Senate Panel Hears Testimony On ASCAP, BMI Consent Decree Issues
March 10, 2015 at 8:04 AM (PT)
BONNEVILLE INTERNATIONAL VP/Business Affairs and General Counsel MIKE DOWDLE and ASCAP CEO ELIZABETH MATHEWS were among the witnesses testifying before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights hearing on the ASCAP and BMI antitrust decrees TODAY (3/10). The hearing was called by Sen, MIKE LEE (R-UT) to review the decrees and the current music copyright structure. Also appearing were PANDORA's CHRIS HARRISON, BMI songwriter and NASHVILLE SONGWRITERS ASSOCIATION INTERNATIONAL Pres. LEE THOMAS MILLER, SONGS MUSIC PUBLISHING's MATT PINCUS, and PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE Senior Staff Attorney JODIE GRIFFIN.
Bonneville's Dowdle: Keep The Consent Decrees In Place
In his prepared testimony, DOWDLE, testifying on behalf of the NAB, expressed support for the consent decrees, asserting, "Absent these consent decrees, no fair competitive market could exist for the licensing of musical works. This would harm not only broadcast audiences, whose access to our programming would be jeopardized; but customers of the countless businesses that publicly perform music every day, including restaurants, bars, retailers, and sporting venues in your local communities."
DOWDLE explained his position using the example of his company's NBC affiliate KSL-TV/SALT LAKE CITY, which he said has no editorial control over music in network and syndicated programming and would face "significant penalties" without public performance rights to "the full catalog of musical works."
"(T)he consent decrees entered into between DOJ and both organizations more than 80 years ago serve as antitrust lifelines that allow ASCAP and BMI to continue to operate in spite of their anticompetitive nature," DOWDLE said. "Absent the protections and framework afforded by the consent decrees, ASCAP and BMI would have unfettered ability to extract above market prices and terms for the rights in those works from broadcasters and most other music licensees. Let me be clear, broadcasters would cease operations without the ability to clear these rights, and the consent decrees are critical to that end."
DOWDLE also voiced objection to the performance rights organizations amending the decrees to allow individual publishers to withdraw from ASCAP and BMI on a selective basis to negotiate directly with some digital services.
ASCAP's Mathews: Modernize The System
For her part, MATHEWS called for reform of the consent decrees, calling songwriters "unsung heroes" and noting that "unlike recording artists, however, most songwriters are not famous and they do not make money by touring and selling merchandise. Many songwriters do not have salaries, benefits and other reliable sources of income. They rely on public performance royalties to earn a living, feed their families and pay the rent."
MATHEWS proposed that the current copyright rate court be replaced with a faster, cheaper resolution process, that the decree be amended to allow ASCAP to accept a limited grant of rights from members, and that ASCAP be allowed to license all of the rights in a song together in one transaction. She also warned, "If the Consent Decrees are not changed and major publishers resign from ASCAP and BMI, then the system of collective licensing may collapse and everyone loses. Copyright owners, licensees, music fans everywhere and most importantly the songwriters who are the heart and soul of the entire music industry.”