Justice Department Plans Virtual Workshop On Music Industry Consent Decrees

The Justice Department is planning a virtual public workshop on one of the most contentious issues in the music business – the future of the nearly 80-year-old consent decrees that have governed how works are licensed.

The event on July 28 and 29 is the latest development as the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division reviews the decrees, a move that would have huge implications on songwriters, artists and publishers.

According to the DOJ, the workshop will include discussions of competition issues related to public performance licenses, competition between performing rights organizations, and the licensing of music to end users. Plans are for the panels to include executives from the organizations, along with songwriters, publishers, legal experts and others in the industry.

Last year, the Justice Department opened a review of the consent decrees, which were put in place in 1941 and govern the business practices of ASCAP and BMI.

The DOJ reviewed the consent decrees during the Obama administration, but concluded that “the current system has well served music creators and music users for decades and should remain intact.”

But the DOJ under current antitrust chief Makan Delrahim has been reviewing consent decrees across all industries to gauge their continued effectiveness and relevance.

ASCAP favors a transition period to “enable an orderly transition to a free market.” The National Music Publishers Association, meanwhile, wants the decrees to be modified to allow copyright owners to selectively withdraw digital rights from ASCAP and BMI. But groups like the Motion Picture Association and the National Association of Broadcasters want the decrees kept in place, arguing that to terminate them would jeopardize competition as they obtain rights clearances for music in movies and TV shows.

Last year, the Justice Department moved to lift the 72-year-old Paramount consent decrees, which has restricted movie distributors control of the exhibition pipeline. A federal judge has not yet signed off on the plan to terminate the decrees.

The workshop will be webcast from 12:30 PM ET to 4 PM ET each day. The Antitrust Division has so far received almost 900 comments on their review of the ASCAP-BMI decrees, which you can see here. The DOJ also is continuing to take non-duplicative comments on the music decrees through July 22, at [email protected]

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