It has been a cruel summer for music publishing. On June 30, ASCAP and BMI learned that the U.S. Department of Justice not only declined to amend the 75-year-old antitrust consent decrees that the collecting societies say keep them from negotiating effectively in the digital age — it essentially will further restrict them. Although the Department of Justice hasn’t yet published its opinion, it apparently will require ASCAP and BMI — which collect and distribute royalties to songwriters and publishers when music is performed on radio and TV and in venues — to offer “100 percent licensing,” which means they will have to license all of the rights to any composition in their repertoire. This would break with decades of practice, creating a logistical and legal morass.
“I think I levitated outside of my body when they read their prepared statement,” says ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews. “I remember saying to someone, ‘I feel like I’m in an episode of Punk’d.’ “