News September 15, 2016

200 songwriters sue US Department of Justice

Charts & New Music Editor
200 songwriters sue US Department of Justice

Image: Tom Kelly, who has penned tracks for Madonna, is among 200 songwriters suing the DoJ

Songwriters in the US have become increasingly vocal about their unhappiness with current government overregulation of their licensing rights.

This culminated yesterday with Songwriters of North America (SONA) suing the US Department of Justice in what is the first organised response by songwriters. 

SONA, an influential advocacy group made up of 200 songwriters and composers in the US, along with three individually named litigants, filed the lawsuit against the Department of Justice in Washington DC in response to a failure to amend the decrees which govern the processes for song licensing and private contracts.

Executive Director of SONA, Michelle Lewis, reportedly reached out to the Department of Justice last year, along with other songwriter organisations and publishers, pleading for fairness and relief through modification of the decrees. However, these requests were rejected.

Lewis, Pam Sheyne and Tom Kelly, on behalf of the group, have now taken formal legal action. They’re calling for ASCAP and BMI – the two largest US performing rights organisations in the US – to allow for “full-work” licensing of songwriters’ works, granting unrestricted licensing rights for all collaborators who contributed to a single work.

Lewis has written for notable artists such as Cher and Little Mix and is a full-time composer for Disney, while Sheyne has collaborated with Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, Seal and the Backstreet Boys. Kelly also boasts an impressive catalogue having written for Madonna, Whitney Houston, Cyndi Lauper, Phil Collins and The Pretenders in the past.  

According to the suit filed yesterday, the ruling by the Department of Justice last month has violated the property rights of songwriters, forcing them to re-evaluate private contracts that are commonly forged amongst songwriting contributors in order to comply with the demands of the new law.

This is said to be in direct breach of the Fifth Circuit, claiming: “the mandate is an illegitimate assertion of agency power in gross violation of plaintiffs’ due process rights, copyright interests and freedom of contacts, and needs to be set aside.” 

The songwriters also believe the mandate harms songwriters by limiting the value of their copyrighted musical works, undermining songwriters’ and composers’ ability to exploit their works in the marketplace and restricting the rights of songwriters to claim fair remuneration for the use of their works. 

Representing SONA on a pro bono basis is Gerard P. Fox, a local Los Angeles lawyer. Fox made headlines in the 1990s after successfully representing the Isley Brothers in their legal feud with singer-songwriter Michael Bolton over copyright infringement.  

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