The Music Artists Coalition (MAC) and the Songwriters of North America (SONA) have filed a joint amicus brief urging the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the Copyright Royalty Board’s (CRB) royalty rate increase for copyright owners, the organizations announced Tuesday (Nov. 19). The brief urges the court to uphold the 2018 decision by the copyright royalty judges (CRJs) to award publishers and songwriters a 44% rate increase by 2022.
“For over a century, songwriters have been subject to a compulsory license, now embodied in section 115 of the Copyright Act, that determines the price to be paid for reproduction and distribution of the musical works they create,” the brief states. “There is no comparable example of a profession where the government sets the price for one’s labors…. After carefully weighing all of the evidence, the CRJs determined that songwriters should be paid more, and increased the rate for interactive streaming under section 115. Songwriters deserved that raise. Indeed, for some, the added income will be a critical factor in their ability to continue in their careers as professional songwriters.”
In a press release announcing the amicus brief, the organizations note that the 110-year-old compulsory license has a “depressive effect” on songwriter income and hasn’t kept pace with the actual value of musical works.
“If I were trying to make it as a songwriter today dependent on digital royalties, I wouldn’t be able to sustain a livelihood the way I once did from the income of physical sales,” said SONA co-founder and board member Shelly Peiken. “Without sharing in master royalties, merchandising or touring revenue, most songwriters now have to consider holding down a second job. I sincerely hope the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirms the CRJs’ decision and takes the industry in the direction it desperately needs to go. Songwriters are counting on it.”
Added MAC board member Shane McAnally, “I struggled for over a decade to make my living as a songwriter. I know how hard it is. Writers don’t sell tickets or T-shirts. They rely on publishing royalties for their income. Developing songwriters today have an especially difficult time since we can no longer rely on traditional record sales. Thank you to the CRJs for giving songwriters the raise they deserve. I hope the Court of Appeals will affirm this balanced and fair rate increase for songwriters.”
In August, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google Play and Pandora filed an appeal of the CRJs’ decision, asking the appeals court to examine whether the CRB made legal errors in adopting the new rate structure, which they claim was not proposed or justified by explanation or evidence. They argued that this lack of transparency took away the rights of the digital service providers (DSPs) to refute the logic that led to CRB judges’ determination. Among other things, the DSPs (with the exception of Spotify) further alleged that the CRB’s decision to retroactively apply the rates to January 1, 2018 was invalid.