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Senate committee approves Music Modernization Act 

By | Published on Friday 29 June 2018

US Congress

Music copyright reform in the US marches on with the judiciary committee in Senate yesterday approving a slightly amended version of the Music Modernization Act.

This is the legislation that seeks to set up a mechanical rights collecting society Stateside, reform the way the US rate courts and Copyright Royalty Board fix royalty rates, clear up the confusion around whether pre-1972 sound recordings should get royalties from online radio services, and formalise the way record producers share in that latter income stream.

The MMA that is now moving through Congress actually brings together a number of different copyright reform proposals, including the original MMA plus the CLASSICS Act and the AMP Act. If passed, it will address a number – though not all – of the weird quirks of American copyright law, as outlined in this CMU Trends article here.

The legislation is backed by groups representing pretty much all strands of the music rights business, as well as the streaming sector, which desperately wants a mechanical rights society in the US to help with the payment of mechanical royalties to songwriters and music publishers. The lack of such a society has led to some American songwriters going unpaid and the streaming services being sued for billions.

The MMA was passed by the lower chamber of Congress, the House Of Representatives, in a super speedy fashion. Senate has been giving the whole thing a little more scrutiny, though the music industry’s lobbyists hope that yesterday’s unanimous approval from the all important judiciary committee means their proposals are now on their way to getting the all clear from Senate at large. Then just the Donald needs to give the reforms the nod, at which point he’ll presumably claim to have single-handedly fixed the music business.

Some amendments have been made to the proposals in Senate. According to the National Music Publishers Association, those amendments will mean increased oversight of and transparency at the all-new mechanical rights collecting society that is set to be created. Plus new obligations to educate songwriters and rights owners on how said society’s unclaimed royalties process will work. There is also a new measure to ensure communication between the US Department Of Justice and Congress regarding any future reform of the consent decrees that regulate performing right collecting societies BMI and ASCAP.

Those changes were especially welcomed by campaigners at the Content Creators Coalition and MusicAnswers, which are both led by songwriters and artists. Though both organisations say that – while they support the MMA – various concerns remain about the new collecting society it will create, including how the organisation will be governed. In particular, that there will be more publishers than writers on its board, despite an earlier compromise which did increase the number of writers involved in the governance process.

In a joint statement, the two groups said that, while they continue to back the MMA, they “urge the full Senate and the House to consider further improvements to these flawed provisions and we call on the Copyright Office to ensure in implementation of the final legislation that no stakeholder group can dominate the [new society] and that all royalties are distributed in a fair and equitable and non-self-interested manner”.

Most of the other music industry trade organisations in the US have welcomed the MMA getting one step closer to becoming law. And you know what that means don’t you? Yes, a big parade of quotes you won’t bother reading. Basically they all say: “Hurrah! Woo! Good one! We’re fixing out-dated laws! It’s good news for songwriters! It’s good news for legacy artists! Unprecedented collaboration! Bipartisan! We love you Congress dudes!”

And here are the quotes…

Digital Media Association CEO Chris Harrison: “The Music Modernization Act grew stronger in the Senate and remains a bright, bipartisan light for an industry that is ready to stream forward to a better future. [The amendments] bring greater transparency and make it easier for songwriters and copyright owners to verify the accuracy of royalty payments made, while ensuring the efficient and cost-effective operation of the [new society]. Streaming services have literally saved the music industry, delivering better experiences at a better value, and growing revenue for creators. We are glad to see Congress is looking to the streaming future, and moving away from the music mess of the past”.

National Music Publishers Association CEO David Israelite: “Today’s vote is a huge step towards the Music Modernization Act becoming law. We are pleased that the MMA as approved by the committee builds upon the fundamental compromise between music creators and digital services that will greatly benefit songwriters. With the many important stakeholders involved, it is no small feat for the MMA to have made it this far, and once the MMA is signed into law, songwriters will see more of the money they deserve from streaming services who currently operate off of laws from 1909 and consent decrees from 1941”.

The top guard at the Association Of Independent Music Publishers: “The AIMP applauds the Senate judiciary committee’s unanimous passage of the Music Modernization Act, putting the much-needed legislation one step closer to being enacted. With support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, plus unprecedented cooperation between the music and technology industries, the MMA will update the music licensing system for today’s online world and correct long-standing problems that have denied songwriters and publishers full control over their works”

musicFIRST Coalition Executive Director Chris Israel: “We applaud the Senate judiciary committee for taking a major step today to finally update the outdated laws that currently govern the music industry and harm thousands of music creators by not properly valuing their work. Among them are generations of legacy artists who recorded songs before February 15, 1972 and may finally get justice and fair compensation for use of their songs on digital platforms and satellite radio”.

SoundExchange CEO Michael Huppe: “Today, lawmakers continued to make progress on legislation that will result in the most comprehensive music licensing reform in our lifetimes. Music creators have waited long enough for Congress to reform our nation’s outdated copyright laws. Now it’s time for the full Senate to vote on the Music Modernization Act and send a bill to the president for his signature”.

ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews: “We are happy to see this legislation move forward with such broad bipartisan support. While there is still more work to be done to create a fair environment for songwriters in the digital age, we hope the Senate will move swiftly to pass a version of this bill that preserves the much-needed benefits for music creators”.