September 14, 2018
by Michael Huppe, President and CEO, SoundExchange
The Music Modernization Act (MMA) now has the support of 76 Senators. As it nears the finish line, SiriusXM is going door-to-door in the Senate in a last-ditch effort to block the MMA, a bill backed by an historic coalition of thousands of music creators, songwriters, producers, labels, publishers and digital music services—all of whom have been working for years to get Congress to reform music licensing laws.
For longtime advocates, it will come as no surprise that SiriusXM is trying to scuttle the MMA at the last minute. This is, after all, precisely what they did 20+ years ago when Congress first enacted legislation giving performers the right to be compensated when digital services use their music. Back then, Sirius stepped in during the final throes of the legislative process to argue that having to pay for music—their primary product—could “disrupt” their nascent business plans. They argued for a special royalty rate–one that effectively forced artists to subsidize their business and gave them a competitive advantage against other companies. That special treatment has gone on for over two decades ago now. We don’t think such a sweetheart deal was justified back then; but it’s indefensible now.
Once separate companies, SiriusXM is now the sole satellite radio company in the U.S. It generates revenue well over $5 billion annually, the huge majority of which comes from its more than 32 million subscribers. To put that into context, U.S. wholesale revenue for the entire record industry was $5.9 billion in 2017. Yes, a single company, SiriusXM, makes nearly as much from subscribers in the United States as all record labels and artists combined make from all sources.
Make no mistake about it: SiriusXM would not have a business without recorded music. And yet, SiriusXM has profited for decades by getting music at a special market distorting rate set under a different standard than all its thousands of internet radio competitors. Specifically, the rates set for internet radio are established under a “willing-buyer/willing seller” standard – another way of saying artists and labels are supposed to be paid a fair market rate for their recordings. When setting satellite radio rates, by contrast, the government can – and has – set rates lower than fair market value based on four amorphous policy factors. The impact is not academic: the lower rate standard has cost creators billions of dollars over the last 20 years.
Multi-billion dollar companies should not be subsidized by musicians – and all competing streaming platforms should play by the same rules.
Seems obvious right? It is, and that’s one of the reasons the Music Modernization Act passed the House of Representatives unanimously (as in 415-0; think on that for minute) and is on the verge of passage in the Senate.
The music community is united around the MMA because it ensures fair treatment for music creators and a level playing field for digital radio services. It is a win-win, and the compromises SiriusXM has proposed are inconsistent with the principles upon which the bill is centered. We look forward to the Senate moving this bill — and with it all of music — forward.