Why is it that songwriters don’t get a fair share?
Well, you could say, everybody in the music industry has been complaining forever, for different kinds of reasons. But there’s a reason why songwriters in particular have a reason to, because it’s not just industry-generated. If that was the case they could take action into their own hands and change the situation. But they suffer from the current legal situation which leaves them in an unequal state, that has set up distadvantages to the other artists, labels and publishers.
Songwriters’ rights need to be improved, simply because they’re not as sovereing as those of other artists, producers and labels. They are limited by federal law that hasn’t adapted to the drastic changes in the music industry over the last few years. These federal limitations make it hard for songwriters to negotiate a fair share. Statutory (mechanical) rates are determined by the Copyright Royalty Board under the Authority of the Copyright Act. Those statutory rates serve as a standard rate for voluntary negotiations as well. Which reduces your negotiation leverage to zero, if you’re not already a renowned songwriter.
Besides that, there is no revenue stream for songwriters for perfomances on terrestrial radio.
Based on the Copyright Act, when it comes to disagreements about songwriters shares for public perfomances, BMI and ASCAP can/have to enter into a Rate court proceeding, where a judge is supposed to determine a reasonable rate. But by law, even the judge is limited when it comes to interpreting the term “reasonable”. The Copyright Act in its present day form denies the introduction of sound recording royalty rates into the Rate Court proceeding and also the Copyright Royalty Board bases its decisions not on a fair market share, but on factors that don’t include market conditions.
U.S. Congress has been reviewing copyright law for the last two years, opening a dialogue by inviting all affected parties to submit their contribution to the subject matter and putting it in the public record.
Today’s Songwriter Equity Act, which has already once been introduced last year, has the potential to eliminate basic disadvantages for songwriters. On the other hand it might create the same, at least for terrestrial radio stations which will have to face the obligation to pay royalties to songwriters as well.