June 11, 2014
The Future of Music: Multiple Proceedings Underway to Address the Needs of Songwriters, Composers, Publishers and Music Users
Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) is the bridge between songwriters, composers and music publishers and the businesses and organizations that want to play their music publicly. As a global leader in music rights management, BMI serves as an advocate for the value of music, representing more than 8.5 million musical works created and owned by more than 600,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers. Operating on a non-profit-making basis, BMI is the largest music rights organization in the United States and is still nurturing new talent and new music.
Most of the current consent decree between BMI and the United States government, which governs BMI’s relationships with songwriters, composers, publishers and the businesses that use their music, was adopted in the mid-1960s – before the Internet, satellite radio and the growth of cable and other modern content delivery platforms. As a result, the rules have not kept pace with the changes in technology, the media industry and the music business over the past 50 years. BMI seeks to modernize its consent decree to better assure that songwriters, composers and publishers can realize fair market value for their work, to make music licensing more efficient for music users and music creators and owners alike, and to streamline the rate-setting process.
U.S. Department of Justice – BMI Consent Decree Review
The Department of Justice published notices in The Wall Street Journal on June 4-6, 2014, and in BillboardM’s June 14, 2014, issue to solicit comments from the public regarding whether the BMI and ASCAP consent decrees are serving their pro-competitive purposes. The Department of Justice will accept public comments through August 6, 2014.
The Department of Justice has provided further details on the issues it has identified for comment in a notice on its website
The Songwriter Equity Act of 2014 (SEA) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Doug Collins (R-Ga.) on February 25, 2014, and to date has 21 co-sponsors (H.R. 4079). A companion version (S. 2321) was introduced in the Senate by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) on May 12, 2014, and to date has three co-sponsors. The SEA seeks to accomplish two goals:
- Eliminate the language in 17 U.S.C. 114(i), which bars BMI and ASCAP’s rate courts from even taking into consideration rates set for the performance right in sound recording.
- Change the rate standard for mechanical rights from a statutory rate that achieves less-than-market value to a “willing buyer/willing seller” standard.
The U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet has engaged in a comprehensive review of copyright law since late 2012.
The Subcommittee has turned its focus to music licensing, with a hearing that took place on June 10, 2014, and another scheduled for June 25, 2014. BMI’s Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Neill appeared before the Subcommittee on June 10, 2014, and offered testimony proposing changes intended to modernize BMI’s consent decree and allow BMI’s affiliated songwriters, composers and publishers to compete in the current competitive landscape.
U.S. Copyright Office – Music Licensing Study
On May 23, 2014, approximately 85 organizations and individuals, including BMI, filed submissions with the U.S. Copyright Office, in response to the Office’s Notice of Inquiry for its Music Licensing Study. The Notice posed 24 questions designed to “evaluate the effectiveness of existing methods of licensing music,” including questions relating to (a) music licensing – both compulsory licensing and by performing rights organizations; (b) sound recordings; and (c) the current consent decrees governing performing rights organizations, specifically BMI and ASCAP.
Field hearings have been or will be held on the following dates and locations this summer: June 4-5, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn.; June 16-17, 2014, in Los Angeles, Calif.; and June 23-24, 2014, in New York, NY.
The Office has not announced yet if there will be a period for reply comments, or whether it will make any recommendations based on its review of the submissions.
Bob Conrad, Ketchum