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Songwriters sue Justice Department over lost Copyright interests

Songwriters are in many ways the backbone of the music industry. Without them, after all, there would be no songs. Recent actions by the Department of Justice are putting songwriters at an extreme disadvantage when it comes to online Copyright licensing.

Last month the DOJ ruled that the two largest clearinghouses for music royalties, Ascap and BMI, change licensing procedures to comply with federal law. This would require these organizations to comply with 100 percent licensing, meaning a clearinghouse must legally represent the entire song or remove it from online catalogs. The problem with this is that it may violate the property rights of songwriters, particularly on collaborations, who will now find their royalty contracts nullified.

In response to this ruling, the Songwriters of North America (SONA), an advocacy group, have filed a lawsuit against the DOJ. The lawsuit claims, among other things, that the 100 percent licensing rule is in direct conflict with U.S. Copyright law. As stated in the lawsuit: 

The 100 percent mandate is an illegitimate assertion of agency power in gross violation of plaintiffs' due process rights, copyright interests and freedom of contacts, and needs to be set aside.

As it currently stands, songwriters and musicians receive fairly little pay for streaming and digital radio play. In fact, the DOJ's ruling was a direct response to a request by Ascap and BMI to make changes to current regulatory agreements in response to the surge in streaming music. The SONA lawsuit is just one component of the music industry's efforts to fight against the DOJ's recent ruling.

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