What to Expect at This Week's DOJ Workshop on ASCAP and BMI Consent Decrees

The Department of Justice in Washington, DC.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

The Department of Justice in Washington, DC. taken on April 16, 2019.

LeeAnn Rimes, Pharrell and Jon Bon Jovi will deliver virtual speeches for the Justice Department's online workshop on public performance rights over the next two days -- focusing on how movies, bars, restaurants and advertising companies pay to license music. Beginning Tuesday, the free workshop will deal mostly with consent decrees for ASCAP and BMI, referring to 1940s-era rules to protect competition between the performing rights organizations.

Among other things, the consent decrees mean ASCAP and BMI must license songs to anyone who makes a request, and if there are any pricing disputes, a judge makes a ruling. Many favor maintaining these rules to support competition, including Gordon Smith, president of the National Association of Broadcasters, who said last year that decrees prop up a "remarkable free market" and prevent a descent into "chaos." A group called the MIC Coalition, which includes Spotify, Pandora and other streaming services, has argued in favor of the decrees as well.

But in an open letter last year, the CEOs of ASCAP and BMI argued to "modernize music licensing to better reflect the transformative changes in the industry," calling for a fairer and less costly fee system to pay royalties. A year ago, Makan Delrahim, assistant attorney general for the DOJ's antitrust division, agreed to review the longstanding decrees and has been soliciting comments from music-business players.

Among the Tuesday-Wednesday panels: A general session on the decrees including the CEOs of ASCAP, BMI, the National Music Publishers' Association and the NAB; a music-licensing discussion with executives from Sony/ATV Music Publishing and iHeartMedia; and a two-economist wrap-up with professors from Brandeis and Chicago universities.