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Michael Jackson writes a song. Its a hit. Your group wants to record it so you pay the Harry Fox agency for your run of 500 and everyone wins. Michael as composer gets his share. You have a simple system for recording the songs you like.

Imagine if you had to find Michael Jackson or his duly authorized representative? Imagine if the only way to do that was to pay a 75 dollar search fee or go to DC and into the Library of Congress yourself? Now imagine that after making contact, Michael tells you that he doesnt want an a cappella version of his song to be made!

In the world of written arrangements, this is the current state of affairs.

The reason for that is that the Congress makes no real distinction between a written musical arrangement and a sequel. It makes perfect sense that only George Lucas should be able to write the next installation of Star Wars. But why allow anyone to record and sell a song just by paying the proper fees, and then refuse to allow those same musicians to make and sell a written arrangement of the song without recording it?

Congress changes laws when its in the public interest to do so. Ok. Thats wishful thinking. They change laws when monied interests support the change. It took Disneys lobbying to extend the term of copyrights from life plus 50 to life plus 70 years. What will it take for a cappella groups and others to be able to make sheet music through compulsory licensing? Probably a great deal.

While small time musicians have their hands tied, major publishers with enough money to lobby against such a change in the law, are happy with their negotiated monopolistic powers. Sheet music isnt what it once was 100 years ago, but its still lucrative enough to protect, and the current state of affairs allows a composer to lock out the competition. But does this help the composer? Or just the publisher? Or does it actually help the publisher at all?

When Alien Ant Farm recorded Smooth Criminal, Michael Jackson, as the original author of the words and music, got paid for each copy they pressed. If Alien Ant Farm had been obligated to contact Michael and negotiate, as a young unknown group at the time, they might very well have found the task too daunting and the song would not have been recorded. Michael would be out the extra cash and the public would have been denied a creative reworking of the song. And Alien Ant Farm would have likely have remained unknown.

Michael Jacksons publishers might have argued behind closed doors that it would be better for them if only they could release Michael Jacksons music. They might have thought that another version of Smooth Criminal would harm the market for the original. But is that reasonable?

In the realm of arrangements, where typically only one version is available for a given set of voicings, it seems more likely that a wider variety of arrangements of any given song would stimulate interest. It would benefit the public through a variety of creative offerings, the composer by added income stream, the performers by granting them easy access to legal written arrangements and the publishers by a stimulation of the market and greater sales. There is a market for multiple arrangements of the same song. This is proved by the endless number of requests CASA receives for a cappella arrangements. There is money that slips through everyones fingers because no method exists for compulsory arrangement. Its time to make a change.