Digital theft impacts all genres

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Certainly recording artists like Chris Tomlin who are big names in Christian music have experienced large-scale digital theft of their work, as have recording artists in other genres of music. But Christian music songwriters like Barry Weeks who are not household names, have also lost opportunities for regular royalty payments in various ways.

Mr. Weeks recently wrote a song that was chosen by a well-known pop artist to record on her new album.  Unfortunately, the song was ultimately left off the album because the recording was leaked and uploaded to multiple illegal music sites. This is just one example of the very direct impact digital theft is having on the ability of artists to express themselves and to be compensated for their work. When digital theft forces decisions like the one to drop Mr. Weeks’ composition from the album for which it was slated, his creative expression is suppressed and his livelihood harmed. 

Mr. Weeks is not alone in feeling the impact of digital theft in very tangible ways. Christian music publisher Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing was formed about 15 years ago as part of an acquisition involving Brentwood Music and The Benson Company. Prior to this merger, Brentwood Music was in business for more than 15 years, and the Benson Music Company, the first music publishing company ever established in Nashville, had been doing business for over 100 years.

Over the past eight years, this company, a leader in the Christian music publishing industry, has been forced to downsize from more than 60 employees to 20 employees due in large part to lost sales and royalties for their songwriters as a result of digital theft. Another company in our industry was valued at $50 million only seven years ago, but was recently forced to sell off 100 percent of its assets after seeing revenues plummet due in significant part to digital theft.

These are just a handful of examples. A decade ago, three to four times the number of Christian and Gospel songwriters working today were writing and making a living creating new music. The impact of losing those songwriters is felt throughout the community – artists have fewer selections to work with, producers and engineers have fewer recording session contracts, all the accompanying business, legal and accounting professionals that serve their needs are scrambling.

The loss is economic and - just as important – cultural and spiritual. Our members’ musical styles range from traditional to contemporary Christian, from gospel to liturgical, from praise and worship to rock music and everything in between. We publish choral music, instrumental music, music for handbells, keyboard, and children's choirs. Our music inspires and unites people of faith. 

Accordingly, we occupy a unique position in the landscape of copyright holders.  Unfortunately, given our comparatively limited means to enforce copyrights against foreign infringers of our works, our community is particularly imperiled by the assault the creative community has faced over the past years. The battle against digital thieves is ever evolving, and we must ensure we have the appropriate resources at hand to combat the intellectual property thieves and counterfeiters who continue to impact our community to a tragic degree.

The bi-partisan PROTECT-IP Act in the Senate, and the Stop Online Piracy Act introduced this week in the House, would be an important first step in showing the world that the United States is serious about protecting one of our most valuable resources, American music.  As an industry, church music publishers and songwriters are committed to helping lead the way to a new age in the music industry that will work with our government to protect and promote one of our most precious assets around the world: the creativity of the American music community.

Elwyn Raymer is President and CEO of the Church Music Publishers Association Action Fund.