Senators Get Behind Music Reform

Senators Get Behind Music Reform

By William Glanz

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday expressed broad bipartisan support for the Music Modernization Act (S. 2823), a comprehensive music reform package introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT). 

This unprecedented wave of support from senators adds momentum to reform efforts and makes it more important than ever for music creators to contact lawmakers and urge them to support Senator Hatch’s Music Modernization Act.

Chorus of Support

Senators on both sides of the political aisle joined the chorus of support for Senator Hatch’s bill and urged swift passage:

  • “If I interpret it correctly, every member of this committee who has shown up here today is for solving this problem, and I hope that we can move ahead and get this problem solved because it is really unjust the way the current system works, as far as I’m concerned. I think we can make it a much better system with a lot more incentives than we have today, and create a situation where a lot of talented people can get involved and we’ll all benefit from more music, more talent and more opportunity,” Senator Hatch said at the conclusion of the hearing.
  • “I think we should just take a moment… and recognize that we have right in front of us a chance for the Senate to solve a long-standing problem,” said Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), a cosponsor of the CLASSICS Act (S. 2393), which is part of the comprehensive Music Modernization Act.
  • “I think the 415-0 vote in the House is instructive on how much support there is for this bill,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) said. “I’m encouraged by the momentum [of] the unified package and the possibility of Congress finally passing meaningful reform in this area.”

Smokey Robinson Says CLASSICS Act Will Ensure Fairness

GRAMMY® Award-winning recording artist Smokey Robinson told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that passage of the bill is vital to legacy artists.

That’s because the Music Modernization Act includes the CLASSICS Act, which guarantees federal copyright protection for artists who recorded before February 15, 1972, and will ensure that legacy artists receive compensation for their work.

Some legacy artists are no longer able to work, Robinson said.

“It is not just about music,” he said. “It is about lives — they could really use that money.”

Robinson said he doesn’t receive sound recording performance royalties from digital radio services for some of the biggest hits created by his band, The Miracles, including “Shop Around” and “I Second That Emotion.” Both were released prior to 1972.

But he does receive royalties for his solo hit “Cruisin’,” released in 1979.

“Musicians who recorded before February 15, 1972, deserve to be compensated the same as those who recorded after that date,” Robinson said. “It’s like going to a grocery store or a supermarket and the owner is in there and you say, ‘I’m going to get groceries from here… but I’m not going to pay you.’ It’s the same thing.”

Songwriters and Producers Praise AMP Act

The Music Modernization Act also includes the AMP Act (S. 2625), sponsored by Senator Grassley and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), which builds on SoundExchange’s existing process for honoring letters of direction for producers and sound engineers.

GRAMMY®-nominated songwriter Justin Roberts told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the AMP Act is an important piece of the Music Modernization Act and he credited SoundExchange for establishing a system to compensate producers and engineers.

“The Recording Academy’s Producers & Engineers Wing has worked tirelessly to help producers receive fair compensation and attribution – cash and credit, if you will. And part of that work was the Wing’s landmark arrangement with SoundExchange. At the direction of the artist, SoundExchange pays royalties directly to producers, even though they have no statutory right to receive those royalties. We are grateful to SoundExchange for their creator-friendly approach. But now we need protections for producers in the law.”

Support for the SoundExchange Model

The Music Modernization Act would require the creation of a new collective to administer a blanket license for mechanicals and would be charged with maintaining a rights management database that will be made publicly available and free of charge.

SoundExchange represents the model that the collective would be patterned after, said Senator Feinstein, who identified SoundExchange as “a successful music licensing entity.”

Market Rates

The Music Modernization Act also includes the rate standard parity provisions from the Fair Play Fair Pay Act. The provisions will establish a “willing buyer, willing seller” rate standard that will require all digital platforms to pay fair market value for music.

The sole dissenting voice to a “willing buyer, willing seller” rate standard was David Del Beccaro, of Music Choice, which currently pays below-market rates because it was in existence in 1998 when Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and extended the company a special exemption.

In a letter to Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member Feinstein, SoundExchange President and CEO Michael Huppe said it’s time to eliminate the grandfathered status granted to Music Choice, SiriusXM and Muzak.

“Importantly, each of these companies has competitors that pay at market rates. Not surprisingly, the three beneficiaries of the below-market rate standard are urging Congress to preserve their unfair advantage,” Huppe wrote. “There’s no sound policy reason that Congress should give these three companies a perpetual advantage in the marketplace, simply because they happened to be in existence in 1998.”

Next Steps

The absence of serious opposition to the Music Modernization Act bodes well for the bill, but numerous procedural hurdles remain before a vote by the full Senate. The next step is the Committee’s markup of the bill.

Senator Hatch expressed optimism that the momentum of the Music Modernization Act will continue, but he encouraged supporters to keep working.

“We should get this up in front of the committee… get the committee to pass it out, and then get it passed through the Senate, and I think we can do that,” Senator Hatch said.

That is why it is so important for the music community to continue expressing support for the Music Modernization Act (S. 2823). Remember to contact your senators and urge them to support the bill today.