Songwriter Equity Act Re-Introduced to Congress

As expected, the Songwriter Equity Act has been reintroduced in both houses of Congress today.

The legislation -- introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Congressman Doug Collins (R-Ga.), is aimed at amending two sections, 114 and 115, of the Copyright Act to, hopefully, achieve better rates for songwriters. The legislation was first introduced last year in February, but needed to be reintroduced with the end of the 113th Congressional term.

Section 115 of the law sets conditions by which mechanical royalties are set, but doesn't include not allowing a rate court to consider other royalty rates as evidence. The change would allow courts to adapt a fair rate standards when setting mechanical licensing.

Section 114 of the Copyright Act prohibited rate courts for considering rates paid to recording artist when setting songwriter royalty rates, but the proposed change would allow courts to consider the rates for master recordings when setting songwriter performance rates.

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National Music Publishers Assn. president David Israelite applauded the legislatures for standing up for songwriters. "Three-quarters of a songwriter's income is regulated by the federal government," Israelite said in a statement. "While most property rights are valued in a free market, songwriters have suffered under a system that devalues their work and takes away their most basic property rights. As the recent Copyright Office report on music licensing recommended, if songwriters' royalties must be regulated, they should at least be based on fair market value."

The co-sponsors include Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who joined Hatch on the Senate bill. Congresspersons Hakeem Jeffries (D- N.Y.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.), Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) are cosponsors of the House version.

BMI president & CEO Michael O'Neill said in a statement: "Through the Songwriter Equity Act, songwriters will no longer be disadvantaged by the fact that courts cannot legally consider all relevant benchmark deals -- key evidence in determining fair market rates.  Not only is it an important step on the road to fairness for BMI's more than 650,000 songwriters, composers and publishers, but this bill will also help address ongoing concerns about the impact of a rate disparity that values the performances of sound recordings at a level approximately 12 times greater than the actual musical compositions from which they are created."

"The Songwriter Equity Act represents an important first step toward updating an outdated music licensing system that treats songwriters differently than other copyright owners and prevents us from earning a fair market royalty rate when our music is streamed or downloaded online," ASCAP president Paul Williams said in a statement. "We look forward to working with policymakers to reform the broader regulatory framework, including ASCAP's outdated consent decree with the DOJ, so that music licensing better reflects the way people listen to music today."

Williams added that the legislators "are vital to ensuring that next generation American songwriters are able to make a living creating the music we all love."