In a finding panned by songwriters and publishers, the U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday unveiled its recommendations to leave unchanged the consent decrees governing licensing rules for performance rights organizations ASCAP and BMI.
Instead, the DOJ asserted a new interpretation that the decrees require 100 percent licensing.
The performance rights organizations vowed swift action: BMI plans to sue while ASCAP announced it will work on new legislation in Congress, the group said.
Under 100 percent licensing, or “full-work licensing” as the DOJ calls it, ASCAP and BMI must convey to their licensees — radio and television stations, bars, digital music services and others — the ability to publicly perform all songs in their repertoires without the risk of copyright infringement. Full-work licensing applies even if ASCAP or BMI only represent a small fraction of a song’s copyright. A single song often has multiple publishers and writers, who each own a portion of the copyright.
The performance rights organizations, which handle licensing for when songs are played on the radio, performed at a music venue or streamed by a digital service, preemptively criticized the DOJ last month.
They said full-work licensing would throw into chaos the common-place practice of co-writing a song. Critics say songwriters may not want to write with a fellow writer represented by a different performance rights organization as a result.