Congressman wants to get government out of the songwriter royalty business

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
Font Size:

It all started with a hootenanny, when a 20-something-year old boy in Georgia who was “deeply in love with a 5’2” blonde girl” went with her to her family’s home to sing and play instruments.

It sounds like the start of a country song, but in fact, it’s the reason why that 20-something-year old boy, who is now Georgia Republican Rep. Doug Collins, is putting his weight behind a bill to ensure songwriters are paid more money when their songs are played or purchased or streamed. Collins announced his support for the bill at a press conference Tuesday.

The Songwriter Equity Act of 2014, or SEA, would tweak the copyright laws that determine how much in royalties go to a songwriter when the song is purchased or streamed online or on the radio.

Under current law, federal rate courts are not allowed to even consider how much the royalties are for a sound recording of a song when determining the royalty rates for a songwriter. SEA would change that.

Songwriters will now be able to say, “look, this is what everybody else is getting, and this is what we are getting, and it’s out of balance and unfair,” said Paul Williams, a petite man with spiky hair who wrote the “Rainbow Connection,” made famous by Kermit the Frog, as well as “Rainy Days and Mondays” and “We’ve Only Just Begun” performed The Carpenters.

Now, Williams, who won Best Album for his work on Daft Punk’s new album at the Emmy’s last month, is the president and chairman of ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, and is advocating for this bill.

The bill would also change the standard rate someone is required to pay to reproduce a song. It does this by requiring the Copyright Royalty Board, which determines the statutory rate, to consider fair market value in determining that rate – or what the song would be worth if it were a product being sold by a willing seller to a willing buyer.

The rate currently sits at 9.1 cents per song, a number that has risen only 7.1 cents since it was first introduced 105 years ago.

“The most successful songwriters are all of a sudden finding that their world is down by about 40 percent,” Williams told The Daily Caller after the event, in part because of how prevalent streaming music, through sites like Pandora and Spotify, has become.

“It’s one thing if you’re at the top of your game and you’ve had great success, but if you’re starting out, if you’re a beginning songwriter,” Williams said, it is a problem.

“Songwriting as a means of making a living is going to disappear unless we can adjust,” he said.

Congressman Collins sees the bill as a potential part of the broader overhaul of copyright laws that the House Judiciary Committee is currently examining, and said fixing the law was also a matter of applying conservative values.

“It’s my conservative beliefs … that you ought to have fair compensation for what you do, that there ought to be a fair marketplace out there for you, and that government’s role should be limited and not in a way that interferes,” he said.

Not everyone is happy about the bill. The Digital Media Association, which represents the online music industry, attacked the bill as simply raising the cost for people to purchase and stream music, something they say could boosts websites that let people do so illegally. Setting rates at fair market value, DMA general counsel Gregory Alan Barnes said in a statement, “has been a dismal failure int he Internet radio business,” calling the proposal to set a new rate “troubling.”*


*This piece has been updated with the Digital Media Association’s comments.

Follow Alexis on Twitter