It would be an extreme understatement to say that Hollywood did not exactly embrace the election of Donald Trump with grace. There have been endless speeches, protests, and laughable video compilations that show a seemingly never-ending stream of hand wringers from both the acting and music industries proclaiming the end of the world as they know it.
Now, however, in classic Hollywood fashion, these show-business-types have reversed course and are kissing President Trump’s ring in hopes that he will advance their special interest priorities. Unfortunately, some of their campaigns will greatly limit the accessibility of music to millennial users.
The music industry came out big for the Hillary Clinton campaign. With just four days left before the election, Beyonce and Jay-Z joined Hillary on stage for a giant free concert in Cleveland to implore the audience to not vote for “racist” and “bigot” Trump. A number of other musicians refused to let Trump play their songs at his rally. The anti-Trump sentiment reached to the highest echelons of the music industry, which ranked as the fourth-largest group of donors contributing to Hillary Clinton.
At the presidential inauguration, which previously included a who’s-who list of A-list musicians for Bush and Obama, Trump was only able to scrape up Three Doors Down, Toby Keith, and Lee Greenwood because everyone else was too afraid of the inevitable backlash that came with performing.
It’s really sad that Hollywood created its own version of McCarthyism by threatening the careers of performers who didn’t fall in line with their performing wishes. So much for celebrating the United States of America and showing that we can all come together for the greater good.
But now, even with all this bad blood, the music industry has forged a smile. In a shameless act of hypocrisy, they have sent their lobbyists to Washington, D.C. to ask the new administration for a favor.
Lobbyists for the music publishers and the major labels recently issued an open letter asking the President-elect for help with their special interests priorities. With galling insincerity, the letter opens with, “Congratulations on your election… We look forward to working with you and your Administration on behalf of American music.”
That’s right: despite stabbing him in the back at every turn, the leaders of the music industry are now looking to get Trump to remove their free market consent decrees and impose ruthless copyright restrictions so that they can leverage their market share without government restraints.
For years, ASCAP and BMI, the two largest music collectives that own 90 percent of our music catalogs’ songs, have enjoyed a government-imposed monopoly. Since our nation’s’ stifling intellectual property laws have allowed these collectives to control so much of the music industry’s market shares, the government made a compromise: they would keep the burdensome copyright restrictions in place, but restrain these collectives’ market share through the use of consent decrees.
These consent decrees mandate that ASCAP and BMI provide blanket licenses to music purchasers like bars, restaurants, and radio stations on demand at a set price, ensuring that there is no price-fixing by the monopolists.
While not perfect, this system has worked out rather well. ASCAP and BMI continue to hit record revenues every year, while music consumers continue to receive access to songs at reasonable costs. Now, however, these music collectives aren’t satisfied and want to make “fractional licensing” the law of the land.
Essentially, fractional licensing would scrap this compromise and force all businesses to negotiate with every copyright holder of a given song. The 99% owner would have the same hold-up rights as a 1% owner. Obviously, the end result will be gridlock, higher prices, and less access to music.
But this move will hurt millennials more than anyone else. Some of our favorite streaming services, such as Pandora and Spotify, will be in trouble. In fact, Pandora has already been embroiled in a large royalty fight with these music collectives. It seems that fractional licensing will inevitably empower groups like ASCAP and BMI to take advantage of these streaming services, leading to either higher costs or less music choices for us millennials.
Judging by the looks of the music lobbyists’ patronizing letter to President Trump, you would never believe that this is the same industry whose members universally berated Trump, claimed him unfit for office, cursed him and urged its consumers to vote against him. If Trump’s platform resonated so profoundly with them, it makes you wonder why they all worked so hard to try to defeat him.
The Trump administration can see through the light of their bluff. The music industry’s crony elitism is exactly the behavior the American voters rejected last November when they sent President-elect Trump to Washington to “drain the swamp.” Trump should stand his ground on the consent decrees that protect businesses and music-lovers throughout the country from the monopolistic abuse of the music industry.