Poll: Should Songwriters Have The Right To Opt Out Of Individual Digital Music Services?

Many of my non-music business friends ask “If streaming services and webcasters pay so little to songwriters why don’t you pull your songs off the services?”

To further confuse things you probably know by now Thom Yorke pulled his recordings from Spotify. But oddly any “covers” of his songs will remain on Spotify. Why is it that? Why don’t songwriters pull their songs from digital services like Pandora and Spotify if the rates are so bad?

The short answer is: By government mandate we are not allowed.

And here’s the short explanation: There are two similar government mandates that prevent us from doing this. Something called a “consent decree” and another called “compulsory licensing”. Yes believe it or not in 2013 The Government of The United States mandates terms and prices for certain digital uses of songs!

The long explanation: We can sort of opt out but we have to exercise the “Nuclear Option” and pull our digital rights from ASCAP/BMI/SESAC. We would then have to negotiate and collect directly from each and every single digital service on the planet. This is feasible for someone with a lot of catalogue and market power (like Sony ATV) but not for individual songwriters. In other words the only way to “opt out” is to essentially abandon our ability to bargain in a collective manner.

Maybe the solution is to allow songwriters to ”opt out” of specific services, or to pick and choose which songs are available on which types of services. This would be a small step towards free markets and aid in “price discovery.” If we have true price discovery for songs we could eliminate the need for governments to set prices and mandate licenses in the first place. I realize this could create new challenges for Songwriters and publisher but can the situation really get any worse?

But heck what do we know? We’d genuinely like to hear what you think.

Filed under: Artist Rights

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