‘Split Work’ Songs May Be Licensed By One

DeptofjusticeAccording to Billboard, multiple sources have confirmed the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) has notified BMI and ASCAP (the two regulated, domestic performance right organizations) that “split work” songs — songs written by multiple writers — may be licensed 100 percent by any rights holder.

“In other words, the long-established industry practice of each rights owner greenlighting their particular portion of a song in order to establish a license — also known as fractional licensing — may no longer be allowed,” said Ed Christman in his piece for the trade publication. “As of now, a music licensee has to go to all rights owners to get a license. That’s why so many synchronizations don’t happen: because all songwriters and publishers have to sign off on a song’s use. With the possible change, it would only need one rights holder to sign off.”

These changes are pending review and approval by ASCAP and BMI rate court judges. So for now, the DoJ is simply notifying and seeking feedback from affected parties.

ASCAP CEO Beth Matthews is cited in favor of individual rights holders licensing their own portion, according to her statement: “ASCAP supports fractional share licensing coupled with transparency by all market players to effectuate digital withdrawals.”

The change may eliminate the purpose for a publisher to seek partial digital withdrawals from the PROs blanket licenses. Publishers however may push against the current proposal and concerned PROs may gain even greater clout, via market share.

According to reported data last year, Billboard notes: “Even if a songwriter was with a publisher that had withdrawn from PRO, say BMI, a music user could still license possibly as much as 93 [of the top 100 songs last year had co-writers] through another PRO, or even through the same PRO, if one of the co-writer was with a publisher still a part of the BMI.”

Music services like Pandora could welcome the move, as the result may mean Pandora could “rate shop” among the PROs, resulting in lower royalties.


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Eric T. Parker oversees operations and contributes editorial for MusicRow's print magazine, MusicRow.com, the RowFax tip sheet and the MusicRow CountryBreakout chart. He also facilitates annual events for the enterprise, including MusicRow Awards, CountryBreakout Awards and the Rising Women on the Row. eparker@musicrow.com | @EricTParker

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