After federal antitrust investigations, both groups agreed to government supervision in 1941.
This system has hummed along for decades. But with the rise of Internet radio, publishers have complained that the rules are antiquated and unfair. They point to the disparity in the way Pandora compensates the two sides of the music business: Last year, Pandora paid 49 percent of its revenue, or about $313 million, to record companies, but only 4 percent, or about $26 million, to publishers.
“It’s a godawful system that just doesn’t work,” said Martin N. Bandier, the chairman of Sony/ATV, the world’s largest music publisher.
The wider music world has been galvanized by the issue of low royalties from fast-growing streaming companies.
For songwriters, Ascap and BMI have also been among the most reliable institutions in the music industry, and few want to see them go. But Rick Carnes, a Nashville songwriter and president of the Songwriters Guild of America, said that while these organizations had served him and his colleagues well, the Justice Department agreements that govern them were outdated and must be changed.
“This is a horse-and-buggy consent decree in a digital environment,” Mr. Carnes said. “There’s no way that works now.”
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