February 9, 2017

SONA files motion against US Department of Justice

Charts & New Music Editor
SONA files motion against US Department of Justice

The ongoing legal saga between US collection societies/songwriters and the Department of Justice (DOJ) is set to continue as songwriting advocacy group Songwriters of North America (SONA) opposed a motion for dismissal of its lawsuit challenging the DOJ’s interpretation of the consent decrees.

Yesterday, the plaintiff told a DC Circuit judge they have sufficient standing and concrete injuries to bring constitutional claims over the latest interpretation of consent decrees stretching back decades.

The policy issue surrounding the case, as stated by the DOJ, concerns 100% licensing, or “full-works”. Under this policy, any party that controls a part of a composition can issue a license for the use of the whole composition, without the need to gain approval from other entities involved in the composition of a work.

Having been subject to the consent decrees since 1941, US collection societies BMI and ASCAP, as well as the majority of songwriters, have long argued that the decrees are widely out-dated and hinder the interests of publishers, writers and licensors alike.

A failure to amend the consent decrees on June 30 2016 saw the Department of Justice come under fire from music industry figures, with one unnamed music publishing executive calling the ordeal a ‘clusterf…’.

Co-founded by Michelle Lewis & Kay Hanley, SONA’s first organised response was launched in September last year, when the group of 200 songwriters sued the Justice Department. They claimed that the decrees 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.

The group said, “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.

If SONA’s latest case succeeds, the music publishing business will be dealt some much-needed reprieve from government regulation. The Department of Justice may choose to reverse it’s full-works licensing decision completely, which will result in the cessation of the lawsuit.

However, this seems an unlikely outcome. SONA will have the arduous task of convincing the jury that the decrees cause significant harm to songwriters, specifically in the form of financial losses, for the case to have any effect on the current interpretations of the consent decrees.