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Letter: Musicians deserve a fair paycheck from the licensing duopoly

Letter to the Editor Deseret News

The primary purpose in creating the U.S. Senate was to protect the little guy — specifically little states so they wouldn’t get overwhelmed by big states. Giving equal suffrage in the Senate helped persuade Rhode Island that it wouldn’t get bullied by Virginia.

The Senate has served that purpose remarkably well, particularly with fighters like Sen. Hatch standing up for Utah and other little guys who couldn’t stand up for themselves. One interest Sen. Hatch protected was fledgling musicians from big, corporate interests.

Approximately 90% of songs are licensed via two powerful interests — the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, or ASCAP, and Broadcast Music, Inc. To play any of their music in public, small businesses need to buy authorizations from this duopoly, which, because of their power, is in a position to exploit them with unreasonable prices. Unfortunately, this is money that paycheck-to-paycheck musicians might never see.

So to protect both small businesses and small musicians from price gouging and exploitation, Congress 80 years ago came up with a device called “consent decrees,” which have successfully juggled the relationships among those three parties. But the Department of Justice is considering changing the nature of how consent decrees work. If they decided to move back the clock 80 years, it could give too much power to ASCAP and BMI, and they could go back to ripping off struggling musicians starting their careers.

A dozen free-market groups sent a coalition letter last month to the Department of Justice on the importance of keeping these consent decrees in place. But the DOJ is acting fast. It needs guidance and a push in the right direction. So Sen. Mike Lee, carrying the ball for the now-retired Sen. Hatch, is holding an antitrust oversight hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 17, in his role as chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights.

Here’s hoping he uses his oversight powers to good use for Utah and its performers who are small-time (for now). All the future David Archuletas and Lindsey Stirlings are counting on him.

Jared Whitley

Salt Lake City