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Hakeem J.
Democrat NY 8

About Rep. Hakeem
  • Songwriter Equity Act

    by Representative Hakeem S. Jeffries

    Posted on 2015-12-09

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    JEFFRIES. Mr. Speaker, I thank my good friend, the distinguished gentleman from Georgia, for convening us here today on this incredibly important issue on the House floor and, of course, for his extraordinary leadership on behalf of the songwriters in America.

    Over the years, I have gotten to know some very good country lawyers. I have also gotten to know some very good country preachers. My good friend from Georgia is the best of both worlds. We appreciate the tremendous skill set that he has brought to bear here in the United States Congress. We are members, of course, of the class of 2012. It has been wonderful to work closely with you in your capacity as the lead sponsor of this very important piece of legislation.

    Article I, section 8, clause 8, of the United States Constitution gives Congress, both the House and the Senate, the power to create a robust intellectual property system, in the words of our Founders, in order ``to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.'' The Founders of this great country understood that it was important to create a robust intellectual property system in order to allow creators and innovators to be able to benefit from the fruits of their labor.

    Songwriters, of course, are at the heart of the music ecosystem, a music ecosystem that produces a variety of different forms of music.

    We know that there is country. There is pop. There is rock and roll. There is blues. There is bluegrass. There is jazz. There is Motown. There is hip-hop. There is R&B, which we tend to be partial to in the Eighth Congressional District.

    What all of them have in common is that someone had to create this music. At the heart of that creation, at the heart of the ecosystem, of course, is the songwriter.

    Now, if the songwriter were to disappear or to be diminished in number, then the whole system of music creation collapses. In many ways, that is what the Songwriter Equity Act is all about because of the inherent fundamental unfairness in the current system by which songwriters are compensated.

    Congressman Collins and I have been able to work closely with a variety of different stakeholders from throughout the Nation. Certainly, Nashville, Atlanta, and New York have wonderful songwriting communities.

    The chairman of ASCAP, Paul Williams, who has been a tremendous advocate, often has said before the Judiciary Committee and in other contexts that songwriters may be the most heavily regulated small- business people in America.

    Unfortunately, that heavy regulation, as is often the case, is not benefiting them. In fact, in many ways, it is suffocating the songwriting community. It is not working to their benefit. It is not consistent with the DNA of our Constitution as it relates to intellectual property, which is to enable creators to benefit from the fruits of their labor.

    That is why the Songwriter Equity Act is such an important piece of legislation in order to allow those songwriters, who are spread out in all 435 congressional districts in every great State in the Union, to be able to participate fairly in the music ecosystem that is so central to the genres that we all know and love throughout our land.

    Music, of course, is universal in nature. It crosses all boundaries of race and religion, socioeconomics, region, cultural boundaries in this incredibly diverse Nation of more than 320 million people. That is why it has been so wonderful to participate in this journey as it relates to trying to do the right thing for the songwriters in this country.

    As has been pointed out by my colleague from Georgia and the other participants here, there are really two fundamental things that the Songwriter Equity Act attempts to correct.

    First, it is important to make sure that the rate courts, who often decide the compensation for songwriters in certain contexts, have an opportunity to consider all of the evidence so that they can arrive at an informed decision as to what makes the most sense.

    It is just illogical to believe that a rate court that is walled off from certain forms of evidence, such as the compensation received by recording artists, can arrive at a fair and equitable decision.

    In fact, what we have seen is that, over time, because this wall has existed, the compensation for recording artists has increased significantly. The compensation for songwriters has remained at an artificially low level. That is one of the things that we are trying to correct. Let all of the evidence be considered by the courts that are determining these rates.

    Lastly, the Songwriter Equity Act is designed to bring some notion of market fairness to the compensation of songwriters who create the music that [[Page H9201]] we love. Right now, we have got artificially imposed regulatory rates on these songwriters in a manner that is not fair, that is not just, not consistent with a market-based approach that has made the United States so prosperous for so many other folks.

    That is why songwriters rightfully can say that this overregulation is not working for us. We would just like to be able to get the fair market value of our creations. That is what the Songwriter Equity Act is designed to do.

    So I am looking forward to working closely with my good friend from Georgia. He has been a tremendous leader in this regard. I am hopeful that we will be able to soon advance this legislation before the Judiciary Committee.

    It has tremendous bipartisan support from Republicans and Democrats, Progressives and Conservatives. Let's advance this legislation out of Judiciary and onto the House floor and eventually get it to a place where it can be signed into law by the President.

    Thank you for your extraordinary leadership.

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