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Smokey Robinson, Justin Roberts Testify At MMA Senate Judiciary Hearing
On May 15 members of the Recording Academy joined executives from across the music industry to testify on Capitol Hill in support of music copyright reform. Their target audience, the Senate Judiciary Committee, heard about how current copyright law has hampered the music community and urged the committee to pass S. 2823, the Senate version of the Music Modernization Act.
The companion bill to H.R. 5447, which unanimously passed the House of Representatives less than a month ago, S. 2823 provides the first major reform to music copyright law in decades. On hand to hear how the new bill, which also has unprecedented backing across the music industry, would benefit those responsible for the music we love were 16 bipartisan committee members, including Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) , Ranking Member Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and the bill's sponsor, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
Among the witnesses at the hearing were Recording Academy Trustee and GRAMMY-nominated children's music artist Justin Roberts, who testified on behalf of the Academy, and GRAMMY-winning Motown legend Smokey Robinson and GRAMMY-winning country songwriter Josh Kear, both Academy members.
"Many [Recording Academy] members — in fact most of America's music makers — are just like me: middle-class Americans and songwriters who are not household names," Roberts testified. "These middle-class artists use their training and talent to bring music to the world. Perhaps the least recognized among us are the music producers."
Roberts continued to describe the impact producers have had on his musical career, including Liam Davis, the producer who was instrumental in persuading him to pursue music as a professional career. He also acknowledged that while it would be easy for producers to simply ask for passage of the Allocation for Music Producers Act, a producer-focused music bill with wide support, it would be a "fundamental misunderstanding of the heart of a producer" for them to do so.
"As an artist, I can tell you most of us rely on the structure, steady hand and technical talent of a producer," Roberts continued. "The producer works with artists, but also songwriters, engineers, record labels, studio owners, and nearly everyone associated with the creation of a record. The producer takes care of all of us. So, it's no wonder that they want to see the AMP Act passed as part of the broader [Music Modernization Act] so that songwriters and legacy artists receive their fair share."
Robinson talked about how the provisions for recordings made pre-1972 were a crucial piece of the MMA. As the lead singer of the Miracles, hits under his name include classics such as "Shop Around," "I Second That Emotion" and "Tears Of A Clown." Yet Robinson isn't entitled to proper compensation from those hits because of the current copyright laws.
"Those happen to be some of the biggest records I've ever been associated with and to not be paid because they were prior to 1972 is ludicrous as far as I'm concerned," Robinson testified. "A lot of work went into making those songs, not just from the artists, but from the musicians, the writers, the producers, and people who were involved in making them and they deserve to be compensated."
Robinson also emphasized that current music copyright law impacts not only modern working musicians, but those who came before the current generation, including Dionne Warwick, the Supremes' Mary Wilson and Darlene Love, who were in the audience to support those testifying .
"The records of the '50s and '60s aren't called classics because of their age, they're called classics because of their greatness," Robinson said. "They still resonate today. They define the American sound."
This year has been a landmark for music copyright reform. In January, coinciding with GRAMMY Week, the House Judiciary Committee held a music-focused field hearing in New York, focusing on music copyright issues. Citing how current copyright law affects music creators, witnesses urged the committee to work to update copyright standards. Following the hearing, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) introduced the MMA to the full House of Representatives, which was unanimously passed on April 25.
"The Academy is pleased with the increased interest and dedication Congress has shown toward fixing outdated music copyright laws," said Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow. "Music creators have long felt the impact of these outdated laws. Today's hearing demonstrates that Congress stands with them in recognizing the importance and urgency of creating a licensing framework that reflects our 21st-century marketplace."
Now under consideration in the Senate, the MMA represents a victory for all music creators. Harmonizing the music industry with one comprehensive piece of legislation, it aligns copyright law with the new music ecosystem, a position advocated by the Recording Academy since 2014, when Portnow testified before Congress.
This latest hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee marks another positive step forward for music creators country-wide, and it's clear the bill has some great advocates in the Senate, which we hope will help this bill pass its final hurdles to becoming law.
"The exclusive rights and protections that our copyright laws grant are the foundation upon which America's creators and artists stand and thrive," Grassley said. "It's important that singers, songwriters, musicians, technical engineers, producers, and all the men and women who support the creativity and artistry behind American music be rewarded for their efforts and incentivized to continue producing their invaluable work."
"For too long our licensing laws have disadvantaged content creators and sowed uncertainty," said Hatch. "Our bill will bring our music licensing laws into the 21st century to ensure that songwriters are compensated fairly for their work, and that digital music services are able to operate without constant legal uncertainty."