Stop putting Wall Street ahead of music fans and music creators

It’s no secret to those of us who make our living creating music that many of the powerful corporate interests that control the flow of music online want to pay less for the right to play copyrighted music. They always have. But Dan Horowitz’ recent op-ed on the Congress blog on behalf of the Digital Media Association (“Music industry seeks to stifle innovators,” 6/12/14) stoops to a new low.

No songwriter in their right mind would seek to “stifle innovators,” as Mr. Horowitz suggests. Of course we want more people to hear our music. We simply want to be compensated in a way that reflects the true value of our contribution to these music businesses. It’s no different than the farmer seeking a fair price for his produce, or the electrician seeking a fair rate for his service.

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But Mr. Horowitz fails to mention there is not a free market for the licensing of public performance rights. Rather, the marketplace has been heavily regulated since 1941, when the nation’s leading songwriter organizations, PROs ASCAP and BMI, were forced into consent decrees with the Department of Justice.

In the more than seven decades since, songwriter royalties – particularly in the digital space – have been increasingly constrained by regulations that no longer reflect the way people listen to music. So much so that music streaming giant Pandora now gets away with paying songwriters roughly 9 cents, on average, for playing their song 1,000 times. Meanwhile, record labels and recording artists earn up to 12 to 14 times as much for the exact same stream.

The Songwriter Equity Act is an important first step toward meaningful and long-overdue reform of the nation’s music licensing system. It is a bill aimed at helping level the playing field for the nation’s songwriters. The fact that it has attracted bipartisan support from members in both the House and Senate apparently has the digital music giants afraid their days of stiffing songwriters will soon come to an end.

What American music really needs is for these companies to join our efforts to create a more modern and efficient music licensing system that works better for all stakeholders, instead of working so hard to preserve the status quo. Together, I believe we have the potential to create a system that allows music creators to thrive alongside the businesses that profit from our music.

Williams, an Oscar, GRAMMY and Golden Globe-winning Hall of Fame songwriter, is president and chairman of the Board at ASCAP.