Sony Records Attacks American Songwriters

The below letter was written to the CEO of Sony Records on August 3, 2016.

Dear Mr. Morris,

I write to you today struggling to even accurately convey the astonishment felt by American songwriters when recently learning that Sony Records plans to contest songwriters in the current Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) proceedings-- intending to lower the already meager royalties we are receiving. What’s worse, you are doing so even after the other major and independent labels have decided not to engage in, and be actively hostile, to songwriters in this proceeding. I have to believe that you are aware that the past few years have seen the American songwriting profession devastated. The Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) estimates that the songwriting profession has dwindled some 80% to 90% in terms of the number of songwriters earning their primary income from royalties on current song activity. It is embarrassingly disingenuous that Sony would attempt to hide behind its claim to “increase the headline rate” when in fact its proposal to the CRB would actually lower the rates songwriters currently receive from digital interactive streaming services. Warner Brothers, Universal and other record labels have chosen not to attempt to suppress the rates digital interactive services pay to songwriters. Perhaps they understand that ultimately their profits really rest on the great songs we create.

Some artists are also great songwriters. But many songs that earn Sony millions and millions of dollars are written by gifted tunesmiths whose names the public will never know. Those individuals cannot earn money from shares of the artist’s concert revenues, merchandising and other income streams like Sony can. Sony is already earning many, many times what songwriters earn from streaming royalties and now you want to reduce the meager amount songwriters are paid from interactive streams. Why? If there is a reason aside from greed, please let us know. It appears that Sony does not value the contribution from, nor the relationship with, songwriters as much as other record labels.

NSAI has openly supported proposals for new/increased royalties for record labels including a royalty from terrestrial radio stations and legislative remedies for pre-1972 sound recordings that are found in the “Fair Play, Fair Pay Act” currently before Congress. Our support for record labels in the music ecosystem makes Sony’s position to lower our royalties for interactive streams particularly disturbing and amounts to picking on the little guy.

NSAI asks that you immediately withdraw your rate proposals from the CRB proceedings and participation with respect to setting rates for digital interactive streaming services. The request you make for lowering our rates makes no sense and amounts to meddling when you consider that the digital services and their subscribers pay the songwriters, not the record labels. If you will not withdraw, we request that you publicly disclose your rate proposals so that everyone can see exactly what Sony Records is seeking to do. If you claim that you are doing what is in our best interest, there should no reason not to make your intentions public.

Somehow it seems the large corporation that is Sony Records does not care about America’s smallest small business, the songwriter, and has forgotten that “It All Begins With a Song.”

Bart Herbison
Executive Director