Outdated Laws Block Fair Payment for Songwriters | Letter to the Editor

Posted April 16, 2014 at 4:00am

As a songwriter, I found the recent commentary by Gregory Alan Barnes (“In Debate Over Compensation, Songwriter Equity Act Is Off-Key,”) to be unsettling and misleading.

The stark reality that today’s songwriters and composers are increasingly struggling to make a living from their music, despite the fact that their music is listened to and enjoyed by more people, in more places and over more devices, more than ever before.

The for-profit Internet music companies, many of which Mr. Barnes’ association represents, are using laws that were written long before online streaming became popular or even mainstream to force music creators to accept less than fair compensation for our work.

For every 1,000 streams of a song, Pandora, for example, only pays 8 cents in performance royalties on average — or eight one-thousandths of a cent per stream.

Mr. Barnes’ assertion that this “can add up rather quickly” and any examples to the contrary are simply too old to matter is quite simply wrong. As a co-writer of Bruno Mars’ 2010 hit song “Just the Way You Are” with The Smeezingtons and Cassius D Kalb, I only saw a fraction of the mere $4,259 Pandora paid in total performance royalties to the writers and publishers of the song for the more than 54 million times it was streamed that year. Meanwhile, record labels get 12 to 14 times as much for the exact same stream.

While Congress did enact Section 114(i) of the U.S. Copyright Act to protect songwriters, it has failed to achieve that objective. Instead, it has resulted in profound inequity within the music licensing system. And it financially benefits the Internet music giants Mr. Barnes represents, which is why they are fighting to keep it.

But the system can and must work better.

That is why I, along with thousands of other songwriters, support the Songwriter Equity Act. I firmly believe is a smart and reasonable step toward creating a fair system that benefits everyone in the music chain — music creators, music licensees and music fans — rather than pitting us against one another.

— Khari “Needlz” Cain is a songwriter/producer based in Atlanta whose credits include “Just the Way You Are” (Bruno Mars), “I’m Goin’ In” (Drake), “Til I Get There” (Lupe Fiasco) and most recently, “YOLO” (The Lonely Island featuring Adam Levine and Kendrick Lamar).