Photo: Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios
Music Makers Assemble! How Unprecedented Teamwork Produced A Historic Victory
This past weekend, Avengers: Infinity War broke records at the box office, taking in nearly $258 million in the U.S. and a jaw-dropping $640 million around the world. The build-up to the film's release focused on the novelty of watching dozens of Marvel superheroes team up and unite to confront an enemy so great that they can only prevail together. The conceit even sparked a social media meme challenging the notion that … Infinity War is "the most ambitious crossover event in history" by presenting humorous alternatives. What about that time Scooby-Doo teamed up with the Harlem Globetrotters? Or when the cast of Star Wars appeared on "The Muppet Show"? Or when Urkel from "Family Matters" visited the Tanner family on "Full House"? Well, allow me to offer one more alternative for your consideration: In Washington, D.C., at least, last week's passage of the Music Modernization Act (MMA) represented the biggest crossover event in music history.
The Music Modernization Act isn't like previous efforts to update our music licensing laws for the digital era. Just like the Marvel film franchise, there had been plenty of "solo movies." Different interests in the music ecosystem had pushed their own legislation to solve their own problems. The songwriters and publishers had a specific bill. Artists and record labels had their own bill. Music producers and engineers had their own bill too.
But just as Iron Man, Captain America, and Spider-Man can only do so much on their own, music stakeholders came to realize they would be stronger if they worked together. In fact, they were charged with doing exactly that at the 2014 GRAMMYs on the Hill Awards by no less than House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). As Leader Pelosi told the industry leaders assembled in the room that night, "Unity is what this community needs to pass legislation."
So instead of everyone focusing on their own separate agendas, we agreed to share the same agenda. All music makers need reform to happen and it's only achievable by working in a united fashion. Music publishers lobbying for record labels and vice versa. Artists standing up for songwriters and songwriters advocating for producers. Ultimately, over 20 different music organizations endorsed the MMA, representing every facet of the music ecosystem.
But it wasn't just the music creator community that coalesced around this united approach. The digital services like Pandora and Spotify, as well as the Digital Music Association and the Internet Association, all joined the coalition too. For perspective, this is like when Thor and his frenemy-brother Loki work together to defeat a common foe. And when you have such diverse interests in alignment, it attracts support from many strange bedfellows. That's why right-leaning groups like Americans for Tax Reform and Citizens Against Government Waste and left-leaning groups like AFL-CIO and the NAACP all endorsed the MMA.
Finally, the MMA had broad bipartisan support in Congress from leaders of both parties. It started with House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) five years ago when he declared copyright reform would be a priority for his committee. Then individual members like Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), who was honored for his leadership this year at GRAMMYs on the Hill Awards, Judiciary Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), and Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) took up the challenge to craft solutions to specific problems. Goodlatte and Nadler then brought all the issues together into the Music Modernization Act (H.R. 5447).
This broad base of support helped drive the MMA to unanimous approval from the House Judiciary Committee and set the stage for a vote by the full House. The unprecedented support for the bill created a snowball effect that continued to grow. House Majority Leader McCarthy, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) all signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, providing a strong final endorsement.
I won't spoil what happens in Avengers: Infinity War. If you want to know if the Avengers ultimately prevail and save the universe, you'll have to go see the movie. But in the House of Representatives, there was no doubt. On April 25 the House voted unanimously and decisively, 415–0, to pass comprehensive music reform that will help songwriters, performers, and studio professionals.
Just like on the big screen, there are heroes everywhere. And just like on the big screen, a sequel is inevitable. The MMA now goes to the Senate. By all working together as we did in the House, we can pass comprehensive music reform there too. As Marvel legend Stan Lee would say: "Excelsior!"
(Todd Dupler is the Senior Director of Advocacy & Public Policy for the Recording Academy.)