Songwriters’ guilds pen open letter decrying publishers’ attempts at ASCAP/BMI split

BMI + ASCAP canvasSeveral publishers have been vocal about their interest in splitting from the performing rights organizations ASCAP and BMI. Their goal is to exert more control over digital rights management, pushing for increased royalty rates from online streaming services for their songwriters. However, a group of professional organizations and guilds centered on songwriting has released an open letter to publishers asking them to reconsider.

The letter questions whether publishers have the authority to make that split from ASCAP and BMI on behalf of their stables of composers. “While our organizations support the exploration of all opportunities that might increase royalty rates for music creators and publishers, we feel strongly that the songwriters, composers and others we represent maintain their right to decide who collects and administers performing rights royalties on their behalf,” the letter reads. It goes on to call for total transparency in any directly negotiated licensing deals so music creators’ royalties can be accurately calculated.

The signees of this letter are the Songwriters Guild of America, the International Council of Music Creators, the Music Creators North America, European Composers and Songwriter Alliance, the Society of Composers and Lyricists, the Songwriter’s Association of Canada, the Screen Composers Guild of Canada, the Latin American Composers and Authors Alliance, the Société Professionelle des Auteurs et des Compositeurs du Québec, and the Pan-African Composers and Songwriter Alliance.

It’s unclear how much sway this public statement will have over major publishers’ plans to divest themselves from the PROs. The letter noted that ASCAP and BMI’s trade organization, the National Music Publishers Association, was uninterested in discussing the subject with the signees. We’re also still waiting for the Justice Department to make a potential ruling on consent decrees, which determine whether digital rights must be bundled in with all other licensing deals. That outcome could also mean that the publishers are able to make bigger negotiating moves without direct say from the songwriters they represent.

Anna Washenko