Report to membership on the Universal/SESAC deal.
On April 1, Universal Publishing Production Music, ASCAP and SESAC announced that UPPM would remove several of their production music catalogues from ASCAP and transfer the works contained therein to SESAC for representation in the United States. The most controversial aspect of the move is that it was made without the assent of the writers whose works are included in the catalogues.
It is Universal’s belief that because these works were created under ‘Work For Hire’ agreements, it has the absolute legal right to exploit the copyrights at its sole discretion, without the creator’s approval and further believes this right extends to works it publishes NOT acquired on a WFH basis.
A Universal spokesman, intimately involved with the deal, offered the following reasons for the action:
1. Universal believes that performing rights are undervalued and underpaid in the US and while the uncertainty surrounding the revision or repeal of the Consent Decrees exist, it will use whatever means it can to increase the value of their music catalogues it controls.
2. SESAC has guaranteed Universal a 20% increase in payments for the music in the catalogues during the term of the multi-year agreement. Universal will share the receipts equally with the writers (i.e. 50/50) and further guarantees that there are no "side deals" that only benefit Universal at the expense of the writers.
3. The writers will be paid directly by SESAC for performances of their music and will not need to leave ASCAP or join SESAC to receive this income. Universal believes this will guarantee transparency to the writers. In addition, SESAC will offer any composer affected by the catalogue transfer the opportunity to become a direct member should they so choose, while stating it will not actively encourage this action.
The SCL board applauds any effort to increase the value of music in the marketplace and while this deal may indeed benefit the writers due to a 20% increase in payments, the failure to acknowledge the writers’ right to choose their PRO affiliation cannot be overlooked. There are many considerations made by a music creator before choosing to affiliate with a particular PRO, not the least of which is the personal relationships that develop over time and should not be tampered with by any third party. Moving works without the writer’s assent sets an unacceptable precedent and leaves the door open to abuse by less scrupulous players who, unlike Universal and SESAC, may not have the best intentions.
Nonetheless, the SCL board believes writers of the affected works should have been consulted before their music was removed from their chosen performing rights organization - in this case ASCAP - and there have been unintended consequences which, most likely, will continue.
There are many foreign writers, licensing their works through ASCAP for North America, who have exclusive assignment deals with the PRO (of their choice) in their local territory who inadvertently have been affected. We have also learned from BMI that there are a nominal number of their writers who moved from ASCAP some time ago and chose to leave their back-catalogue containing these works at ASCAP. BMI admits they are unsure how these writers will be paid at this point in time.
For more than 100 years, the music creator has had the unfettered right to appoint the society of his/her choice to collect performance royalties but, much like an arranged marriage, Universal has chosen our partner despite our wishes and determined it has the legal right to do so, overriding a long-standing policy.
In conclusion, we urge ALL composers, particularly those with music in the affected catalogues, to contact Universal Publishing Music Group and stress that the concept of composers’ rights and choices in this, and all instances, is of paramount importance.
Now is the time to do so before this practice becomes standard.