'Suing the Government Is Very Punk Rock:' SONA Hosts Third Songwriters Summit as It Strategizes DOJ Lawsuit
"This injustice against songwriters has gone on for far too long," says a SONA co-founder.
The Songwriters of North America will hold its third annual invite-only Songwriters Summit on June 28 in Los Angeles. Roughly 150 SONA members will gather to discuss issues important to songwriters which includes among other things an ongoing lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice.
"As songwriters, we're tired of letting other people speak for us while our songs -- our copyrights -- were being exploited to make streaming platforms and labels rich” Kay Hanley, SONA’s co-executive director, told Billboard. "So we decided to take matters into our own hands and besides, suing the government is a very punk rock thing to do."
Punk AF or not, SONA sued the DOJ last year following what it sees as the government’s unjust, inequitable and unconstitutional ruling in prohibiting fractional licensing which the group says will result in dramatically lower compensation for songwriters. The DOJ is currently attempting to have the suit dismissed while SONA is awaiting a judge’s decision on whether or not the dismissal hearing will proceed with oral arguments.
"The DOJ's motion to dismiss our lawsuit claims the songwriters do not have standing to sue, their due process has not been violated, and the DOJ was within their authority to unilaterally decide to rip away their private property rights,” the suit’s co-counsel Gerald Fox of Gerard Fox Law told Billboard. “I am personally looking forward to seeing their arguments get destroyed."
SONA co-founder and attorney advisor Dina LaPolt was even more blunt in her assessment. “At first glance we knew that the DOJ was full of s**t -- they're just trying to bully us into dropping the lawsuit, which is how the federal government likes to behave... bullying people into submission," the outspoken lawyer said. "This isn't North Korea."
In addition to Fox, LaPolt and Steven Wallach (also of Gerard Fox Law), SONA recently added Sandra Aistars as a co-counsel on the case. Aistars is a George Mason University Law professor with nearly 20 years of advocacy experience on behalf of copyright and other intellectual property owners and is also director of the school’s Arts & Entertainment Advocacy Clinic. Students enrolled in the Clinic will assist in the SONA v. DOJ lawsuit.
SONA was co-founded in January 2015 by co-executive directors Michelle Lewis (Cher, Little Mix, currently a full-time composer for Disney) and Hanley (founding member of Letters to Cleo, currently a full-time composer for Disney) when they came into LaPolt's office asking how they could get involved in legislative efforts to help songwriters.
"I literally said to them, 'Where the f**k have you been? Everyone’s been eating your lunch,'" LaPolt says referring to what she sees as other interests in the music business getting more than their fair share of earnings in part off the work of songwriters.
SONA’s members include a number of high-profile figures, including: Kara DioGuardi (Pink, Jason Derulo, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood), Anne Preven (Katy Perry, Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus, Madonna), Claudia Brant (Latin Grammy Award winner, three-time SESAC Latina Songwriter of the Year, songs for Il Divo, Ricky Martin, Santana, Paulina Rubio), Lindy Robbins (Jason Derulo,Demi Lovato, Hot Chelle Rae), Shelly Peiken (Christina Aguilera, Meredith Brooks, Brandy), Pam Sheyne (Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, Corinne Bailey Rae), Danielle Brisebois (Natasha Bedingfield, member of New Radicals), Michael “Smidi” Smith (Miley Cyrus, Giorgio Moroder, Pussycat Dolls, Ke$ha), Jack Kugell (Martina McBride, Pussycat Dolls), and Andrew Rollins (composer for TV show Nashville).
After gaining nearly 200 songwriters, in May 2015 LaPolt gave an hour-long presentation at Los Angeles’ Ocean Way Recording Studios for the first SONA Songwriters Summit in which she explained the regulations which prevent songwriters from negotiating in a free market.
In its press materials, SONA claims 75 percent of songwriters’ income is regulated by the federal U.S. government and that the consent decrees, which date back to 1941 and that ASCAP and BMI operate under, unfairly restrict the Performing Rights Organizations and were imposed because of antitrust concerns that are “no longer relevant.” The decrees require rate courts to set the rates for public performance licenses, which SONA says is “slow, expensive, outdated, and ineffective."
The songwriters’ argument has attracted congressional leaders on both side of the aisle including Rep. Doug Collins, a Republican from Georgia, who sees the issue as one of over-regulation and anti-free market; as well as Rep. Karen Bass, a Democrat from California who sees songwriters as being underpaid for their work.
"The time for us to win this lawsuit is now," LaPolt says. "This injustice has gone on for far too long and the more the public and politicians know about how songwriters are getting screwed, the more they join our fight."