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Bill Barr: Don't Give the Trump-Hating Music Industry Special Treatment

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma

Big Music has a lot of nerve. After donating millions to far-left Democrats and threatening to sue the Trump campaign for playing popular music despite its holding the necessary license, two of the biggest music conglomerates around, ASCAP and BMI, are now begging the Trump-Barr Department of Justice for less federal oversight. It would be funny if it wasn't also sad and potentially dangerous.

Imagine that you are a small business, like a bar or a coffee shop, and you want to play music for your customers. Rather than negotiating with every individual artist for the right to play their works, the current system requires you to buy blanket rights from ASCAP and BMI, which essentially have a monopoly on such rights. It is not a natural monopoly, either: music publishers banded together into these two organizations, seemingly for the sole purpose of rigging prices upward.

Monopolies, as any capitalist can tell you, are bad, so the DOJ inserted various conditions in antitrust agreements, known as consent decrees, that force ASCAP and BMI to deal with artists and businesses fairly, and which give the federal government the ability to step in when ASCAP and BMI abuse their monopoly position.

So far, so good, right? America hasn't exactly been groaning under the supposed flaws of this system. Last time I checked, the music industry was thriving — especially the fat cats at ASCAP and BMI — and businesses had ready access to popular music at a reasonable cost.

So why fix a system that isn't broken? Simple: because Big Music can always imagine making more money, and, if it requires pulling a fast one on the American people and Bill Barr, they won't bat an eyelash.

ASCAP and BMI argue that, despite the fact that the DOJ reviewed the music marketplace three years ago and found no reason to change the existing antitrust agreements, now is the time to upend the music industry and remove the constraints that have prevented them from price-gouging all these years. These companies know that the Trump-Barr regime is generally favorable to business and opposed to government regulation, so presumably they feel that this is the perfect opportunity to transform their regulated monopoly into an unregulated one. Brilliant!

Removing these agreements, which prevent discrimination in the issuance of licenses, will just give these monopoly businesses more leeway to victimize conservatives. Moreover, if history is any indication, the extra profits from their excused price-gouging will not go to everyday songwriters and creators of music, but by and large to the music publishers and the music elite that have already made a habit of robbing them blind.

While Barr has yet to weigh in on the fight, the Antitrust Division alarmingly opened a review into these decrees in June, just months after ASCAP and BMI made their big push.

The music industry is one of the great American success stories. While many traditional American industries have withered, from steel to textiles to consumer electronics, intellectual property, including artistic content like music, remains in high demand, and no country on Earth produces that content as well and in such great quantities as the USA.

If the DOJ monkeys with the existing structure that governs the music industry, therefore, it would risk killing the goose that lay the golden egg: American music dominance. Thousands of artists, and hundreds of thousands of people who work in the industry, would have their livelihoods jeopardized, and a major element of American popular culture would be changed forever.

With the Music Modernization Act, Congress has already spoken out against a hasty revision to the terms that govern the music industry, insisting that it be kept in the loop. It's time for the American people to add their voice to this chorus.

Contact Bill Barr and tell him that weakening federal oversight over ASCAP and BMI would be a big mistake.

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