July 6, 2018
By William Glanz
America turned 242 this week. Some of our copyright laws are almost as old as our nation.
That’s why the Music Modernization Act (S. 2823) has gained so much momentum on Capitol Hill. In other words – it’s time for music licensing reform.
Progress, But Obvious Hurdles
The Music Modernization Act (MMA) passed the House unanimously (415-0). Then, on June 28, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported the bill with a unanimous voice vote.
Now it gets more difficult because some companies that use music to fuel their businesses are happy paying music creators at discounted rates (or paying nothing at all), and they are mobilizing to keep music licensing in the Dark Ages.
We’ve asked many recording artists and rights owners to reach out to their Senators and urge them to support the MMA. Thousands of you have responded, and it’s working! If you’ve ever wondered whether writing a letter to an elected official makes a difference, our advocacy team can tell you – it does. It makes a significant impact when the staff member of a Representative or Senator knows they have a constituent whose livelihood depends on a bill under consideration. Many lawmakers and staff members representing districts outside music regions like LA, New York and Nashville assume the MMA isn’t important to their constituents. But we know it is important because SoundExchange members live in every state.
Despite our progress so far, there is much more to do because some of our nation’s copyright laws date back to 1909, when William Howard Taft (pictured at right) was president.
How out-of-date do our copyright laws have to be before lawmakers agree on music licensing reform?
It’s a fair question.
Three Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee filed amendments to the Music Modernization Act prior to the markup that tipped their hands.
The amendments filed by these three would drastically change the bill and undermine music creators. One would strike the CLASSICS Act out of the bill entirely, cutting out artists who recorded before 1972 from the relief offered under the bill. Another amendment would preserve a corporate handout that Congress gave to SiriusXM, Muzak and Music Choice two decades ago, ensuring that they pay below-market rates. The third amendment would dramatically change how the new mechanical licensing collective operates by allowing more than one entity to issue blanket mechanical licenses.
Not Fake News
Here’s what people are saying about the Music Modernization Act.
The act was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives in April and has received support from disparate corners of the music industry. While some have complained that the act excludes perspectives from smaller players on the distribution side of the business, the majority are eager to see it pass because of the benefits it would bring to artists, studio producers, labels and publishers alike.
New York Times:
The bill is meant to correct the flaws and loopholes that have led musicians to complain about unfair compensation from streaming services… It also establishes a truce between music publishers and digital music services over an aspect of licensing that has led to a string of multimillion-dollar lawsuits.
A critical element of the bill would allow musicians to be paid for digital plays of recordings made before 1972, which are not covered by federal copyright. At a Senate hearing last month, Smokey Robinson called that rule unfair. “An arbitrary date on the calendar,” he said, “should not be the arbiter of value.”
On July 4 – Celebrate. On July 5 – Call a Senator.
We hope you had fun celebrating our nation’s 242nd birthday. Now it’s time to contact your Senator and tell them you support music licensing reform because some of our nation’s copyright laws are 109 years old. Music creators deserve MMA passage this year because music licensing reform is long overdue.
Even William Howard Taft would agree.