When it comes to the world of publishing, the biggest news of the month, by far, has been the US Department of Justice’s recent ruling in favor “100 percent licensing,” meaning that for songs with multiple songwriters, a licensee only requires a license from one of the contributors (instead of each of them). The music industry as a whole is shocked and upset by this verdict, especially in the wake of petitions fighting for a total overhaul of the already-outdated legislation currently in place. Songwriters and publishers alike fear that this could mean lower royalty payout, more complicated work for PROs, and an increase in royalty disputes across the industry.
“Instead of making the necessary modifications, we have been saddled with a disruptive proposal that ignores songwriters’ concerns for our future livelihoods in a streaming world, serves absolutely no public interest and creates confusion and instability for all of us who depend on the efficiencies of collective licensing,” said ASCAP’s President Paul Williams released a statement on July 11th.
The DoJ’s decision was carefully thought-out based on the trajectory of the music industry in the digital age, stemming specifically from the idea that 100 percent licensing would make it easier for parties like Pandora to license music. However, even the US Copyright Office has put in a negative word about the verdict and urges the DoJ to rethink 100 percent licensing.
In a 33-page reaction to the new regulations, the US Copyright Office “believes that an interpretation of the consent decrees that would require these PROs to engage in 100-percent licensing presents a host of legal and policy concerns. Such an approach would seemingly vitiate important principles of copyright law, interfere with creative collaborations among songwriters, negate private contracts, and impermissibly expand the reach of the consent decrees.”
While music licensees see the DoJ decision as a smart move in the fact of the current prevalence of music streaming, they’re going to receive a lot of pushback from songwriters and publishers alike. It doesn’t look like BMI, ACSAP, or the US Copyright Office are looking to back down any time soon, so hopefully for the sake of publishers everywhere, the DoJ can go back to the drawing board and retool a system that benefits both the songwriters and the digital streaming services that are licensing music.