The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) has reached a $1.75m Settlement Agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice addressing two specific concerns raised during the Department’s ongoing review of the ASCAP Consent Decree.
The DOJ had claimed that ASCAP had violated the rules of the consent decree that governs the organisation by entering into exclusivity deals with some 150 of its members. In the US, the norm is that the organisation represents its members performing rights on a non-exclusive basis, meaning a licensee can circumvent the society and can deal directly with a songwriter and/or publisher. In most other countries, when songwriters and publishers join a performing rights society, they give that organisation the exclusive right to represent the performing right elements of their copyrights.
The DoJ said that since 2008 that ASCAP had added exclusivity terms to some of its agreements with members, and that this contravened the provisions of the consent decree The society said that it had never enforced any exclusivity provisions in its members contracts, adding that they had now been removed and would not be included in future agreement
“By blocking members’ ability to license their songs themselves, ASCAP undermined a critical protection of competition contained in the consent decree”, said the DOJ’s Renata B Hesse.
The DOJ’s was also concerned about the potential conflict of interest caused by the publishers who sit on the society’s board, who may be doing their own licensing deals with streaming companies and other digital platforms. Under the settlement, ASCAP is allowed to keep its current board structure – twelve songwriters and twelve publishers – but publisher board members will not participate in the approval of new licensing agreements.
ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews said: “Settling this matter 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”.