Music Licensing Databases? The Transparency in Music Licensing Ownership Act and ASCAP/BMI

On July 20, US Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) introduced the Transparency in Music Licensing Ownership Act.  The legislation would create a database of music copyright ownership and licensing information.  The database would cover both musical works and sound recordings.

A copy of the legislation is available here.

According to Representative Sensenbrenner’s press release, the legislation would:

  • Require the Register of Copyrights to establish and maintain a current informational database of musical works and sound recordings while granting the Register authority to hire employees and contractors, promulgate regulations, and spend appropriated funds necessary and appropriate to carry out these functions.
  • Ensure that the database is made publicly accessible by the Copyright Office, in its entirety and without charge, and in a format that reflects current technological practices, and that is updated on a real-time basis.
  • Limit the remedies available to a copyright owner or authorized party to bring an infringement action for violation of the exclusive right to perform publicly, reproduce or distribute a musical work or sound recording if that owner/ authorized party has failed to provide or maintain the minimum information required in the database.

The legislation is cosponsored by Representatives Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Blake Farenthold (R-TX), and Steve Chabot (R-OH).

Shortly after the introduction of the legislation, BMI and ASCAP announced that they have been separately creating a similar database by combining their repertories.  The BMI/ASCAP database is set to launch in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Representative Sensenbrenner has criticized BMI and ASCAP for not cooperating with Congress on this issue, and noted that such a database would be incomplete due to the lack of participation from all PROs.

The Music Innovation Consumer (MIC) Coalition, which is a group of associations whose members’ businesses use music, such as broadcasters, webcasters, stores, hotels, restaurants, bars, and taverns, has criticized BMI’s and ASCAP’s databases noting:

We appreciate that ASCAP and BMI recognize that there is a problem in the current music licensing system, but what they are proposing is not a complete solution. Only Congress has the ability to create a neutral, reliable and comprehensive database. That’s why the MIC Coalition strongly supports “Transparency in Music Licensing and Ownership Act” introduced by Congressman Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Suzan DelBene (D-WA).

In particular, the MIC Coalition has noted that ASCAP’s and BMI’s databases are incomplete, and that all four of the PROs expressly disclaim the accuracy of their databases and any liability resulting from the use of their databases.

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