Music Modernization Act: The Ball Is Now In Congress' Court
"The Music Modernization Act passed the House Judiciary markup unanimously on Wednesday. And the bill not only has support from both sides of the aisle, it has the support of interest groups from across the political and ideological spectrum. How often do you see the AFL-CIO and Americans for Tax Reform agree with each other?" — Conversations In Advocacy #16
Music creators should be paid fairly whenever their work is used by someone else. Makes perfect sense, right? Well, in the case of the Music Modernization Act (MMA) it makes so much sense that even groups who don't traditionally align with each other or take a strong interest in music legislation are coming out of the woodwork to support the bill.
The widely supported bill, endorsed by music and tech stakeholders, will correct lapses in copyright law that fail to recognize the reality of music's modern economy. Because of outdated, certain digital broadcasters remain exempt from any obligation to pay royalties to artists for music recorded before 1972; furthermore, royalty payouts for music provided through digital platforms remain tied to antiquated regulations, and music licensing laws still fail to recognize the contributions of producers, mixers and sound engineers whose efforts are essential to the creation of recorded music in the first place. The MMA delivers modern solutions that bring music licensing into the 21st century.
These solutions haven't just been embraced by the music and tech communities; in the past several months, as the House Judiciary Committee has reviewed the MMA, groups as varied as the NAACP, Americans For Tax Reform, the AFL-CIO, Citizens Against Government Waste, the U.S. Chamber Of Commerce, and more have submitted public statements praising the bill and calling on Congress to act.
"Digital radio platforms have stations with playlists and formats entirely dedicated to playing pre-1972 music. It's simply unjust and unfair for those platforms to cash-in on massive subscription revenues while denying elderly artists fair pay for their valuable work," stated Hilary O. Shelton on behalf of the NAACP in their statement to the House Judiciary.
Meanwhile, Citizens Against Government Waste commented in late January that "while technological advances have changed the way consumers listen to music, compensation for performers and songwriters remains in the dark ages. Digital radio services continue to be regulated under a compulsory licensing system established in 1972, with rates set by the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB); composers and songwriters are compensated through mechanisms set up in 1909. Their compensation is unlike any other form of intellectual property rights."
Along with addressing the pre-1972 royalty loophole and providing compensatory recognition of the efforts of producers, engineers and other key professionals involved in the recording process, the MMA will seek to increase industry efficiency and transparency by establishing a single licensing entity to administer statutory licensing for music rights holders and facilitating identifications and payment to creators, all while making it easier for internet platforms and streaming services to lawfully license the music in the first place.
The bottom line? The MMA will protect fair compensation for creators across the board and establish an outlet to streamline the entire licensing process for digital broadcasters. Now that the bill has survived inspection by the House Judiciary Committee, passing out of committee on April 11 with a unanimous 32–0 approval, it moves to the full House of Representative for a vote. The ball is in our legislators' court to respect the will of the people.
"Conversations in Advocacy" is your weekend digital tip sheet on music advocacy and the policies that affect music makers and their craft. New installments post every Friday.