Representative Deborah Ross of North Carolina has introduced an enhanced version of the Protect Working Musicians Act, a bill that would grant an antitrust exemption to artists who seek to collectively negotiate for increased pay and protections from online music distributors and AI developers.
Currently, independent musicians who seek to collectively bargain for higher payouts and safeguards for their work may actually be at risk of violating antitrust laws because they’re classified as “independent contractors,” and are not extended the same legal protections granted to workers who are classified as employees.
Such antitrust laws are technically intended to prevent price-fixing and other actions that could be constituted as “anti-competitive” for the market, but have been used by bodies like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to undermine efforts by professional associations attempting to collectively take action. In the past decade, the FTC has sued music teacher associations, organist guilds, and more to prevent them from implementing programs that would increase income and improve job stability for their members.
Developed in partnership with the Artists Rights Alliance and the American Association of Independent Music, Rep. Ross’ new Protect Working Musicians Act will explicitly allow independent music makers (“any musician or group of musicians, producers, mixers, and sound engineers”) to collectively bargain with “dominant online music distribution platforms” (any entity that “operates an app, website, or other online service that is used by members of the public to listen to sound recordings”) and AI developers without the risk of antitrust laws obstructing their actions.
The new bill would also allow artists refuse to license their music to one of these entities altogether — an especially valuable perk, especially as threats like the increasing prevalence of AI in the music industry weighs heavy on many musicians’ minds. Through removing the antitrust barriers to collective negotiation, the Protect Working Musicians Act would be a positive step towards shifting the power balance from the wealthy labels and audio platforms towards independent musicians.
At the same time, the bill does has its shortcomings. While the antitrust exemption is helpful, the bill does not actually create any infrastructure for the negotiations between independent musicians and the streaming and AI entities to take place. Rather, it only “allows” for the possibility of such negotiations… and, as some of Consequence’s writers recently discussed, musicians who wish to utilize collective action to improve their situations face problems like a lack of leverage, labels owning masters, and the decentralization of the music industry that would not be solved by the new bill alone. But, even if it’s not a complete solution, it’s a nice gesture to see that at least one elected official wants to try to make things a little bit better for artists.
Meanwhile, in another corner of the entertainment industry, writers and actors are flexing their union muscles by taking a stand against unfair practices in film and television. Read our explainers on the WGA strike and SAG-AFTRA strike to learn more.