Sony/ATV Music Publishing has said it may completely withdraw from two U.S. groups that distribute songwriter royalties if changes are not made to the regulations that govern those organizations.
This comes more than a month after the U.S. Justice Department said it had opened a review of the rules that cover the music licensing groups ASCAP and BMI, stepping into an ongoing fight over songwriter royalties paid by digital services such as Pandora Media Inc.
Sony/ATV's big catalog includes songs by the Beatles and hits from the likes of Taylor Swift.
Publishers such as Sony/ATV want the option to remove digital rights from ASCAP and BMI in order to negotiate rates directly with streaming services. However, federal courts last year said that publishers cannot partially withdraw from the organizations.
In a letter sent to songwriters on Thursday, Sony/ATV's Chairman and Chief Executive Martin Bandier said the company is working with the Justice Department to revise the consent decrees, which publishers say are out of date in the era of streaming music. The decrees were first entered in 1941. He also said the company intends to appeal court decisions that barred partial withdrawal.
Bandier told songwriters that the company is considering "other options, including the potential complete withdrawal of all rights from ASCAP and BMI."
That would be a major step, as royalties from streaming services have long been an area of dispute as companies including Pandora, Spotify and YouTube become more prominent.
Besides a continuing surge in vinyl records, streaming is the music industry's one growing segment. Total audio and video on-demand music streams increased 42% in the first half of 2014 compared with the same period last year, according to Nielsen SoundScan.