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Guest Post: ‘Just Trust Us’ Is Not Good Enough for Songwriters

The following is in response to an editorial published by Billboard last week, in which the National Music Publishers Association’s David Israelite criticized the Futue of Music Coalition’s stances regarding the ongoing debate around the longstanding consent decrees, which are currently under review by the Dept. of Justice. Below, the Future of Music Coalition responds.

As an organization founded by independent musicians, composers, label owners and artist advocates, Future of Music Coalition understands nuance more than your average creator organization. For fourteen years, we’ve gone to bat for artists on issues such as access to the airwaves, rights recapture, affordable health insurance, and equitable and transparent compensation. Occasionally, our artist focus puts us in the crosshairs of influential trade industry groups and their corporate members. The recent op-ed by David Israelite of the National Music Publishers Association is but one recent example of an all-too-typical big industry response.

We are pleased that NMPA has taken the time to consider FMC’s position that the elimination of the consent decrees would be bad for songwriters, even if they choose not to comprehend it. As songwriters and independent music publishers, we are very familiar with how consolidated multinational corporations wield their influence through their well-connected DC trade industry groups. NMPA, in particular, seems to have no issue with misleading songwriters while inaccurately claiming to speak for them. Yet the fact that the head of this organization actively lobbies against fair payment to artists in resale royalties makes him an unreliable narrator, at best.

We recognize that the interests of the multinational corporations that own the major publishers may sometimes align with songwriter interests, but certainly not always. On those occasions when NMPA does the right thing for songwriters, we’ll even defend them from unfair criticism, as with recent efforts to get song lyric websites licensed. But when their position puts songwriters at risk, we will point that out, too.

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We’d prefer to work together with NMPA on the things we agree about — they’d be welcome to join the diverse community of supporters from all corners of the creative industries who have sponsored our events and contributed to our artist-driven mission, including songwriters and recording artists and the groups who directly represent them. Instead, NMPA avoids engaging with our actual arguments about benefits of transparent and direct and equitable songwriter payment and the efficiencies of blanket licenses in favor of aggressive and increasingly desperate ad hominems.

We’re not alone in our concerns about where all this is heading. Everyone from David Byrne to the Music Managers Forum to Nashville entertainment attorney Derek Crownover — whose recent op-ed in The Tennessean lays out exactly how the big publishers’ maneuvering would be devastating to independents — have expressed concern about how the major publishers could tilt the entire playing field. None of this is likely to sway Mr. Israelite and his big shot bosses, but we do wish he would stop misinforming songwriters while falsely claiming to represent them.

Our filing with the Department of Justice makes clear the reason why the consent decrees were put in place to begin with, and what regulators must take into account if they are modified. The temptation to exert power at the expense of songwriters and all manner of broadcasters — including non-commercial and emerging digital platforms — remains great. As we have pointed out countless times, our chief concern is fair payment, equitable writer splits and transparency for songwriters. Where in the NMPA’s grand plan is anything but lip service paid to these crucial concepts? Does Mr. Israelite give any thought to how even partial withdrawal, to say nothing of the publishers’ “nuclear option” of pulling all catalog, would weaken the PROs and eviscerate any leverage that independent songwriters have in rate-setting? “Just trust us” isn’t good enough.

As a pragmatic, solution-centric organization, we are ready, willing and able to discuss amendments to the consent decrees, including those that David Israelite mentions in his piece. Going further, we would be interested in talking about moving rate-setting proceedings out of the New York court and putting it under the jurisdiction of the Copyright Royalty Board, where the distance between evidentiary standards is shorter and where transparency and oversight are more easily achieved. Perhaps NMPA can join us in having a more open conversation about long-term, sustainable solutions, as opposed to brazen power plays.

As we do each year, we extend an invite to David Israelite to attend the annual Future of Music Policy Summit in Washington, DC, where he can engage with working songwriters and those trying to grow the music marketplace while compensating creators.

Casey Rae is the Future of Music Coalition’s vp for Policy & Education.

Billboard welcomes responsible commentary. Please submit editorial and op-ed ideas to andrew.flanagan@billboard.com.