What The “Songwriter Equity Act” Means To You


ASCAP payments, BMI payments, streaming rates, Podcasting patents, The Local Radio Freedom Act. It’s enough to make your head spin. With all of these side issues coming out it’s understandable if you get sidetracked from your daily responsibilities of running radio stations, leading people, and driving revenue. The latest thorn in your side is The Songwriter Equity Act, that will be introduced in the Senate. You may be thinking, how can this be, with the NAB touting so many names on the Local Radio Freedom Act. To sort it all out, we turned to Broadcast Attorney John Garziglia.

“The recently introduced Songwriter Equity Act in the Senate by Tennessee and Utah Republicans is just one more uncertainty in the future costs of radio broadcasting. The likely result of the legislation if it becomes law would be to increase the fees paid by radio broadcasters to ASCAP and BMI, and also possibly alter what is paid to SESAC if that performance rights organization was to come under the umbrella of federal regulation.

“The danger to radio is not just from this one proposed piece of legislation as its effect would be to likely only incrementally increase the fees paid by radio to songwriters. Rather, the danger is that such a proposal in the future is wrapped up into some sort of wholesale omnibus legislation that tries to achieve a goal of making sense of the entire scheme of music licensing, and in the process destroys music radio as we know it.

“While I dislike people who quote themselves, I ask for your forgiveness while I recount what I said a while back would be at the top of the list of the ’10 Legal Issues To Watch For In the Next 10 Years’ (as published in the 2012 Radio Ink 20th Anniversary Issue):

Right now, the licensing of music, both for performances and songs, is disjointed. … The fees paid to songwriters through BMI and ASCAP are controlled by court decisions, while the fees paid to SESAC are, for now, whatever the market will bear. There is a significant argument that the various fees for performances and songs need to be part of more coherent structures. Whether that happens or whether much of the issue devolves into marketplace arrangements will be something that will argued over, lobbied, and litigated in the coming years.

“The Songwriter Equity Act is on its face an argument for a more coherent structure for songwriters’ fees. At its heart, however, it is really simply a special interest group, ASCAP, asking to be enriched, with the implicit result that someone else will pay.

“The three senators introducing the Senate version of the Songwriters Equity Act announced their legislative initiative with country music stars at Nashville’s famed Bluebird Café. Accompanying the announcement were pleas by ASCAP for governmental price controls stating that ‘the men and women who create [music] deserve to earn fair payment for their craft .. and thrive.’ The legislation purports to use governmental processes to ‘level the playing field for songwriters, composers and publishers seeking fair compensation for their work.’ This is a very progressive proposal from three GOP senators.

“This recent legislative activity points to the necessity of broadcasters continuing to make their voices continually heard on Capitol Hill. Radio broadcasters have media outlets in every state and in every Congressional district. Many radio broadcasters do participate in the political process, but many do not and should.

“While it is tough to compete with country music stars beseeching legislators for mandates of more money, it can be done. Broadcasters have had success for the past several years in holding off the shrill calls for legislatively imposed performance fees for promoting music on the radio.

“If broadcasters are not part of the political process, there are many others who will fill that space arguing for their own interests. Broadcasters need to be sure that members of Congress fully understand the business of broadcasting in considering how to legislate who pays what for music.”


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