Facilitating Competition by Remedial Regulation
76 Pages Posted: 19 May 2016 Last revised: 1 Feb 2021
Date Written: May 17, 2016
In music licensing, powerful music publishers have begun — for the first time ever — to withdraw their digital copyrights from the collectives that license those rights, in order to negotiate considerably higher rates in private deals. At the beginning of the year, two of these publishers commanded a private royalty rate nearly twice that of the going collective rate. This result could be seen as a coup for the free market: Constrained by consent decrees and conflicting interests, collectives are simply not able to establish and enforce a true market rate in the new, digital age. This could also be seen as a pathological form of private ordering: Powerful licensors using their considerable market power to impose a supracompetitive rate on a hapless licensee. While there is no way to know what the market rate looks like in a highly regulated industry like music publishing, the anticompetitive effects of these withdrawals may have detrimental consequences for artists, licensees and consumers. In industries such as music licensing, network effects, parallel pricing and tacit collusion can work to eliminate meaningful competition from the marketplace. The resulting lack of competition threatens to stifle innovation in both the affected, and related, industries.
Normally, where a market operates in a workably competitive manner, the remedy for anticompetitive behavior can be found in antitrust law. In music licensing, however, some concerning behaviors, including both parallel pricing and tacit collusion, do not rise to the level of antitrust violations; as such, they cannot be addressed by antitrust law. This is no small irony. At one point, antitrust served as a check on the licensing collectives by establishing consent decrees to govern behavior. Due to a series of acquisitions that have reduced the music publishing industry to a mere three entities, the collectives that are being circumvented by these withdrawals (and whose conduct is governed by consent decrees) now pose less of a competitive concern than do individual publishing companies acting privately, or in concert through tacit collusion. The case of intellectual property rights, which defer competition for creators and inventors for a limited period of time, is particularly challenging for antitrust.
Running contrary to conventional wisdom, this Article posits that regulation — not antitrust — is the optimal means of enabling entry and innovation in the music licensing market. While regulation is conventionally understood to restrict new entry and to interfere with competition, this Article demonstrates that where a market becomes highly concentrated, regulation can actually encourage competition by ensuring access to key inputs at competitive rates. While not without its drawbacks, including an increase in the cost of private action, remedial regulation in music licensing corrects anticompetitive behavior and ensures ongoing access to content and fair payment to artists, while supporting continued innovation in content distribution.
Keywords: Copyright, Intellectual Property, Antitrust, Licensing, Music Licensing, Content Licensing, Law and Economics, Behavioral Economics, Collectives, Collective Licensing
JEL Classification: K00, K21, L00, L12, L13, L14, L40, L41, L43
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation