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American Songwriter: Songwriter Equity Act Re-Introduced to Congress

On March 4 in Washington D.C., both Senators and members of the House of Representatives took a stand for American songwriters and their right for fair use, distribution and compensation. 

The Songwriter Equity Act (SEA) was re-introduced to Congress in hopes of amending sections 114 and 115 of the Copyright Act to change and improve the process that sets royalty rates for songwriters in this country. SEA was introduced for a second time (the first was in February of 2014) in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Doug Collins (R-GA) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). 

Specifically, the act addresses two key points of contention. The first, from Section 114, keeps rate courts from taking recording artist rates into consideration when establishing royalty rates for songwriters. The act would amend this section to enable courts the ability to consider master recording rates as part of their process. Second, Section 115 prohibits courts from using other rates as evidence when determining mechanical royalties. The act would amend this section to give courts the ability to employ a fair rates standard in these decisions.

“This is important legislation that addresses the evidence that the Copyright Royalty Board and ASCAP and BMI’s Rate Court judges can consider when setting royalty payments for songwriters,” said Nashville Songwriters Association President Lee Thomas Miller. 

Paraphrasing from a statement by National Music Publishers Assn. president David Israelite, around three-quarters of a songwriter’s income is regulated by the federal government. Based on the recommended report from the Copyright Office, if songwriters’ royalties must be regulated, they ought to be based on fair market value. 

“Rate-setting procedures that govern songwriter royalties were adopted by the Federal government in 1909 and 1941,” said NSAI Executive Director Bart Herbison.  “Antiquated processes that are more than a century old cannot possibly compensate songwriters fairly in today’s digital music environment.” 

In a post from their website, ASCAP is encouraging all songwriters to write their representatives to spread the word and to support the newly reintroduced Songwriting Equity Act.

– Brittney McKenna contributed to this report.