Texas Governor Greg Abbott to Attorney General Loretta Lynch: Don't Mess With Song Licensing

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U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch testifies during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee July 12, 2016 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Governor Greg Abbott of Texas has submitted a letter of opposition to the Dept. of Justice regarding its recent decision to change how performance rights organizations (PROs) are required to treat the licensing of some songs with multiple authors.

The controversial change, part of a two-year review of the consent decrees established in the early 1940s to govern the PROs (namely ASCAP and BMI), now requires those PROs to allow "100 percent licensing," which would give the partial owner of a song the ability to license the entire work to a user such as a streaming service, as long as they account for and pay the other songwriters.

In a letter dated Aug. 29 and addressed to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Abbott says that he feels compelled to weigh in on the controversy due to his position as head of the Texas Music Office. "The Texas Music Office is housed within my office and is charged by law with promoting the Texas music industry. As the head of that office, I must object to the DOJ’s position in these cases, which is both legally flawed and threatens to harm the music industry in Texas." 

Governor Abbott goes on to call the DoJ’s position "legally flawed" and writes that such a "drastic change in course will have severe consequences for music artists and the music industry as a whole." Echoing concerns voiced by publishers and PROs, Abbott said he feared the change will reduce royalty rates and inhibit collaboration between songwriters who happen to belong to competing PROs.

"The DoJ claims that the plain language of the consent decrees does not permit it to reach any other conclusion" but to require full-work licenses to fractionally owned songs, he wrote. "That is incorrect."

Abbott writes that the DoJ erred in its interpretation that the "plain" wording of consent decrees should grant 100 percent licenses, arguing instead to maintain the status quo and fractional licensing.

"It is the DoJ’s new interpretation of the consent decrees that would disrupt the market, not fractional licensing," he said. "An amendment modifying the consent decrees to expressly permit fractional licensing is in the public interest, and the DoJ should reconsider its opposition to such an amendment."

On July 12, Lynch testified before Congress that the DoJ’s review was not yet finalized.

The DOJ’s move away from customary fractional licensing drew immediate opposition by the U.S. Copyright Office, numerous songwriting coalitions and both PROs.

In a letter to songwriters and employees, BMI CEO Mike O’Neill wrote that "the DoJ’s interpretation benefits no one -- not BMI or ASCAP, not the music publishers, and not the music users." ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews said the decision "puts the U.S. completely out of step with the entire global music marketplace, denies American music creators their rights, and potentially disrupts the flow of music without any benefit to the public."

Read Gov. Abbott’s letter here.