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Music Modernization Act, Recognizing the Value of Music Creators

Music Modernization Act, Recognizing the Value of Music Creators by Terry Hart

May 15, 2018

This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing to learn about “Protecting and Promoting Music Creation for the 21st Century.” Witnesses will include the legendary Smokey Robinson, songwriters Justin Roberts and Josh Kear, and leaders from the National Music Publishers Association, the Recording Industry Association of America, the Digital Media Association, and others.

Much of the discussion will likely focus on the Music Modernization Act (S. 2823) a bill introduced last week in the Senate by Judiciary Chair Senator Grassley and a bipartisan group of Senators. We can expect to hear from artists and songwriters on the front lines about how the laws governing music licensing have not kept up with changes in technology and music consumption, as well as how the various groups within the music community have worked together to come up with consensus solutions to those issues.

The Music Modernization Act is the result of that work. The Copyright Alliance submitted a statement for the record expressing support for passage of this legislation. The bill will result in the most significant improvement of music copyright law in more than a generation and will help make it easier for creators across the music industry to earn a more equitable living through their creativity.

The Music Modernization Act makes important updates to Section 115 of the Copyright Act that allows for blanket licensing of mechanical rights in musical works by digital services; creates a mechanical licensing collective that would administer those licenses and be operated by a board comprised of music publishers, songwriters, trade associations and licensees to administer the blanket licenses; and shifts to a “willing buyer/willing seller” standard for setting royalty rates and terms, by considering rates negotiated in the marketplace. The legislation also would make key changes to rate-setting proceedings for ASCAP and BMI songwriters by allowing for consideration of royalty rates for digital audio transmissions of sound recordings and randomly assigning a district court judge to hear rate-setting disputes. At its heart, this bill recognizes the value that music creators provide and would help them get compensated accordingly—a principle that resonates not only with songwriters, but with recording artists, producers, legacy acts and many others in the music community.

The bill includes another important step toward realizing that principle. Under current law, digital streaming platforms are able to profit from certain pre-1972 sound recordings without compensating the artists and copyright owners of these recordings. Extending the digital performance right to include all pre-1972 sound recordings helps ensure that the law recognizes and protects the contributions of all creators, and that legacy artists in particular are appropriately compensated for their work.

Similarly the bill also recognizes and supports music creators, especially those who work behind the scenes in today’s music industry, by creating a consistent legal process for contracted studio professionals—including record producers and engineers—to receive royalties for their contributions to music that they help create.

The Senate Bill is virtually identical to H.R. 5447, which passed the House on April 25th by a unanimous vote of 415-0. This outcome is the result of an extraordinary consensus among the broader music community who are members of the Copyright Alliance, as well as digital music providers.

Now, Senators need to hear from you—with a few clicks at our Add Your Voice page, you can ask your Senators to support this important set of music licensing reforms.

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