Head of Justice Dept Antitrust Division to Speak At Publisher Conference–can end of ASCAP/BMI Consent Decrees be coming?

Really great news!  It was recently announced that the head of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division will speak at the National Music Publishers Association annual meeting in June!

This year’s keynote will be presented by United States Department of Justice (DOJ) Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division, Makan Delrahim.

As David said a few weeks ago before this announcement, Mr. Delrahim is reviewing hundreds of DOJ consent decrees that have accumulated over the decades to see if these government orders should be continued.  This review includes the ASCAP and BMI consent decrees that Mr. Delrahim specifically mentioned in an address at Vanderbilt Law School earlier this year.  He seems to have come to this idea all by himself.

What’s really great about this is that it could mean the end of consent decrees in a relatively short period of time.  Since it’s never happened before, we don’t know exactly how the end of the consent decrees would impact ASCAP and BMI, but presumably the impact would be positive and quick. Goodbye rate court!  The smart money would probably be on existing rate court cases continuing, but disallowing new cases.  (Mr. Delrahim has been clear that the enforcement side would remain in place, meaning we guess that actual antitrust law violations would be dealt with case by case, just no ongoing regulatory oversight by unelected rate courts.  Example would be Global Music Rights awesome antitrust case against the broadcasters after the broadcasters brought one against GMR.)

It could possibly open the door to both organizations getting into the mechanical licensing administration business in competition with whatever comes of the collective established by the Music Modernization Act (which permits voluntary licenses outside of the collective).  In fact, BMI has already said they intend to pursue licensing outside of performances because their consent decree allows them to do so unlike ASCAP’s:

BMI is also evaluating the option of licensing beyond the performing right. We have long believed our consent decree allows for the licensing of multiple rights, which is why four years ago we asked the DOJ to amend our decree to clarify that ability, among other much-needed updates.

Of course, the last thing that anyone would want is for the DOJ to end the consent decrees, just to be replaced by some other bunch of regulations or bureaucracy.  For once, broadcasters will just have to suck it up.

So it’s a great idea that NMPA is inviting Mr. Delrahim to speak to the publishers who are most in the position to take advantage of a new dawn in songwriter freedom.  Many if not most of the NMPA members will be in the voluntary licensing category under MMA and outside the collective.  They would be in a fantastic position to support a one-stop shop for performance and mechanical licensing from ASCAP and BMI in line with what SESAC/HFA can offer, and presumably GMR could do as well.

Songwriters Are Losing $2.3 Billion A Year Due To Outdated Government Regulations | BuzzFeed

Right now a byzantine system is in place that not only dates back more than 70 years but also differs depending on the distribution platform. Traditional radio stations, for instance, pay royalties to the composer of a song, but not to the artist or band performing it — known in industry parlance as a performance right — if they are different. Sirius XM only pays royalties for songs released after 1972. Pandora does pay government-mandated royalties to songwriters but has been aggressively lobbying regulators to lower the rate in recent years. Use of music in both professional and user-based content on YouTube and other websites and in TV shows or commercials is yet another category of music licensing, with the difference being that it is free-market-based and not subject to government oversight.

READ THE FULL STORY AT BUZZFEED:
http://www.buzzfeed.com/peterlauria/songwriters-are-losing-23-billion-a-year-due-to-outdated-gov

Rap Genius Says It Will Seek Licenses for Lyrics | NYT

It’s been an interesting week in the battle over unlicensed lyric websites. These lyric sites, likes music piracy sites earn revenue from advertising but don’t “share” any of that revenue with artists and songwriters. The New York Times reports.

Rap Genius, a website that was accused by music publishers on Monday of reprinting thousands of song lyrics without permission, revealed that it had a major licensing deal all along — and also indicated that the site was likely to pursue more such deals in the future rather than fight with publishers over copyright.

“We want to spend our time building an interesting product and community instead of building a legal case, even though we’re sure it would be interesting,” he said. “We chose to partner up with the music publishers and license the lyrics so we could get on with our work and establish closer ties to songwriters and artists.”

David Israelite, the president of the publishers’ trade association, said of Rap Genius’s deal with Sony/ATV, “I think it proves that what Rap Genius is doing is not fair use, and I am hopeful it is a first step toward becoming a fully licensed site.”

READ THE FULL STORY AT THE NEW YORK TIMES:
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/15/business/media/rap-genius-says-it-will-seek-licenses-for-lyrics.html

In Music Piracy Battles, Lyrics Demand Respect Too | NYT

David Israelite, the president of the trade group, said that his organization was filing take-down notices against what it called the 50 “worst offenders” based on a web search conducted by David Lowery, a researcher at the University of Georgia. Mr. Lowery, best known as the lead singer of the alternative rock bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, has become an outspoken advocate for artists’ rights in the digital age, which has often put him at odds with technology companies large and small.

“These lyric sites have ignored the law and profited off the songwriters’ creative works, and N.M.P.A. will not allow this to continue,” Mr. Israelite said in a statement, referring to his organization. “This is not a campaign against personal blogs, fan sites or the many websites that provide lyrics legally. N.M.P.A. is targeting 50 sites that engage in blatant illegal behavior, which significantly impacts songwriters’ ability to make a living.”

READ THE FULL STORY AT THE NEW YORK TIMES:
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/12/business/media/in-music-piracy-battles-lyrics-demand-respect-too.html