The songs sung by Christian artists and heard on Christian radio stations may be about love and togetherness, but behind the scenes artists and broadcasters are tangled in an ugly fight that has the mail thick with lawsuits. Squaring off against each other are religious broadcasters and Christian writers and performers in the American Society of Composers and Performers (ASCAP), a music licensing organization that licenses songwriters for copyright protection.

At issue are ASCAP’S music licensing policies, which require stations to pay a percentage of their gross revenues for using ASCAP music. Religious broadcasters claim that ASCAP’S license is unfairly tilted to ASCAP’S financial benefit, especially for those stations that use little music.

Religious broadcasters have been skirmishing with ASCAP since 1971, but in 1977 the first serious confrontation occurred when four religious stations filed a class action suit (called Alton-Rainbow) against ASCAP after attempts to negotiate a new contract had failed. Essentially, the lawsuit claimed that ASCAP was forcing religious stations to pay fees on all songs in order to obtain the right to use selected gospel songs.

“Only a small percentage of ASCAP’S repertory is religious,” says Clint Fowler of KGER, Long Beach, California, and one of the Alton-Rainbow plaintiffs. “Yet religious broadcasters are required to buy use of the entire 400,000 selections, including punk rock, jazz, pornography, and disco. This is our big objection and the main reason we got together to fight ASCAP.”

The class action suit further alleges that ASCAP’S license violates U.S. antitrust laws because failure to sign removes a station’s right to use a large portion of available gospel music and is thereby a ...

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