U.S. DOJ Deals Crushing Blow To Songwriters Rights and Incomes

Last week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) in the USA ruled on music licensing consent decrees, and dealt a brutal blow to songwriters. The decision, which affects the way songwriters are able to negotiate their royalties, has caused such a substantial blow to songwriters negotiating ability and licensing restrictions, that some believe it will change the way musicians work.

The judgment essentially decided not to alter a system from the 1940’s that restricts the methods in which songwriters can negotiate their licensing deals. Because of the shift in the industry towards streaming services, negotiating licenses has never been more essential to songwriters who make an income off of royalties.

If songwriters and their (PRO’s) had their way, and the consent decrees ripped up, they would have been given specific remedies such as partial withdraw of their catalogues. These remedies are already available to labels and artists alike.

However, one of the most crushing results of the DOJ decision is that Performing Right’s Societies (PRO’s) are no longer allowed to engage in fractional licensing. These PRO’s must now switch to 100% licensing. The effect of this is that if one PRO represents only one co-writer of a song, they are obliged to license the whole thing. PRO’s do not necessarily have a database as to who represents the unknown co-writer in this equation. Either administrative costs will soar at the expense of the songwriters, or they wont be paid at all.

It can be argued that this may change the way artists approach writing songs. If their PRO is obliged to grant 100% licences with very little negotiating power, they may be inclined to work only with artists who are represented by their own PRO. Cross-border collaboration will almost certainly be affected and we may see change in the way artists collaborate in light of new requirements.

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