ASCAP Settles Consent Decree Lawsuit

There’s been a big development in a longstanding lawsuit against the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), better known as a kind of union for songwriters and music publishers.

On May 12, ASCAP and the US Department of Justice announced a settlement over consent decrees, in which ASCAP has agreed to pay $1.75 million and make certain revisions to its practices in light of allegations it violated a court order. The organization has been reprimanded by the DoJ for “interfering with its members’ ability to directly license their songs,” according to LegalNewsline.com. “The organization, however, purportedly entered into roughly 150 contracts with members that made ASCAP the exclusive licenser of their performance rights,” meaning songwriters got paid nothing for their work, missing out on royalties due them.

“By blocking members’ ability to license their songs themselves, ASCAP undermined a critical protection of competition contained in the consent decree,” according to Renata B. Hesse, head of DoJ’s antitrust division, as reported by LegalNewsline.com. “The Supreme Court said ASCAP’s consent decree is supposed to provide music users with a ‘real choice’ in how they can access the millions of songs in ASCAP’s repertory—through ASCAP’s blanket license or through direct negotiations with individual songwriters and publishers.”

The consent decree in question is 75-years-old and itself was created to settle an antitrust investigation, the New York Times notes. In this latest settlement, the organization will be allowed to represent the performers of a given song, but the publisher of the song can negotiate with outside parties.

In a statement released Thursday, ASCAP said the settlement “clears the way for ASCAP and the Department of Justice to continue their discussions in connection with updates to the consent decree requested by ASCAP in order to reflect today’s digital music marketplace.”

ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews adds that agreeing to the settlement “was the right thing to do for our members. With these issues resolved, we continue our focus on leading the way towards a more efficient, effective and transparent music licensing system and advocating for key reforms to the laws that govern music creator compensation.”

While approved by ASCAP’s board of directors, it must still be approved by ASCAP’s Federal Rate Court Judge before it can be legally binding.

 

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

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