By Ruben Lone
On Tuesday, Georgia Congressman Doug Collins introduced new legislation that could potentially correct the disparity in songwriters’ and composers’ performance and mechanical royalties. Aptly titled the Songwriters Equity Act, the bill would be an amendment to Sections 114 and 115 of the U.S. Copyright Act. Section 114 currently forbids evidential data to be used in courts when establishing royalty rates for songwriter and composers, thus omitting satellite radio plays, restaurant plays, television, and streams from royalty rate consideration. Section 115, written in 1909, states that a compulsory license can be granted for use of a recording for a statutory rate. The original 1909 rate was 2 cents per piano roll (when music publishing involved only reproducing sheet music), and has climbed to a mere 9.1 cents per song play in the last 105 years.
The SEA would:
1. Allow rate courts to consider other royalty rates as evidence when establishing digital performance rates (such evidence is currently forbidden from the courts) and,
2. Adopt a fair rate standard for mechanical licenses. This means replacing the rate of 9.1 cents with a rate that matches free market conditions. Some of have suggested this may be a rate of up to 52 cents.
Many songwriters and composers are unaware of just how antiquated the current royalty rate system actually is. In fact, the rates of mechanical royalties were developed even before recorded music existed, and have been augmented laughably and offensively over the last century. The new bill has garnered support from ASCAP, BMI, and NMPA, SESAC, and The Recording Academy, particularly as it will stimulate writers to continue creating new material when the appeal of being a songwriter is thwarted by the nominal return on creativity, dedication, and skill.
We’re looking forward to Congressman Collins’s efforts and hopefully eventual successes. For the full rundown on the bill, you can visit the Congressman’s website.