The Tennessean: Sen. Alexander urges DOJ to revisit consent decrees he says harm songwriters, publishers

Posted on June 15, 2017

In addition to being a U.S. Senator, former Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander is apparently also a songwriter, making $110 last year for his part in the creation of country singer Lee Brice’s song ‘Falling Apart Together.’

In a video published Thursday, Alexander shared the detail as part of a larger discussion about a 76-year-old consent decree that he said harms songwriters in Nashville.

The consent decree, which dates back to 1941, arose from an antitrust lawsuit the U.S. Department of Justice brought against the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) over concerns about anticompetitive business practices.

The lawsuit was settled after the organizations entered into consent decrees that established royalty rates, which Alexander says are outdated.

“A few years ago I asked an older couple how y’all doing and the woman said we’re just falling apart together. So I mentioned that to Lee Brice and Billy Montana and a couple of other songwriters and they wrote a song about it,” Alexander, who frequently plays piano, explained in the video. “Under the Nashville custom, they gave me one fourth of the royalties so last year I got $110 in royalties, just as they did.”

Aside from outdated royalty rates, Alexander another issue with the consent decree is an interpretation the Justice department announced last year would require songwriters to spend unnecessary time hiring lawyers rather than writing songs.

When the interpretation was announced last June, ASCAP, BMI and others, including the Nashville Songwriters Association International, expressed frustration.

Songwriters, publishers and others have said the consent decrees need to be updated given the rise of digital music.

“My hope is the Department of Justice will take a new look at this outdated consent decree and get a market rate so songwriters can get paid the real value of their songs and so that the federal government doesn’t mess up the way songs are co-written in Nashville,” Alexander concluded in the video.

At a recent Senate subcommittee meeting, Alexander relayed his concerns to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who said he would consider issues related to consent decrees very seriously.  

“We have thousands of songwriters in Nashville, which is the center of songwriting. Most of them are waiters, bus drivers and teachers in the meantime hoping to make a big hit,” Alexander said.

Rosenstein said there are several questions that come to mind when considering consent decrees, including whether they help solve a problem, are they working and when will they end.

“I think those are appropriate questions,” Rosenstein said. “I can assure you that we will when there are consent decree issues in the department we will think very seriously about all those and other issues.”