Confessions of a Serial Songwriter: David & Goliath

For those of you who missed the memo(s), or my last two Facebook Page posts, here’s the Newsflash: On Tuesday, my “little” songwriter advocacy group SONA (Songwriters of North America), proudly filed suit against the DoJ in response to it’s ruling on what’s known as 100 percent licensing, which we believe violates the property rights of songwriters and conflicts with copyright law. The New York Times wrote about it as soon as the suit was filed, followed by The Hill, The Boston Globe and Rolling Stone. They took us seriously. I guess we’re not so little any more.

When SONA first started convening, we’d eat bagels, drink coffee and speculate as to why our royalties were drying up in this new digital ecosystem. We’d invite guest speakers, read a lot of material and get informed. And when we had a better grasp of the issues we joined our many music industry colleagues (publishers, PROS, managers), who were actively lobbying the Department of Justice to reexamine the 70 year-old consent decrees, hopeful that the songwriters, whose profession is the most heavily regulated in the world, would get some relief. We felt sure they would understand our plight.

As it turned out, not only did they disregard our ask, they piled on with the further restriction. Another curious detail: Renata Hesse, who once worked for Google—a beneficiary of this unfavorable ruling—oversaw the whole thing. Oy.

Now what?

If you’ve been watching this drama unfold and are still confused (I do not say that condescendingly—I wake up some mornings and ask co-executive director of SONA Michelle Lewis, to explain it to me one more time)—rather than rehash the minutia, have a listen to Michelle and Kay Hanley on KPCC this afternoon. They are pros at breaking it down, even for those of us who are way outside baseball.

SONA thought long and hard—should we be patient—let the situation settle, continue convening for bagels and coffee where we could still make important decisions such as poppy or sesame, cream or sugar—or...should we Act. And while we were thinking, SONA advisor Dina LaPolt, inquired of Los Angeles lawyer Gerard P. Fox as to whether he would be interested in representing SONA in this matter. He said he would.

Still, not so fast…weighing the pros and cons we woke up daily for a number of weeks on a different side of the bed than the day before.

Finally…we asked ourselves why we formed SONA in the first place. We are a passionate bunch who want to make a difference…be part of history. It’s not in our nature to sit still. Admittedly, we are chance takers. If we weren’t we never would have dreamed of being songwriters in the first place.

Of course, we decided to Act. It was a David and Goliath moment. We were the underdogs.

As Michelle puts it in her Billboard OP Ed: “We are very appreciative of the kindness and generosity of those who…fight on the songwriters’ behalf, negotiate on the songwriters’ behalf, lobby on the songwriters’ behalf, speak on the songwriters’ behalf. But this is how songwriters ended up disconnected and relegated to cheering from the sidelines on issues which concern us directly. We need to come out from behind the protective bodies of our PROs, publishers, and managers and speak up for ourselves. We need to remind the public that there are living, breathing, working songwriters who will be deeply affected by the DoJ’s actions.”

So there you have it. Suit filed. We’re off and running. And many compatriots from outside of SONA have jumped in with us. #Appreciate.

This will take time. It won’t be easy. Or pleasant. Sure, there will be backlash and critics and naysayers and tech shills trying to discredit us. In fact, it’s already started. There’s no way to know how our lawsuit will play out. But as my friend Bonnie Wallace pointed out to me last night: “Like Martin Luther King said, the arc of history bends toward justice--I believe that the arc of life bends toward the right thing happening—it’s just as easy to frame your experience with a positive interpretation as with a negative one. The difference in the quality of my day depends on which frame I choose. The negative frame can keep me frozen in fear while the positive one allows me to see possibility and make better choices, which is why I tend to always find the upside in any given scenario. This has shaped the course of my life.”

What she said.

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Thank you for reading, my friends. If you are inclined to lend your support to SONA, or if you’d like to actually be part of our endeavor, please visit our website www.WeAreSona.com.

Some of SONA, Clockwise from left: Pam Sheyne, Matthew Puckett, Adam Gorgoni. Andrew Rollins, Moi, Kay Hanley, Adam Dorn, Jac
Some of SONA, Clockwise from left: Pam Sheyne, Matthew Puckett, Adam Gorgoni. Andrew Rollins, Moi, Kay Hanley, Adam Dorn, Jack Kugell, Michelle Lewis, Helene Muddiman, Brendan Okrent

Onward!

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