In his first hearing as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) held a hearing this week titled “How Much For a Song?: The Antitrust Decrees that Govern the Market for Music.” Of particular interest at the hearing were the federal consent decrees by which the major performing rights organizations, ASCAP and BMI, are regulated. While ASCAP CEO Beth Matthews advocated for significant loosening of the consent decrees, Mike Dowdle, representing broadcasters, and Chris Harrison of Pandora warned against dissipating the power of those decrees. Dowdle highlighted the anticompetitive nature of the U.S. music marketplace in which ASCAP and BMI control more than 90 percent of the public performance rights. He said the consent decrees “serve as antitrust lifelines.” Similarly, Harrison noted, “While music publishers and the PROs cloak their requests for increased royalties in the rhetoric of free-market capitalism, what they really seek is a licensing regime that is structured to insulate publishers and PROs against the forces of competition.” For his part, Chairman Lee stated, “Here we have an opportunity to discuss openly the topics DOJ is discussing privately. As we listen today, we must remember that we have both a responsibility to encourage creativity by recognizing the value of copyrights and a duty to ensure that prices for music remain competitive for consumers.”
• Find written testimony and video from this hearing here.
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: March 13, 2015