We believe a well-functioning music marketplace benefits America’s music-loving public, businesses that use music to connect with their customers and, especially, more than one million songwriters and composers whose creative work is the lifeblood of the entire American music economy”.

Noting that the US Copyright Office opposes the DoJ’s position on 100% licensing, the letter says “the DoJ can no longer maintain that the language of the ASCAP and BMI consent decrees clearly prohibits fractional licensing” and therefore “the DoJ should take prompt action to limit the confusion and chaos [its ruling] creates in the market”.

Among the signatories of the new letter is Doug Collins, who has already been championing the songwriters’ cause by co-proposing the Songwriter Equity Act in Congress, and who quickly declared the DoJ’s ruling on the consent decrees “very frustrating” back in August.