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Midnight, December thirty-first, will bring more to American music than countless renditions of Auld Lang Syne. From that moment forward radio listeners will be fed a new musical diet, the result of an unsettled grudge-fight between composers and broadcasters. The major networks promise to forget every one of the half-million tunes whose copyrights are held by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers. That organization promises it can survive without the royalties it asks of the radio chains. The efforts of radio's Broadcast Music Incorporated, along with the thousands of musical pieces whose rights no one owns, will fill the gap.
Main line of defense for ASCAP in the battle of the air-waves is the fact that in the mid-twenties its right was recognized under the copyright law to assess broadcasters for etherizing its music. The Society was for a while satisfied with a five per cent cut. But when networks incorporated and, finding themselves not liable to royalty fees, proceeded to juggle their books so as to lessen the amount paid by individual stations, ASCAP began to feel double-crossed. Hence the new contracts placing a seven and one-half per cent dent on income from all chain programs.
On the other side of the musical fence stand the networks, arguing that ASCAP has already dug too deeply into radio's coffers and now seeks only to pursue its advantage. Furthermore, they say charges should be made upon the music presented, with no fee blanketing all sponsored broadcasts. Radio men maintain that the absence of ASCAP music will be amply taken over by the offerings of BMI composers and arrangers, supplying tunes from the pens of artists from Bach and Beethoven to Bob Crosby.
Just which party capitulates within the next year is a question to be answered by the listening public. If America's 50,000,000 radio sets start turning more and more to ASCAP-contracted independent stations, and advertisers follow the trend, the networks will have to throw in the towel. But if the combination of new BMI, old American, and foreign tunes suits listeners' tastes, the Society of Composers will find itself in an awkward position. Whatever the battle's outcome, American music should emerge with a new lease on life.
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