Senators look to shuffle songwriter royalties

A group of Senate Republicans wants to change the way that songwriters get paid for their tunes.

In Nashville on Monday, Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced legislation that would allow writers to collect more royalty money.

“Italy has its art, Egypt has its pyramids, Napa Valley has its wines and Nashville has its songwriters,” Alexander said in a statement. “Songwriters are the lifeblood of Music City, and their paychecks ought to be based on the fair market value of their songs — so that when they write a hit heard around the world, you can see it in their billfolds.”

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Hatch, who has penned a number of religious and patriotic songs in his own right, claimed that composers and songwriters are being forced to accept “artificially low royalty rates for their works.”

“Allowing them to receive the fair market value for their songs is the right thing to do, and I’m pleased to support this bill that will do just that,” he added.

Unlike royalties for musicians, songwriter compensation is set by the Copyright Royalty Board, and currently works out to 9.1 cents per song that is downloaded or sold on CD. Songwriter advocates say that’s far too low, and point out that compensation rates have gone up just 7 cents over 100 years.

"American music is the most popular music in the world. The men and women who create it deserve to earn fair payment for their craft,” said Paul Williams, head of the songwriting group ASCAP, in a statement.

“The time has come to modernize the music licensing system in a way that allows them to thrive alongside the businesses that revolve around their music.”

The Songwriter Equity Act would require the Copyright Royalty Board to consider fair market rate when it sets new royalties, in addition to the four other considerations it currently uses. It would also broaden the amount of evidence that a “rate court” could look at to determine how much to compensate songwriters, which critics say would help the court understand accurate market rates.

A House version of the bill was introduced by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) in February, and so far has picked up 16 sponsors.